Hyacinth vs Lilac: Comparing Two Popular Spring Blooms

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When comparing hyacinths and lilacs, it’s important to note their differences in appearance and growth. Hyacinths, belonging to the genus Hyacinthus, typically grow close to the ground like tulips and produce a single flower stalk with a height of 8 to 10 inches. On the other hand, lilacs belong to the genus Syringa and bloom on bushes or can be pruned into trees, offering a similar flower shape but with different growth habits.

Hyacinth and Lilac Overview

Hyacinths and lilacs are both popular flowering plants, but they differ in various aspects. When it comes to their appearance, hyacinths are closer to the ground, similar to tulips, while lilacs grow on bushes or can be pruned into tree-like shapes. Both plants produce fragrant flowers and are a favorite among gardeners for their aesthetics and scent.

Hyacinth flowers generally look best in groupings of five to nine bulbs and are often planted with their pointy end facing up. They require thorough watering after planting and a layer of mulch to discourage weeds and disease. Lilacs, on the other hand, are low-maintenance deciduous shrubs that can reach 10 to 12 feet in height and width. These shrubs are known for their early blooming, lacy blossoms in colors such as blue, pink, and purple.

Even though lilacs have a shorter blooming season, they can still make a striking impact in a garden with the right companion plants. Some of the early-flowering hyacinth lilacs are a cross between common lilac (Syringa vulgaris) and an Asian species (Syringa oblata) that bloom up to 10 days earlier than common lilac variants, offering an extended window of visual appeal and fragrance.

Botanical Classification

Hyacinth

blue hyacinths

Hyacinths belong to the Asparagaceae family and are native to the eastern Mediterranean region. They are known for their fragrant, bell-shaped flowers that grow in dense clusters along a stalk.

There are several species of plants in the Brodiaea, Scilla, and other genera that were previously classified as Liliaceae and have similar flower clusters. However, these should not be confused with grape hyacinths from the Muscari genus.

Lilac

lilacs

Lilacs are part of the Oleaceae family, which is also known as the olive family. Syringa is the genus of these deciduous shrubs or trees, native to Europe and temperate Asia. The name Syringa comes from the Greek word syrinx, meaning pipe, which refers to the plants’ easily hollowed-out stems.

Lilac plants are characterized by deep green leaves arranged oppositely along the stems, with small four-petalled flowers borne in large oval clusters. The fruit of the lilac is a leathery capsule.

Cultivation and Growth

Hyacinth

hyacinth bulbs

Hyacinths grow best when planted in the fall and thrive in moderately rich soil with a pH of 6.0 to 6.8. They can be grown outdoors in the ground, in pots, or indoors using a bulb vase filled with water, and are known for their moderate growth rate. When planting hyacinths, group five to nine bulbs together and place them in the soil with the pointed end facing upwards. After covering with soil, water thoroughly and apply a 1-to-2-inch layer of mulch to discourage weeds and disease.

Lilac

lilac bushes

Lilacs, unlike hyacinths, grow as bushes and prefer full sun with at least six hours of direct sunlight daily. They can tolerate some shade, but too little light may limit their bloom. To cultivate lilac bushes, choose well-draining, rich, loamy soil with a neutral pH. Lilacs require adequate space to grow, flourishing when planted in a location sheltered from strong winds that could damage their branches and affect their overall health.

Bloom Characteristics

Hyacinth

hyacinth petals

Hyacinth flowers originate from bulbs and typically produce one flower stalk standing 8 to 10 inches tall per bulb. These plants boast a diverse range of hues such as lilac, pink, white, cobalt blue, cream, apricot, and even blood-red. The fragrant, spiky flower stalks create a pleasing contrast when mixed with other spring-blooming bulbs like tulips and daffodils.

