Amaryllis and Paper whites are rewarding, easy-care houseplants that really brighten a winter windowsill. Few bulbs are easier to grow than amaryllis and few bloom with greater exuberance and beauty. Just plant the bulb in good potting soil, water regularly and provide bright, indirect light.
A support stake is handy for keeping the blooms upright, but little else is required. Most varieties will begin blooming six to eight weeks after planting; some can take as long as ten weeks.
If the amaryllis is not already potted, plant each amaryllis bulb in a 6-8” pot. Heavy pots are preferable because lightweight pots may tip over under the weight of the blooms. But first, place the bulb in lukewarm water for a few hours before planting. Plant the bulb, pointed-end-up, in soil-less potting mix. Plant the bulb up to its neck in the potting mix. Press the soil down firmly to set the bulb securely in place after planting. Allow approximately one-third of the bulb to remain above the soil line. Do not use soil from the garden because it will not drain properly.
Place the potted bulb in a warm place with direct light since heat is necessary for the development of the stems. The ideal temperature is 68-70 degrees. Water sparingly until the stem appears, then, as the bud and leaves appear, gradually water more.
At this point, the stem will grow rapidly and flowers will develop after it has reached full growth. As the plant grows, turn the pot periodically to encourage the flower stalks to grow straight. Flower buds will appear at the top of each stalk, followed by a dramatic floral display. To prolong the blooms, keep the pot out of direct sunlight.
If you want a beautiful bloom for Christmas, plant it now! By planting around November 15 will give you bloom starting December 20 through January 10. Planting December 1, the bloom will be flower about January 6 – 28.
Cut the old flower from the stem after flowering and when the stem starts to sag, cut it back to the top of the bulb.
Continue to water and fertilize as normal all summer or for at least 5 – 6 months allowing the leaves to fully develop and grow. When the leaves begin to yellow in the early fall, cut the leaves back to about 2 inches from the top of the bulb and remove the bulb from the soil.
Clean the bulb and place it in a cool, dark place such as the crisper of your refrigerator for a minimum of 6 weeks.
Do not store amaryllis bulbs in a refrigerator that contains apples, this will sterilize the bulbs.
After 6 weeks you may remove bulbs whenever you would like to plant them. Plant bulbs 8 weeks before you would like them to bloom.
If you like to force paper whites, you will need a container about 3-4 inches deep and that has no drainage holes. Spread an inch or 2 of stones, marbles or even gravel, along the bottom of the container.
Position paper white bulbs, pointed end up, on top of the stone layer and close together. They display better in a large group and the tight fit will help keep them from topping over. Add another layer of stones to cover the bulbs up to their shoulders. The pointed ends will still be showing.
Add water so that the level just reaches the base of the bulbs. Covering the entire bulb with water will cause it to rot. The bulbs do not need light at this point and prefer it on the cool side, at about 65 degrees. Check your bulbs daily to see if they need more water.
When you see roots developing, move the container to a sunny window but don’t let them get too warm or they will grow leggy. Full bloom will take 3-5 weeks total. Once the plants flower move to a cool spot with indirect or diffused light. Bring some beauty into your home by planting these bulbs.
Charlene Thornhill is a volunteer citizen columnist, who serves The Daily Advocate readers weekly with her community column Along the Garden Path. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. Column made available though the AIM Media Midwest group of newspapers.