The deep blue flowers of Grape Hyacinths can form an entire carpet in the spring. They are also a primary source of nutrition for many insects. You can find out everything you need to know about the small bulb flowers in this article.
In botany, the genus of Grape Hyacinths (Muscari) is assigned to the sub-family of the Scilloideae, which is counted among the Asparagaceae family. Previously, the genus belonged to the Lily (Liliaceae) family, but molecular genetic investigations led to a re-assignment. The botanical genus name was derived from the Latin word “muscus” which means “musk”. Thus, the name makes reference to the strong scent which some species exude when flowering.
Grape Hyacinths are particularly wide-spread in South and South-Eastern Europe, as well as North Africa. Common or Starch Grape Hyacinths (Muscari neglectum), which were originally native around the Mediterranean up to Pakistan and Afghanistan and were used as garden plants well before the 16th century, have long been found in natural locations in Germany. They inhabit vineyards, forests, meadows and rocky locations. The Armenian Grape Hyacinth, which originates from the Balkans, Greece, Turkey and the Caucuses, has also spread successfully in some regions of Germany, it is considered a “cultivated refugee”.
Appearance and Growth
Grape Hyacinths are herby, persistent plants which vegetate through small, ovate . They generally form two to seven narrow, fleshy leaves. The wide-leaved Grape Hyacinth generally only has a single leaf. Only a single 5.91 to 9.84 inch tall flowering shoot grows from each bulb. Heavily flowering clusters stand on its end. The hermaphroditic flowers of a cluster open from bottom to top. The upper most flowers are also smaller and sterile. Grape Hyacinths flower in various tones of blue and are partially two-tone; there are also white varieties. The large flowering Grape Hyacinth (Muscari macrocarpum) blooms in yellow. The flowering period is between March and May. Capsule fruit containing black, ball-shaped seeds form after fertilization. After the seeds mature, the over-ground plant parts die and the Grape Hyacinths overwinter in the bulb until the following spring. However, the Small Grape Hyacinth grows new leaves in September which overwinter green.
Location and Soil
Like most bulb flowers, Grape Hyacinths prefer a sunny, warm location with loose, permeable and not too moist soil.
The small bulbs should be planted 2.36 to 3.15 inches deep in the earth between October and November. There should be a distance of 3.15 to 3.94 inches between the bulbs. Work in plenty of sand and humus to heavy, loamy soils to make them more permeable, otherwise the Grape Hyacinth will not be very persistent.
Grape Hyacinths are extremely undemanding and easy-care. They bulbs can be fertilized in the spring when they grow shoots, for example with compost. If you do not intend to harvest the plant seeds, cut the withering inflorescences before the seeds mature. Allow the leaves to turn yellow before removing them. It is important that the soil is not too damp during the summer vegetation rest. Grape Hyacinths thrive if they are allowed to develop uninterrupted after planting.
Grape Hyacinths look most beautiful planted in large groups. They can be readily combined in sunny flower beds or under deciduous bushes with early flowering tulip varieties, such as Tulipa kaufmanniana and small flowered Narcissus. They also work well in spring bouquets, for example with Bleeding Hearts (Lamprocapnos spectabili, formerly: Dicentra spectabils), Leopard’s Bane (Doronicum caucasicum) und horned violet (Viola cornuta).
As Grape Hyacinths are self-sowing and side bulbs spread vigorously, they are extremely suitable as wild plants. They are also happy in rock gardens. Moreover, they are a popular spring plant in pots and boxes, generally in combination with other annual spring bloomers, such as Bellis.
Important Species and Varieties
There are around 60 species of Grape Hyacinth, however, only around ten species and hybrids are cultivated in our gardens. The best known is the Armenian Grape Hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum), other important species in garden cultivation are the azure Grape Hyacinth (Muscari azureum), the common Grape Hyacinth (Muscari botryoides) and the broad-leaved Grape Hyacinth (Muscari latifolium).
Grape Hyacinths form side bulbs which separate from the mother bulb in summer and can be replanted. The plant can also propagate through seeds. As Grape Hyacinths are cold germinators, the seeds they put out require several days at a temperature of around freezing in order to germinate. The young plants only flower after several years of development. As Grape Hyacinths quickly form numerous stocks in favorable locations, it is easiest to prick out individual pieces from the plant carpet after flowering and plant these in a different location.
Diseases and Pests
Grape Hyacinths are robust, meaning plant diseases and pests do not play a major role. Damage from is also rare. If the location is too damp or if the plants are to tightly packed together, they may suffer from smut fungi, which can be recognized by the black or white spots. The affected plant parts need to be completely removed and disposed of in the household garbage.