Together with tulips and daffodils, hyacinths are considered the major bulbs of spring. They feature glorious, thick spikes of fragrant, bell-shaped flowers that rise from a clump of narrow, bright green leaves. Plants grow 1 ft. tall, with straplike leaves that may be erect or somewhat arching. Blossom spikes are tightly packed with flowers in white, pale blue, or purple-blue. Hyacinths are at their best when massed or grouped; if set out in rows, they tend to look too stiff and formal. Try massing a single color beneath a flowering tree or in a border. Two basic forms are the Dutch and the Roman or French Roman.
Dutch hyacinth, derived from H. orientalis by breeding and selection, has large, dense spikes of waxy, bell-like flowers in white, cream, buff, and shades of blue, purple, pink, red, and salmon. Size of flower spike is directly related to size of bulb. Biggest bulbs are desirable for exhibition plants or for potting; next largest size is satisfactory for bedding outside. Small bulbs give smaller, looser clusters with more widely spaced flowers. These are sometimes called miniature hyacinths. As perennials, Dutch hyacinth is best adapted to the Upper and Middle South, but it can be grown as an annual anywhere.
Roman or French Roman hyacinth (H. o. albulus) has white, pink, or light blue flowers loosely carried on slender stems, usually several stems to a bulb. Earlier to bloom than Dutch hyacinth; also needs little or no winter chill, making it better adapted to the Lower, Coastal, and Tropical South (where it will grow as a perennial under favorable conditions).
Plant from October to December. Set larger Dutch hyacinth bulbs 6 in. deep, 5 in. apart; set smaller ones and Roman hyacinth bulbs 4 in. deep, 45 in. apart. The bulbs have invisible barbs on the surface that can cause your skin to itch; after handling them, wash hands before touching your face or eyes. If you are growing hyacinths as perennials, fertilize just as blossoms fade; then remove spent spikes and con- tinue to water regularly until foliage yellows. Flowers typically are smaller in succeeding years, but they keep the same color and fragrance.
Choice container plants. Pot in porous mix with bulb tip near surface. Then cover containers with thick mulch of sawdust, wood shavings, or peat moss to keep bulbs cool, moist, and shaded until roots are well formed; when tips of shoots show, remove mulch and place pots in full light. You can also grow hyacinths in water in a special hyacinth glass, the bottom filled with pebbles and water. Keep in dark, cool place until rooted; give light when top growth appears, then place in a sunny window when leaves have turned uniformly green.