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Choose paperwhites, amaryllis for seasonal flowers

A beautiful amaryllis grown in a special glass vase with the bulb anchored by decorative stones.
A beautiful amaryllis grown in a special glass vase with the bulb anchored by decorative stones. Observer file photo

Apart from stewing over recipes for next week’s big dinner, gardeners are starting to think about the flowering plants they will enjoy for the holiday season. Many of you will have potted mums in Thanksgiving colors of bronze, red or yellow, plants that can be enjoyed well beyond turkey day.

Still others among you are looking at the two important kinds of bulbs that are planted in pots or water to bloom indoors in December. These are, of course, amaryllis and paper-white narcissus.

Perhaps you have seen them on display in boxes beside tulips, daffodils, crocuses and other bulbs that bloom from late winter through spring. But amaryllis and paper-whites are different. They do not require many weeks in chilly soil.. They don’t wait for the new year to produce nice flowers. And best of all, they don’t have to stay outdoors.

Such characteristics appeal to a broad array of people who don’t consider themselves gardeners but are interested in seasonal color. Paper-whites and amaryllis give that in abundance along with some excitement as their buds rise from the soil or water and open into beautiful blooms.

Except for a few kinds that produce yellow flowers, paperwhites bear white blooms atop slender stems accompanied by narrow foliage. They are easily grown in bowls of water, the bulbs anchored by small stones. The water level should be just at the bottom of the bulbs where the roots emerge. But you can also grow them in pots of soil, packed close together, but not touching. The tips of the bulbs should rise just above the soil level.

An amaryllis bulb, which is much bigger than a paper-white narcissus, grows best in a pot with soil, positioned so that the neck of the bulb just rises above the soil line. Often these bulbs come in a kit with a pot and soil. But if you choose a pot, make it just slightly bigger than the bulb. An amaryllis can also grow in a vase shaped so that the bottom of the bulb sits just at the water line.

Planting these two kinds of bulbs is rather easy, certainly less strenuous than preparing a bed outdoors for tulips or daffodils.

The challenge comes in growing them at the right temperature. They perform best when grown in a cool, sunny spot. They must be kept well away from burning fireplaces, furnace registers and other heat sources. Heat brings the flowers and leaves along too quickly, often causing them to flop over.

A cool, unheated room where the air does not drop below about 50 degrees makes an excellent start for these bulbs. Roots will develop and the top growth will emerge slowly.

Placing them outdoors on a deck or patio while the low temperatures at night stay in the 50s is another option to produce the slow development that produces strong flower stems and foliage

Nancy Brachey: nbrachey@charlotteobserver.com

Ask Nancy

Q. We planted a number of camellias, ferns and azaleas over the past month or so. We have watered them regularly as was suggested by the grower. Should we continue this watering regime during the upcoming cold months?

A. These are new, valuable plants and worth every bit of effort needed to encourage root development through the winter. You should keep watering them while the drought persists. Once the drought breaks and we have normal fall-through-winter rainfall, you can stop watering them yourself. A slow watering that seeps well into the root zone should be sufficient now because the weather is cool and there is less evaporation.

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