Lilac

lilac petals

Syringa, commonly known as lilac, consists of plants that produce blooms on bushes, which can be pruned into a tree form if desired. The flowers are shaped similarly to hyacinths and are available in various colors. Lilacs bloom later than hyacinths, typically in mid-spring, with the Syringa x hyacinthiflora (Hyacinth Syringa) variety boasting the earliest blooms, about 7-10 days before the common lilac. The flowering period for common lilacs lasts approximately one month, depending on the cultivar and location.

Fragrance Comparison

When comparing the fragrances of hyacinth and lilac flowers, both offer unique, fresh, and pleasing scents typically associated with springtime. Hyacinths are known for their earthy and floral aroma, sometimes accompanied by aquatic, sweet, and spicy undertones (source). Some people may even detect subtle notes like vanilla and wood.

Lilacs, on the other hand, have a soft and elegant fragrance. They may feature notes like melon, almond, peach, violet, black currant, and anise, creating a smooth yet uplifting scent (source). Though different from hyacinths, lilacs also evoke feelings of joy and freshness.

Both hyacinth and lilac fragrances can be found in perfumes, such as Pacifica’s French Lilac perfume, which has hyacinth, lilac, and ylang-ylang notes (source). Additionally, hyacinth and lilac have been paired together in scented products, forming a harmonious blend of floral and fruity aromas (source).

Garden Uses and Design

Hyacinth

 

Hyacinth flowers are appreciated for their vibrant colors and pleasant fragrance. They are often used in garden designs, especially in spring bulb collections, where they can be combined with other flowers like daffodils and tulips, creating a stunning display of color with their soft pastel hues.

Lilac

Lilacs are admired for their beautiful blooms and delightful aroma. They are versatile in landscape designs, often used as focal points, borders, or hedges. Smaller varieties of lilac, such as the Korean Lilac, can be utilized in smaller gardens, surrounded by plants like Columbine, Phlox, and Meadow Rue for a low-maintenance garden that is butterfly-friendly.

Care and Maintenance

Hyacinth

When caring for hyacinths, it is crucial to avoid overwatering. These plants do not thrive in standing water or overly wet conditions. To properly water hyacinths, check the soil moisture at a depth of 3 inches. If the soil is dry, water deeply at the soil level, refraining from overhead watering methods.

For optimal growth, plant hyacinth bulbs approximately 4 inches below the surface and 3 inches apart. When mass planting hyacinth bulbs, be sure to maximize their sweet scent for the most enjoyable experience.

Lilac

Lilacs are known to prefer fertile, humus-rich, well-draining, and neutral to alkaline soils, around a pH of 7.0. Before planting, enrich poor-condition soil with compost. Choosing a properly-draining planting site is vital for lilacs to prevent excessive moisture and the potential for lack of blooms.

Sunlight also plays a significant role in lilac care, as these plants require substantial sunlight along with proper airflow to yield healthy, abundant blooms annually. Be mindful of providing suitable growing conditions for the best lilac cultivation experience.

Pests and Diseases

Hyacinth

Hyacinths are generally easy to grow, but they can be affected by certain issues. The most important aspect of growing a healthy hyacinth plant is to ensure proper planting depth, spacing between bulbs, and soil composition. Plant the bulbs at a depth of about 15cm and space them approximately 10cm apart in a loose, sandy compost mix.

Lilac

Lilac bushes often face challenges such as fungal diseases and various pests. One common problem is powdery mildew, a fungal disease that appears as a white, powdery coating on lilac leaves. Pruning away affected areas and thinning the shrub can help to control the issue. If needed, applying copper fungicide may help to eliminate the disease quickly. Another notable pest is the lilac stem borer, which can be kept under control by maintaining good garden hygiene and inspecting the plants regularly.

Conclusion

In summary, hyacinths and lilacs are distinct flowering plants that bring beauty and fragrance to gardens. While hyacinths are low-growing, bulbous plants that create stunning groupings, lilacs grow as bushes or trees with a similar flower shape. Plant enthusiasts can enjoy both of these lovely plants in their landscapes, each offering their own charm and benefits to the garden aesthetic.