Good to Grow: Bulbs give homes a burst of holiday color

Soon-to-be paperwhites, these bulbs are easy to care for and fit several to a pot for multiple blooms.
Article by Jane Powell, Good to Grow

I’m planting indoor bulbs now for holiday and late winter blooming. Paperwhites and amaryllis blooms give a big payoff for a little bit of work, and really, who doesn’t love that, especially this time of the year?

Paperwhite narcissus are one of my favorite bulbs to plant, and during the holiday season I have pots of them scattered around the house. To keep them blooming through the winter, I plant a pot each week. They generally bloom four to six weeks after planting. I try to make sure I have a few that will bloom in January, after the decorations are down and I’m missing the holiday greenery.

I vary the planting medium and use both pebbles and soil, planting several bulbs in different types of containers. When using pebbles, I like a glass container. The pebbles look pretty and it is fun to watch the roots grow and spread through the stones.

I place about two inches of rocks in a 6-inch-wide glass container. With a container this size you should plant four to five bulbs. Bulbs are teardrop shaped; the tip of the bulb should be pointing up as you nestle the bulbs into the stone with the root end firmly but not deeply planted. A good rule for planting: leave two-thirds of the bulb exposed above the surface.

Add enough water to just cover the pebbles to get them started. Then, when watering, keep the water just below the top of the rocks. If using soil, follow the same planting instructions, giving the bulbs a really good drink with the initial planting, then not letting the soil get too dry as they begin to grow, but don’t let them sit in a puddle of water.

The stems will lean into the light, so rotating the planter every week is a good idea to keep the stalks growing straight. (I do this with an African violet growing near my kitchen window, too.)

Planting the bulbs tightly together will also help to keep them straight, but once the plants get 7 or 8 inches tall, I pick a colorful ribbon or piece of twine. Then, wrapping it loosely around the stems, I tie a pretty bow.

This not only adds a little fun to the plant but helps to keep it steady and tall as the blooms appear. The tall green stems and fluffy white blooms can create an elegant, earthy, or crafty arrangement depending on the type of container and ribbon you choose.

Speaking of elegant, the amaryllis bloom is fabulous. The bloom is big and beautiful. There are several colors available, but I generally stick with red or candy striped.

The amaryllis bulb is much bigger than the paperwhite bulb. I suggest planting one bulb in a six-to-eight-inch pot. Keep in mind this will be a heavier bloom and may require a sturdier pot. Use a quality potting soil and place the bulb pointy-side up with about half of the bulb above the soil.

Water sparingly until you see the stem appear. This flower will take a bit longer to bloom — anywhere from eight to 10 weeks, so get them potted soon for a Christmas bloom — but regardless of when it blooms, I promise it will be glorious. Like the paperwhites, you will need to rotate the pot to keep the stems growing straight and tall. Don’t be surprised if you get multiple blooms from one bulb; and because of the large blooms, you may need to stake the stalks.

You can buy individual bulbs at most garden centers. If you want to take the guess work out of planting, there are also boxed kits available. The kits include a pot, soil pod and bulbs. The soil pod will need to be hydrated with warm water, but this is quick and easy.

I love giving these as gifts and try to do the planting beforehand so there is no work for my friends — all they have to do is water and enjoy watching the plant grow. They make a great gift for the nongardener because after the plant blooms, there is no guilt in tossing the bulbs, and hoping you receive new ones next year.

Paperwhites and amaryllis; forcing these bulbs not only gives a gardener plants to play with in the winter months, but it is fun to see the stems first break through the bulb, then grow taller every day. Your payoff comes in bursts of white clouds and elegant reds filling the house during the cold days of winter.