by David Salman
Easy. Sweet. Pays big dividends.
If you are looking for a bulb that is super easy to plant, that tolerates sun, shade and in-between, and that returns each spring with more fragrant, colorful, long-lasting blooms – look no further. A love affair with grape hyacinth is about to begin! Growing muscari provides huge displays for a small amount of work.
Muscari are native to the meadows and forests of southern Europe and the Mediterranean.Muscari (grape hyacinth) blooms in mid-spring with cheery spikes of flowers, like clusters of tiny grapes that often last for a month. The sweet fragrance reminds us that summer days are soon to follow.The word, “Muscari” refers to the musk, or sweet scent of the flowers.
Growing Muscari: Planting Tips
The most important things to remember about Muscari bulbs is that They Are Not Fussy!
They are happy to grow in sun to almost full shade, in soil that has been amended with compost or not. Best of all, they only need to be planted 3 inches deep, and 2-3 inches apart, making them quick and easy to plant. Muscari flowers will grow and thrive in zones 3-9. Plant them in the fall, a few weeks before frost.
While Muscari flowers resemble hyacinth flowers, they are a separate genus, even though their common name is grape hyacinth. They are deer resistant favorites that, when happy, can spread (naturalize) to form dense carpets of spring color. Flower spikes are a plucky 6-8 inches tall, making them a perfect companion for tulips and daffodils.
Growing Muscari: Colorful Combinations
Grape hyacinth can also help to wake up a spring rock garden or brighten up spaces under perennials or deciduous trees that haven’t yet leafed in. Muscari make fabulous border plants as well. Try planting them along paths or create a garden ‘river ‘or ‘pond’ by planting them en masse between larger plantings.
Combine with snowdrops, wildflower iris, wildflower daffodils and tulips for a colorful spring mix. As you plant your larger spring blooming bulbs, add in some Muscari to the top layer. They’ll mix in and spread, giving you a colorful carpet for the larger flowers.
Another favorite design is to plant Muscari armeniacum (dark blue) with white flowers, such as daffodil ‘Stainless’ or ‘Toto’. The deep blue of Muscari resonates against the white flowers for a tranquil combination.
Growing Muscari: Plant Grape Hyacinth Bulbs Densely
It’s important to plant lots of bulbs to get a pleasing effect. I like to plant in groups of at least 25 bulbs. Planting densely will increase the lovely fragrance they share as well. They look best in drifts and masses where the beauty of the small blooms can create a striking wash of pure color.
Muscari are most well known for their deep cobalt-blue flowers, but there are white varieties too, and almost every tint between the two. Yellows and pinks can be found as well, but the traditional blues and whites keep me enthralled.
Keep the soil moist during growth, but reduce watering as the plant begins to die back. Be sure to let the foliage die back before removing, so that the bulbs can fill their storehouses for blooms the following year.
Muscari flowers stay in bloom for a long time! Many flowers last for a full month, making them abundant sources of spring color. Muscari flowers are also good sources of spring pollen for honeybees and other small beneficial insects. They make lovely cut flowers too.
Growing Muscari: Caring For Grape Hyacinth Bulbs
As soon as the flowers fade, cut them back with scissors, leaving the stems to nourish the bulb. Apply a layer of compost in the fall and if they sprout leaves in the fall, not to worry, they’re just gathering a bit more bulb fuel. Let them die back naturally.
Let your imagination be your guide as you experiment with these resilient, easy care plants.
While there are over 40 species of Muscari, these are five favorites.
- Muscari armeniacum It is the most cultivated variety, with bell shaped, cobalt blue flowers whose tiny petals are dipped in a touch of white. Heirloom variety. Naturalizes (spreads) easily.
- Muscari aucheri ‘Dark Eyes’ Almost conical flower clusters, the dark blue flowers are edged with white, highlighting the ‘dark eye’. Naturalize well.
- Muscari botryoides ‘Album’ White flowered, ‘Album’ is lovely amongst brightly colored spring flowers or in rock gardens. Naturalizes well.
- Muscari armeniacum Peppermint® I love Peppermint® when pastels are desired. Each flower is a cascade of blue tints, like a tiny color wheel. Great in containers.
- Delft Blue Mix If a mix of colors in blues and whites is your wish, you can’t go wrong with the Delft Blue Mix. Blue, white and everything in between.
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