Nancy Brachey

Amaryllis and paperwhites are fabulous for December

Paper-white narcissus can be grown easily in a pot of soil or bowl of water with rocks to stabilize the bulbs.
Paper-white narcissus can be grown easily in a pot of soil or bowl of water with rocks to stabilize the bulbs. MCT

Many people look to two kinds of flowering bulbs as important parts of their holiday decor for December. They grab attention in stores because they are sold with the tulips, narcissus and crocuses we shop for in autumn.

But amaryllis and paperwhite narcissus bulbs are different. They produce flowers within weeks and without the long, winter chill in the ground outdoors. These are flowers for the winter indoors and they are very easy to grow.

They bring color and drama indoors for your enjoyment and make wonderful, easy gifts.

The reason is simple: The bud of the flower is in the bulb, ready to emerge once planted and urged out of dormancy.

Both kinds are amenable to growing in soil or water, the latter only slightly trickier.

Warm rooms will bring up the flower stems rapidly and often not so successfully. Both bulbs benefit from life in a cool room, such as an unheated sun porch, especially at night.

Because they are smallish and easy to move, they can easily be brought into the living room or den once the flowers are ready to enjoy.

Cool, but not freezing, temperatures will slow down the progress of blooms should they be advancing too fast for your party.

Amaryllis

This is an unusually large bulb that requires a tall pot with a diameter of 6 to 8 inches. The pot’s diameter should be an inch or so wider than the bulb.

An amaryllis grows best in soil, but it can also be put in an amaryllis vase designed with a narrow neck. The bulb will sit above water in the vase, allowing roots to grow into the water.

In a pot of soil, set the bulb so that the top rises just above the rim.

Regardless of how you plant it, the flower stem will rise first, once water and fresh root growth stimulate the plant out of dormancy.

The biggest bulbs should produce a second stem in succession, which is why the biggest bulbs cost more than the smaller ones. Tall strap-shaped, green leaves follow.

Many choices of flower colors are available – white, various pinks, orange and bright red.

Once the flower fades, cut it off and also its stem. 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.

Paperwhite narcissus

Paperwhites are often grown in a bowl of water with small rocks to anchor them and prevent tipping. Plant the bulbs in multiples of three or five for a harmonious effect. 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.

You can even keep the bowl or pot of soil outdoors during the initial rooting time when the temperature isn’t below 40 degrees.

Unlike the amaryllis, paperwhites don’t make as easy a transition to the outdoor garden, which is why most people pitch the spent bulbs once the blooms are done. But you can plant them outdoors after the blooms fade. They should eventually bloom again, but may take a year or two to adjust.

Nancy Brachey: nbrachey@charlotteobserver.com

Ask Nancy

Q. I have not planted my tulips and daffodils yet because it was so wet for two weeks. Have I passed the deadline?

A. No – it’s not too late. I get this question every year. You have plenty of time, meaning another few weeks to get those bulbs in the ground. They will be fine. Don’t let them go to waste in a paper bag.

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