Are you ready to plant something besides daffodils and tulips? You might want to look at planting a few muscari. They do not receive as much attention as other bulbs because they are not as large and showy. However, they do bloom year after year, rarely faltering and slowly spreading here and there.
These precious little blue flowers, commonly known as grape hyacinths, look lovely planted on their own or add charm to other plantings of bulbs. These cute little flowers are not hyacinths at all but are members of the Lily family. The name of the genus, Muscari, comes from the Greek word for musk, referring to the scent produced by these flowers.
Muscari is quite compact and with lovely blue hues they won me over after seeing a unique planting of them made to look like a small stream of water. They flower in mid-spring, at the peak of daffodil season and at the same time as Darwin hybrid tulips.
Spikes appear in the spring, covered with grape-like blooms that are long-lasting. They come in a range of blues and white, which are the most popular, but also in shades of pink and yellow which are rather rare to see. The flowers are clustered around the rigid stalks, much like grapes. They are great for edging a flowerbed, for forcing in containers or for using as “shoes and socks,” planted where they are among other taller bulbs. They look great with pansies too. They are fragrant, they naturalize and they are critter resistant, meaning deer and voles will not touch them.
Muscari are best planted in the fall of the year. The bulbs are highly adaptable, hardy and don’t require rich soil to flourish. A sunny site with well-drained soil is ideal for growing these precious little fellows. Long, linear, floppy green leaves will emerge from the ground in early spring. The foliage will precede the flowers and the foliage will die back when flowering fades. However, unlike other spring-blooming bulbs, muscari sometimes produces foliage in the fall as well as the spring. This gives the bulbs a second chance to gather more energy.
The most well known of the different species of muscari is Muscari armeniacum. It is one that some say gives the group a bad name because they are vigorous and can be considered invasive. However, I do not see them as invasive. Muscari armeniacum is an Award of Garden Merit (AGM) winner. This distinction is given by The Royal Horticultural Society and is base on performance. I have planted them in an area where they will get some sun yet it is a little like a woodland setting.
Like other spring flowering bulbs, muscari use their foliage to produce energy for the following year’s flowers. Brent Heath of Brent and Becky Bulbs says these little bulbs are like solar panels wanting to absorb all the sun they can get to produce those lovely flowers for the following year.
Once the flowers have passed their prime, the foliage needs to continue to grow. It will turn yellow shortly after flowering and then fade away, waiting for the following year’s flowers to emerge again.
When planting muscari, plant in mid to late fall before the ground freezes. For best results, I am told you should plant them within a month after you receive them 3 to 4 inches deep and 4 to 5 inches apart with the pointed end up. I feel it is best to plant at least 50 of them to make a show since they are small flowers.
Muscari are easy to grow and are long-lived in most climates. They are low maintenance bulbs that add a new dimension to the spring garden. Vibrant shades of blue are available in several cultivars. I have chosen to plant Muscari armeniacum because it was the least expensive and the hardiest. However, there are some lighter shades that are worth planting too that are quite charming. “Valerie Finnis,” “Siberian Tiger” and Muscari latifolium are a few of the ones you can find easily. You can also find a mix of different shades of them to plant.
One day I hope to have a “river” of muscari like you see in the photos that I took when I was visiting Keukenhof garden in Holland. Keukenhof is a garden, planted by bulb companies, and it is only open when spring flowering bulbs are blooming. It is known to be the largest flower park of bulbs in the world. I hope to have the chance to go back again some day to see this magical garden once again. But until then, I will keep planting spring flowering bulbs and enjoying their blooms in my garden.
Betty Montgomery is a master gardener and author of “Hydrangeas: How To Grow, Cultivate & Enjoy,” and “A Four-Season Southern Garden.” She can be reached at email@example.com.