Forcing holiday bulbs indoors
Wednesday, December 19, 2012 12:00 AM
The holiday rush is finally slowing done. In the pile of discarded wrapping paper you find these bags of bulbs that your gardening friend happily gave you. Her excitement in your present falls short on you. What are you going to do with these dried lumps so that you will not burst her bubble? Hopefully some planting instructions came with them. If not, I am going to tell you how to force these bulbs to reveal their great beauty and brighten the cold, gray days of winter.
Two of the easiest bulbs to force indoors are the amaryllis (Hippeastrum sp) and paperwhite narcissus (Narcissus tazetta).
Paperwhite narcissus produce clusters of small white, yellow or orange, fragrant flowers on 12- to 18-inch-tall stems. These bulbs can be forced iwith or with potting soil.
Some people use shallow bowls, partially filled with washed gravel or stones to force bulbs. The bulbs are placed on the gravel then additional gravel or stones placed around them, leaving the tips of the bulbs exposed. Water is added to the bowl until it touches the bottom of the bulbs. Maintain the water at this level throughout the forcing period.
Other gardeners grow paperwhites in pots. When forcing them in pots, fill the container about half full with potting soil. Place a group of bulbs on the soil surface and add additional potting soil until only the tips of the bulbs are sticking above the soil line. Water the pot thoroughly and maintain uniform soil moisture throughout the forcing period.
Place the planted bulbs in a cool (50 - 55 degrees F), dark location for one to two weeks to encourage root growth. When the shoots begin to emerge, move the plants to a sunny window with a temperature of 60 - 70 degrees F.
Quite often paperwhite plants need to be staked as the plants get too leggy. An alternative is to give them a shot of the leftover Christmas booze. Once the leaves get 1 - 2 inches tall start watering them with a 5 percent solution of alcohol. Any kind will do except wine and beer. Even rubbing alcohol will work.
To convert your booze to 5 percent alcohol, just divide the percentage alcohol by 5 and then subtract 1. That will tell you how many parts water to mix with your 1 part alcohol. Ex: 50 divided by 5 = 10: 10 minus 1 = 9... 9 parts water to 1 part alcohol.
Amaryllis bulbs can be purchased pre-planted in pots or unpotted. When purchasing unpotted amaryllis bulbs, select the largest, solid bulbs you can find. The larger bulbs often produce two flower stalks. Gardeners can choose from single-flowering, double-flowering, or miniature varieties that come in red, pink, orange, salmon, white, and bicolor flowers.
When forcing an amaryllis bulb, select a pot that is only 1 to 2 inches wider than the diameter of the bulb. The pot can be terra cotta, ceramic or plastic, with drainage holes in the bottom. Put enough potting soil in the bottom of the pot so the upper one-half of the bulb will remain above the soil surface. Center the bulb in the middle of the pot and add additional potting soil, firming it around the roots and bulb. Water well and place in a warm (70 - 75 degrees F) location.
After the initial watering, do not water again until the bulb sprouts. From then on keep the soil moist, but not wet. When growth appears, move the plant to a sunny window and apply a water-soluble fertilizer every two to four weeks.
Amaryllis need 4 - 5 hours of direct sunlight a day. During flower stalk elongation, turn the pot each day to keep the flower stalk growing straight. When the amaryllis begins to bloom, move the plant to a slightly cooler (65 - 70 degrees F) location with indirect sun to prolong the life of the flowers. After your amaryllis is done blooming you can plant it outdoors in your garden.
By following these guidelines your holiday bulbs should begin flowering about six to eight weeks after potting. You will be rewarded twice for your efforts. First, when you see the beauty released from the bulbs; the second will be from the smile of the gardening friend who gave you the bulbs.