Dave’s Gardening Corner: Grape Hyacinths

Very rarely do I find a plant that I absolutely despise. Even dandelions have their own little happy place in life as a favorite flower of small children. We all have to admit the childhood joy of blowing the seeds from the head of a dandelion even though now it causes our hearts to stop as we try to catch every last seed before they hit the ground.

But the grape hyacinth sits in its own category; I despise it.

The hyacinth is a bulb plant that has long, straight-edged leaves with a singular stem rising to a group of blossoms on the head of the stem. Some varieties of hyacinths are quite beautiful with large flowers in a wide range of rich colors. The grape hyacinth isn’t a true hyacinth, but it does follow this same pattern. The biggest difference is that instead of the large blooms, the grape hyacinth forms a bunch of small, grape-shaped blue flowers that looks like an upside-down bunch of grapes. The leaves are very long and slender and, to the untrained eye, can appear like blades of grass. In my area, the hyacinths don’t react well to the cool spring nights and the leaves tend to curl and turn wiry. But this is not the worst of it.

The grape hyacinth is a master of propagation. The plant will drop seeds and send off new bulbs at an alarming rate that will quickly dominate your yard and garden. Because the plant is a bulb, they are extremely difficult to kill with your common weed killers (I’ve heard rumors that Bayer Advanced formula will do the trick, but have no personal experience with that). About the only way to effectively kill a grape hyacinth is to dig it up, but because the bulbs spread quickly and are tiny at first, this method is only as effective as your patience and ability to carefully sift the dirt in every infested area of your lawn.

To give you an example, my neighbor two houses down has let his yard go to waste with grape hyacinths. The entire yard is grape hyacinths. I’ve watched over the last two years as the hyacinths have dominated his yard, spread to my neighbor’s yard, and, last year, began the invasion of my own yard. I wish I would have acted last year to stop the invasion, but I didn’t, and I am paying the price. Last weekend, I spent about eight hours pulling grape hyacinth bulbs from my lawn. At a low estimate, I’m guessing that I pulled upwards of 2,000 to 3,000 individual bulbs; most of them no larger than a grain of rice. And I only finished about half of my lawn. And of course digging out your lawn does wonders for the aesthetic beauty of the grass. I have dozens of holes where about the only thing I could do was remove shovel-fulls of invested sod and dirt. And because of the nature of the plant, I’ll likely be doing it again next year. And the year after that. And the year after that. Basically forever until we can control the source (my neighbor two houses down).

To be fair, I have seen some fairly spectacular plantings of grape hyacinths (check out this site for some incredible shots; anything blue in the photos is a grape hyacinth). However, I’d be very interested in knowing how they control the spread of this invasive flower.

If you decide to plant grape hyacinths in your yard, I will try my best to resist poisoning and salting your lawn so that nothing will grow for the next thousand years, but I can’t make any promises.

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13 Responses to Dave’s Gardening Corner: Grape Hyacinths

  1. nosurfgirl says:

    I like grape hyacinths when they are firmly ensconced in a concrete or laid-brick border. The odd thing for us is, we have a few grape hyacinths. Just a few, like 2 or 3. They bloom every year and no more come back the next year. Maybe our hyacinths are defective.

    I think the reason why I like them is because I have a vivid memory of smelling them when I was a young child and thinking I smelled grapes. One of those odd childhood memories you know is not true but you cling to… every time I see a grape hyacinth I have to repress the urge to bend over and see if it smells like grapes.

  2. Courtney Loveless says:

    Dandelions and the grape hyacinths are currently Katherine’s favorites. She will pick a bunch of the hyacinths and will meticulously strip the flowers from the stems, dropping them like little purple-blue marbles on the sidewalk.

    In large masses, they are neat, but having one spring up all by its lonesome and then watching it encroach on your lawn is frustrating, not to mention the fact that it looks decidedly odd. Rather like a floral infection.

  3. nosurfgirl says:

    oooh… yeah. Floral infection does not sound so attractive.

  4. Pingback: grape hyacinth flower

  5. daveloveless says:

    Update to Nosurfgirl’s post above: This past spring, I was out at their house, and the infestation has begun. It’s not bad yet, but it’s coming.

    As for my personal battle. It continues. I’m winning, but I still pulled at least a few thousand bulbs this spring, and that is not an exaggeration in the least.

  6. Linda Harding says:

    I am trying the soil sterilization process to get rid of hyacinths. So far, it appears to be working. Will send a follow up in a few weeks. Linda

  7. daveloveless says:

    Hi Linda.

    Good luck. Seriously. It’s a pain, and I’m now on round three (grape hyacinths grow in the spring and the fall). Overall, I’d guesstimate that I’ve pulled upwards of 15,000 bulbs from my property. It doesn’t help that all of my neighbors have grape hyacinths. Oh, and I found that a heavy application of weed killers that also kill wild onions tends to at least help. I haven’t actually sprayed it on the grass because I’m concerned a heavy dose might harm the grass, but for other areas, it does seem to be working. At the very least, it tends to kill the young bulbs that spring up from the dropped seeds.

    I’d love to hear if you can beat them back.

    Dave

  8. Pingback: Dave’s Gardening Corner: Update on Killing Grape Hyacinths « the prodigal

  9. Harrison Crowe says:

    Oh how I hate them.

    I tried killing them by adding a few feet of top soil. No avail. Now I’m just digging them up from further down.

    sigh*

  10. clutterfly says:

    This has all been useful. I’m about to start the get-rid-of process, knowing now full well how long and intense this work will be. Sigh.

  11. Well, I think they are beautiful in the spring. Why worry about them at all, they only bloom for a short time, and are mowed off at the first mowing. What’s wrong with something besides fertilizer sucking, gas guzzling grass? I say rip the whole thing out and plant vegetables, or better yet, add more flowers, yarrow, dandelions, wild onions, chamomile, and thyme. This year my arugula re-seeded, and came up in my lawn. I say the more, the merrier!

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  13. mateo pascual says:

    If it’s of consolation the bulbs are edible. They’re called lampiscioni in Italian, a bitter onion.

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