How to Grow Grape Hyacinths


From Eric Larson of Yale’s Marsh Botanical Gardens, for Garden Clips.

Daffodils shout “Spring!” even when winter is still gripping with blue-white fingers the last of the weeks in March. But Daffodils can appear even better when you add some contrast,which brings us to Muscari, or Grape-Hyacinth.

The common name comes from the fact that the flowers look like clusters of blue to purple grapes. The Hyacinth part of the common name comes from that close relative (both are in the Scilloideae sub-family of Asparagaceae, or Asparagus family). The genus name, Muscari, comes from the Greek word muschos for musk, referring to the scent of the flowers. All members of the Muscari genus are Old World plants, with many coming from the Mediterranean region, but also from western, central and southwestern Asia and northern Africa. It has naturalized in other areas of Europe and the United States.

Muscari prefer light to moderate shade, although very tolerant of full shade and even full sun, if given enough water. The soil should be well drained, slightly acid and not too rich. Very few problems plague the genus, although moles and voles could be a problem in areas where those critters are common. One problem might be the lawn mower: do not cut the foliage until it completely dies back, as it is continuing to photosynthesize well after the flowers fade. The production of starches and sugars help to strengthen the bulb, allowing the plant to live through its dormant season. This will also help the bulb to naturalize, or form a sustaining and growing colony.

Muscari bulbs can be purchased from any garden center in the fall, or ordered on-line or by mail order from a great number of bulb purveyors. I highly recommend Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, a family-owned and run business here in the U.S. The Dutch have been growing bulbs for generations, so don’t be put off by northern European names like Van Engelen or Van Bourgondien. Plant in drifts of at least twenty-five for fulleffect. Planted next to Daffodils, the color contrast does them both a good turn.

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