Grape Hyacinths

Grape Hyacinths, or Muscari spp. as they are more properly known, are one of those plants from my childhood memories.They were planted in my gardens as a matter of course. Almost always pictured in m Spring bulb combinations, they are great partners for larger bulbs that bloom at the same time in April. Especially daffodils.

They are carefree to grow, and have fragrance. It is no wonder that I planted them in every garden I have grown, and allowed them to multiply where they will.

Muscari, naturalized with Thalia daffodils

Muscari, naturalized with Thalia daffodils

Varieties Beyond The Usual

The grape hyacinth of my childhood was always the M. botryoides.  Although the mixed up names under which this popular, easy-to-grow bulb is sold suggests they might easily have been M. armenicum.

All I know is that a group of grape hyacinth is a dependable and a much looked forward to feature of the spring garden.

There are types and named cultivars available

  • Muscari latifolium, with their bicolor racemes of light to dark purplish-blue
  • Muscari armeniacum which includes the clear blue ‘Côte d’Azur’ and ‘Blue Spike’ which sometimes has double flowers. I’ve planted some of those types in my garden and am no longer sure which are growing in the large naturalized areas.
  • One that is more easily remembered and identified is Muscari azureum. It has a sky blue color, and thicker leaves. It self-seeds and grows well, even withstanding some premature mowing, though I definitely do not recommend that. Just saying it survived a couple years of over-enthusiastic mowing.
3 Important Things To Know

  1. The foliage grows in both fall and spring
  2. Muscari can be naturalized,
  3. Usually bloom in tandem with daffodils, with which they are often paired
The Minor Bulbs

The Look of Grape Hyacinths

Description of plant and flower

Little spikes of a strong blue-violet, viewed close at hand in a vase their individual flowers are very small fused globes opened at the end with a trim of white. The flowers are why we grow them, and the little white-tipped blue globe blossoms of a grape hyacinth are clustered like a bunch of grapes. This is how the flower got its common name.  They make a good show of spring color in this favored hue of blue. (Overall, the effect is blue-violet.)

The fragrance is also faintly grape-like, too, with some hints of musk. Not a powerful scent, but pleasant.

Drawing of the bulbs, seed capsules and flower

Drawing of the bulbs, seed capsules and flower

Bulb

The bulbs are plump ovoids and can have little bulblet forming off the side as pictured. They point at the top, so it isn’t difficult to determine which way is up. They are mostly white in color.

Leaf

The leaves are variable in the different species, but they tend to be grasslike or slender straps. A medium green helps them look much like grass, in which they naturalize readily.

Flower

Some types are distinctly two toned and several have white forms. I grew some at one point, but not overly impressed. I think it was M. botryiodes alba. However some that have been photographed are quite lovely and I’d personally like to try again with a stand of Muscari aucheri ‘White Magic’.

Height varies from 6-9 inches, M. latifolium is taller.

Planting and Care of Muscari Spp.

[Garden Guide]
How to Plant Them

muscari

Grape hyacinths naturalized in the grass

6 to 8 weeks before hard frost in the fall:
Either dig individual holes or a trench at least 3 to 4 inches deep which has been cleared of weeds, competing roots, and stones. Use a little bone meal or bulb booster, cover and firm the soil.

  • Zone 4 through 8
  • Bulblets and seeds produce more plants, and both ways work for propagating Muscari. Bulbs can also be lifted and divided. When dividing, best to replant right away.
  • Good growing practices:
  • As always, well drained soil for bulbs is important.
  • Allow the foliage to grow and ripen for good perennial bloom.
  • I plant the initial bulbs with some bone meal, and afterwards might occasionally fling some fertilizer their way. Maybe more deliberate attempts to give a dose of feeding each spring would result in higher quality flowering? It couldn’t hurt.
  • They prefer neutral to alkaline soil.

In the Garden

Muscari naturalized bulbs under Globe Arborvitae

Muscari naturalized bulbs under Globe Arborvitae, with highlights of pale Puschkinia

Rock gardens, bulb displays, under shrubbery, around trees, these bulbs find a place in every style from formal gardens to woodland dells. They are tough and reliable, putting up with neglect. Some of them might be a bit ragged looking if they have longer foliage, but that is rarely the case, as the most common types are a pond of blue flowers and their leaves tend to look like the surrounding grass.

Bulb Foliage

Because the foliage needs to grow, I like them in places where the garden is allowed to be more natural and loose; although I recently lined the back walk with them (usually a more formal type of planting), allowing them to edge off into a stand of day lilies under my big, ancient maple. Daffodils, muscari, and daylily ‘Hyperion’ compete with the roots of the silver Maple, here. All seem to do just fine every year, with little care.
Quite ancient, they can be grown in historical gardens. Some types known in the West since the 1500’s (Muscari ambrosiacum AKA M. muscarimi, the Musk Hyacinth. Circa 1554)

Do Muscari spread quickly or invasively?

Some of them can. M. azurem spread more quickly for me, and most others have stayed within their general planting area forming bigger clumps. I sometimes accidentally move them through weeding activities when they are dormant.
If you want something with a light blue color and polite habit, you might like to try Muscari armeniacum muscari ‘Valerie Finnis’.

Plant Facts: Muscari Trivia

[Fun Facts]
Muscari comes from the area of Turkey, and surrounding Mediterranean habitats. Some are from the Caucasus.

Grape hyacinths are favorites for forcing. They form sturdy stands of flowers that look well in many types of displays.

Pretty cut flowers for tiny nosegays.

An All Blue Garden

Quick How-to, forcing Grape Hyacinths

  1. Buy your bulbs and chill them. They need cold storage of 35º- 48º F. for at least 10 weeks.
  2. Use potting soil and add to bottom of container about 8 inches from top.
  3. Plant a dozen or more in a bulb pan or pot, 6-8 inches deep. Tips pointing upward, spaced about an inch apart.
  4. Cover with soil. Place pot in a cool, dark area like a closet or basement for about 10 weeks. Keep soil slightly moist.
  5. Check bottom (drainage holes) for roots. When roots are discernible, bring the plants to a cool, sunny window.

A soilless potting mix is recommended.

Another method, potting first, and then chilling is described in Horticulture magazine.

Additional resources
Pacific Bulb Society
How I plant and naturalize bulbs:

Excellent resource books on Bulbs, including Muscari