Two kinds of flowering bulbs grab attention in the winter for their ease of care and beauty. Both amaryllis and paper-white narcissus are in garden centers now, ready for planting. These bulbs rank among these easiest of indoor gardening projects and are well-suited for beginning gardeners, people who want to do a project with kids or just about anyone who likes to grow flowers.
The simplicity of these plants is breathtaking. The bud is in the bulb, ready to rise once stirred into action by the mere fact of being planted where water will encourage roots to begin growing and shake the bulb out of its dormant state.
But they are quite different in style and appearance.
The amaryllis grows from a really big bulb that is best planted in a tallish pot that is an inch or so wider in diameter than the bulb, about 6 to 8 inches, for example. It grows best in soil, but can grow in an amaryllis vase designed with a narrow neck. The bulb will sit above water in the vase. The roots will grow from the base and trail into the water. In a pot of soil, set the bulb so that the top rises just above the rim.
Whether you plant in soil or water, the flower stem will rise first. The biggest bulbs should produce a second stem in succession. Tall strap-shaped leaves follow. The amaryllis bulb comes in a wide range of colors, including deep red, pink and white.
Once the flower fades, cut it off but leave the leaves to nurture a future bud and bloom. This works better when the bud is planted in soil, which contains nutrients, than in water. These valuable bulbs can be planted outdoors in your sunny flowerbeds. After a year or two of recovery time, they bloom in late spring. I have seen some keep going for many years in the ground outdoors.
These bulbs may also go into a pot of soil or a bowl of water. In water, they require anchoring with small rocks that keep the bulbs from tipping over as the stems and leaves rise. Plant in multiples of three or five for a nice effect. In this case, a bit of water touching the bottom of the bulbs doesn’t seem to be a hazard, probably because the bulbs are so actively growing and the time they spend in the bowl is just a few weeks. Like an amaryllis, they benefit from a cool growing environment that will keep the flower stems and leaves from growing too tall and flopping over. An unheated, enclosed porch is good.
Even keeping the planted bulbs outdoors during the initial rooting time works fine, since it doesn’t get too cold at this time of year. I have gotten my best-looking paper-whites by keeping them on steps by the house during rooting and stem development, then bringing them indoors. But this was not freezing weather, just the typical December chill. Unlike the amaryllis, the paper-whites don’t make an easy transition to the garden outdoors, which is why most people simply pitch the spent bulbs once the blooms are done.
If you plant them outdoors, do so right away, because the bulbs will not profit from being left in a bowl of water. After a time, the bulbs may bloom in April, but here is where a gardener’s patience is required.