Planning blooms for the Christmas holidays

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 20, 2000

The holiday season is fast approaching. Traditionally, blooming potted plants are an integral part of our holiday decorations. Besides the most popular poinsettia, amaryllis and paperwhite Narcissus have long been staples for indoor color during the holidays.

Both of these bulbs can be purchased in nurseries already potted and in various stages approaching full bloom from now until Christmas. Both make for cheerful gifts that are easy to care for and provide bright color during the cold winter days.

Forcing these bulbs to bloom is easy to do in your own home and lots of fun. Whether you would like to grow them for yourself, or for gifts, now is the time to start planning and possibly planting. Beware, nurseries tend to sell out of these bulbs early.

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Depending upon temperature and light, it takes 6-8 weeks to for an amaryllis to bloom. So, if you want to start the bulbs yourself and have them blooming for Christmas, you probably need to get started right away.

Paperwhites usually require only 3-5 weeks to force from a bulb to full bloom. Paperwhites can be planted as late as the first week of December and still be blooming for Christmas day.

A great way to have color throughout the entire season is to stagger the planting dates for the bulbs. Plant a few containers every three to four days. This way they will not all bloom at one time.

Another way is to pot them all at once and store them in a cool place like a refrigerator or basement. They will remain dormant until you take them out. Take some out every three or four days.

Amaryllis come in a variety of colors including red, white, pink, salmon, orange and many bicolor blooms. Each bulb usually produces two flowers, although if you are lucky they can produce more. Heights can range from 18-36 inches depending upon cultivar and forcing conditions.

Amaryllis are usually potted in six inch diameter pots with drainage holes using a peat moss based potting mix. The bulbs are rather large and can be difficult to fit in the pot sometimes. Plant the bulb so that on-third of it is above the rim of the pot.

After the bulb is planted, water it in very well. Keep the soil moist during forcing but not too wet. This time of year you will probably only have to water it once a week. Place the bulb in a sunny south facing window with plenty of light. The warmer you keep the bulb the faster it will bloom.

When a plant is in bloom, the cooler you keep the temperature, the longer the bloom will last. This may be difficult in the home because we like to stay warm during the winter. Just avoid placing the plant near a fireplace or other source of heat to lengthen the bloom life.

Paperwhites can be forced in one of two types of containers, those with drainage holes and those without.

When planting in containers without any drainage, use a dish 3 to 4 inches deep. Cover the bottom 1 to 2 inches with pea gravel or stones and place the bulbs on top, closely together. Place more rocks over and around the bulbs to help hold them in place. Fill the container with just enough water to reach the bottom, or base of the bulbs.

Growing paperwhites in pots with drainage holes have a different regime. The pot should be at least 3 to 4 inches deep and filled with a well drained potting medium. The bulbs should be planted with the nose or tip slightly below the pots rim. Thoroughly water the potting media and keep moist.

Regardless of which type of container you use, place the bulbs in a cool area of the home. Preferable temperature is 60 to 65F. When the bulbs are flowering, it’s also best to keep them in a cooler location.

Although paperwhites will flower under any light conditions, the best treatment is to place them in a window facing south. To prolong flowering, remove the plants from the direct light as they begin to bloom.

Paperwhites and amaryllis both can be very useful when decorating during the holidays and mix easily with traditional poinsettias. Whether you force them yourself or buy them already blooming give these easy to grow holiday bulbs a try this season.

Gardening Miss-Lou Style is a weekly column written by Traci Maier of Natchez. Please send your comments and questions to Gardening Miss-Lou Style, c/o The Natchez Democrat, 503 N. Canal St., Natchez, Miss., 39120 or by e-mail to