Saturday, August 15, 2009

Fragrant, Full-bodied Hyacinths

Hyacinths are ever-popular bulbs for garden and indoor forcing. The large flowers and heady fragrance are well-known to gardeners and non-gardeners alike. Even children come to know them. Several of my childhood teachers had hyacinth bulbs growing in glasses in their classroom window sills, along with sprouting beans in paper cups, sad pothos and such.

There are three species in the genus, Hyacinthus: H. litwinowii, H. orientalis and H. transcaspicus. Only H. orientalis, also known as Dutch Hyacinth, is of commercial importance.

The name is said to have been inspired by a much-adored young athlete, Hyakinthos, who was hit and killed by a stray discus while foolishly trying to catch it. Of course, the discus was not blown off course by accident; jealous Zephyr did it. The flowers miraculously sprouted from the blood of Hyakinthos.

Native to Turkey, Syria and Lebanon, wild H. orientalis sported about a dozen flowers per stem. Though not spectacular in appearance, the fragrance was marvelous. Hyacinths were taken to Holland in the 16th century and became very popular. What began as a humble little blossom was developed into a full-bodied flower of distinction.

Dutch Hyacinths are sold according to size determined in centimeters circumference. The largest bulbs cost more but will produce more flowers and be most satisfying.

Before planting, take a sample of your garden soil to your local Cooperative Extension Service office. They often provide collection bags. With each soil sample, indicate the type of bulb you intend to grow in it. For the most basic recommendations, you may be charged a nominal fee. For more information such as micro-nutrient and organic content you may be charged more. Follow the recommendations.

Bulb planting begins in September or October, depending upon your area. Your Cooperative Extension office can advise you. Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 6" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 12" deep. Poorly drained sites can be improved by raising the height of the planting beds. Common soil amendments include sulphur for lowering pH, limestone for raising pH, sand for helping drainage, clay for slowing drainage, gypsum for breaking up caking clay and compost for enriching the soil. Bone meal is especially good for bulbs. Which you should use depends upon your particular circumstance. Your local Cooperative Extension Service should be helpful.

Your soil sample report from your local Cooperative Extension Service will include fertilizer recommendations based upon the results of the test. Following its instruction should be a good bet. A fine all-around practice for Spring-flowering bulbs is to mix 5 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer and 2 cups of bone meal per ten square feet area of bulb garden. Repeat the application when shoots appear, but be careful that fertilizer does not come into direct contact with plant tissue. Apply 2 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer per ten square feet of garden area every two weeks until flower buds appear.

Hyacinth bulbs should be planted three times as deep as the bulbs are wide. For example, if the bulb is 2" wide, plant it 6" deep. That means the bottom of the hole should be 6" deep. Plant them about 6" apart. Cover the bulbs with soil and add a top-dressing of mulch about 2" deep to suppress weeds. Unless snow or rain fall is inadequate, irrigation should not be necessary.

Many popular plants are toxic to mammals, and hyacinths are among them. Care should be taken to prevent children and domestic animals from ingesting the bulbs. Wild animals are seldom in danger since they seem to instinctively know the danger. Though they may dig them up, they don't eat them. Sensitive persons may be irritated by skin contact with other parts of the plant.

Hyacinths are very popular for "forcing." The procedure involves providing cool temperatures adequate to induce flowering. For information on forcing and other matters about bulbs, read our article Marshall's Answers To FAQs On Bulbs.

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