While many of us are thinking about buying and planting flower bulbs for bloom from late winter into spring, two other kinds merit our attention for even quicker bloom.
These are amaryllis and paper-white narcissus, both very easy to grow indoors and very rewarding in the winter. Both are perfectly suited for growing in pots of soil, and the narcissus can also go into bowls of pebbles and water.
The amaryllis is a very big bulb that produces one or two fat stalks bearing impressive flowers in colors such as red, white and pink. This is a flower that demands center stage for the drama it brings to a room.
Paper-white narcissus is a much smaller flower bulb and looks best when combined as a three-some in a pot of soil. This makes a more impressive sight than does a single bulb, but even that looks quite nice growing solo on a kitchen window sill.
Both types are in garden centers now, usually near the cartons of tulips and daffodils. Sometimes they are sold as complete packages with bulb, container and soil mix. But you can buy pots and use packaged potting soil to plant them. Paper-whites also are suited to growing in bowls of water with pebbles to anchor the bulbs and, like amaryllis, typically begin to bloom in two to three weeks.
Once planted, both kinds require cool temperatures for the slow, steady growth that produces the nicest looking stems and leaves. I have found leaving the potted bulbs outdoors for cool days and chilly but not freezing nights is good. And once you see a need to hurry them along, you can bring them indoors to normal room temperatures, but keep them well away from sources of heat such as fireplaces and heat registers.
Some years ago, researchers at Cornell University announced they had found a way to keep the foliage and stems of paper-whites from getting too tall and flopping. It involved the addition of certain types of alcohol such as gin or vodka to the water in which the paper-whites are growing. The complete report and instructions are at www.hort.cornell.edu/miller/bulb/Pickling_your_Paperwhites.pdf .
The pot in which an amaryllis is planted should be just wider than the bulb so that the fit is almost snug, but it should be deep enough to allow vigorous root development. Set the bulb so that the top is just above the soil line.
When planting paper-whites in pots of soil, set them so that they are close together but not touching, so that you get the effect of a full bouquet when the flowers open.
Cool temperatures will lengthen the life of the flowers and even hold them back a bit if they are coming on strong and your party isn’t for two more days.
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