Flowers brighten up your winter doldrums

  If you were lucky you received an amaryllis bulb for the holidays and then the question became “what do I do with this?” The bulb can be treated like any other flowering bulb but forcing it to bloom indoors can bring a bit of color and cheer to the otherwise drab months of January and February. 

  With its 6”-10” trumpet flowers and 1’ to 2’ stalks, an amaryllis is fun to grow. The large flowers can be white, pink, red, salmon, rose or even bicolor, with single or double blooms. Amaryllis bulbs are tender bulbs that, unlike other flowering bulbs, require no special cold treatment to bloom. Very often gift bulbs will come with both a container and growing medium in which to plant your bulb. If it does not, you can use any container that is 1”-2” larger than the bulb and plant it in any light rich soil. Plant the bulb so that the upper half is exposed. Water the bulb after planting, keep in a cool dry space and let the soil dry out until the leaves emerge.

   Once the leaves have appeared move the plant into a warm sunny spot, watering when the soil feels dry until the flower bud begins to show color. Keep the flower out of direct sunlight while in bloom. Cooler temperatures will let the flowers last longer, however amaryllis are sensitive to cold so keep them out of cold blasts from opening doors and windows.

  If you would like the amaryllis to bloom again next year, cut off the flower bud as soon as it is spent, and before it uses any energy to produce seeds. You can leave the flower stalk and, like the leaves, it will continue to produce and store energy in the bulb for next year’s flower. Treat your plant like any sun loving plant and ensure that it gets plenty of sunlight in the waning days of winter.

After all danger of frost is passed you can move the plant outside and place the plant in an area where it will get dappled sunlight. Gradually move the plant into brighter and brighter sun. Water the plant only when the soil dries out, over watering can lead to bulb rot. As the foliage begins to fade and dry out you can cut it back. Bring the plant into the house before the first frost of fall.

  Amaryllis require no resting period to bloom again. If you keep them in the sunlight and keep them watered they will send up a new stalk and buds. If you want to control when they bloom you can provide them with a resting period. Place them in a cool dry space such as the basement or a closet for 8-12 weeks. Do not water or fertilize. When you are ready to start the blooming process, bring it out into the sunlight and water and fertilize. Every three or four years you can repot the plant. Sometimes you will find that the main bulb has produced secondary bulbs on the sides. You can separate them from the parent bulb and force them separately.

  There are other bulbs that can be forced to bloom in the winter months, including tulips, hyacinth, daffodils and crocus. The only difference is these bulbs require a cold period before they can grow and bloom. After potting, in the same manner as the amaryllis, in a clean, sterile container, the bulbs should be held at 35° – 48° for a minimum of 12 to 13 weeks. This can be in an unheated attic or cellar or even the vegetable tray of your refrigerator. If you store them in the refrigerator, place a plastic bag with holes punched in it loosely over the container. Once they have been through the cold treatment place the container in a cool sunny location where it is 50°-60° until the leaves emerge and then move into a warmer spot but not in direct sunlight. The bulbs should flower in 3-4 weeks after they have been taken out of cold storage, so if you want flowers in February, you should pot up your bulbs and put them in cold storage soon.

There is nothing like a pot of flowering tulips, hyacinth or amaryllis on the windowsill in February to bring a gardener through the winter doldrums.  

“Flowers are beautiful hieroglyphics of nature, with which she indicates how much she loves us.” –Wolfgang von Geothe