I grow a variety of flower bulbs indoors, but my favorites in December and January are amaryllis (Hippeastrum sp.) and paperwhites (Narcissus tazetta.)
After all, it’s always been my contention on this blog that blooming plants beat the winter blues.
Some bulbs, like hyacinths and tulips, need a cooling period before you can coax them into flower. The method is called forcing. Other bulbs like most paperwhites and amaryllis only require potting up and watering. For this post, I’m not going to discuss forcing. Maybe I’ll do a separate post on it later. I’ve written about my process with hyacinths before.
I made a little video for Instagram to show how to grow an amaryllis from a kit as shown above. Although I know it’s a simple activity for experienced gardeners, I think it can be quite intimidating for someone who’s never done it before. I do quite a few videos on Instagram if you want to follow me there.
Since Instagram restricts you to 60-second videos on your feed, here’s the long version for growing amaryllis and paperwhites. Buy your bulbs online or at your local nursery. Amaryllis come in kits, but you can also just buy/order bulbs. I’ve found that online sources for amaryllis like the Amaryllis and Caladium Bulb Company, Brent and Becky’s Bulbs and Van Engelen, the wholesale arm of John Scheepers, all have a wonderful selection of amaryllis bulbs as does Longfield Gardens. Most of these companies also have paperwhites although it’s getting a little late to order. If you wanted amaryllis or paperwhites to bloom for Christmas, it’s probably too late even if you buy a kit.
Bookmark this post and put a reminder on your phone to order these bulbs and those you plant outside in mid-August. That’s when I order mine. I also let the bulb company know if I’m forcing the hyacinths so that they send them to me early. Then, if I’m honest, I order more amaryllis bulbs later. And, then I buy some at the store and pot them up because they make great gifts. I almost can’t stand seeing those little kits sitting on the shelves gathering dust. Won’t you buy and plant them with me?
For something truly spectacular, place three to five of these giant bulbs in a large container and grow them. It’s delightful to watch them grow, and it’s even better to see so many bloom at one time. You should try it. I’m doing a couple of containers that way this year.
Growing amaryllis bulbs is super simple. Just place them in a container without a lot of extra room. They like to be crowded. Then, plant them half of the bulb still showing. You can top the bulbs with stones, gravel, sand, or even moss. All are beautiful. The heavier objects hold the bulbs in place, but you’ll probably still need to stake the flowers which can be quite large if you’re not growing a cybister variety (H. cybister.) I like these Copper Amaryllis Support Stakes. Water the bulb once and then don’t water again until you begin to see green foliage coming up. Then, water as needed. You don’t need to fertilize because the bulb has everything it needs to grow within it.
If you find a kit with the bulb already starting to grow, plant it the same way and water, turning the container in the window each day until the plant straightens out.
I think having some bulbs blooming after Christmas is even better because decorations don’t compete with them. There are also other types of amaryllis out there. There are even some I haven’t tried. Here are the varieties I like best.
Of the bulbs from the Southern Hemisphere, I like double-flowering ‘Alfresco,’ the short and red ‘Merry Christmas,’ double-flowering ‘Inferno,’ darker ‘Red Pearl’ and even darker ‘Black Pearl.’ The Southern Hemisphere amaryllis bulbs are harvested earlier and should bloom by Christmas if you plant them upon receipt. I also really love ‘White Nymph’ a white double. Of the cybister types, I like ‘Evergreen,’ ‘La Paz’ and ‘Bogota,’ According to John Scheepers, the cybister type of amaryllis don’t need a dormancy period to rebloom but can be grown as a houseplant that blooms at different times of the year. I’ve never tried this, but it’s interesting. Maybe I will. Last winter, I grew five or six ‘Evergreen’ bulbs in a large, white Guy Wolff pot. It was glorious!
As for paperwhites (Narcissus tazetta), look for those that are not ‘Ziva’ unless you like that strong scent. I hate ‘Ziva.’ I know hate is a strong word, but I do. Instead, I grow sweeter scented varieties like ‘Nir‘ and ‘Galilee’ along with ‘Cheerfulness’ and ‘Erlicheer.’ ‘Nir’ has larger flowers than other paperwhites and came out of a breeding program that also had ‘Inbal’ and ‘Ariel.’ I’ve grown all three of these. ‘Erlicheer’ requires some chilling so it is technically a forced bulb although it only three or four weeks, or you can buy bulbs chilled by the nursery for forcing. This year, I found ‘Cheerfulness’ at Trader Joe’s. They had already done all the work for me. Although you can grow paperwhites in gravel, I find mine perform better if I use potting soil. As with all bulbs, bigger really is better. If you want your paperwhites to grow shorter and not flop, add one part alcohol to seven parts water which comes out to four to six percent according to Cornell University.
Well, that’s all for now. I hope I’ve convinced you to grow amaryllis and paperwhites. You won’t regret it. It’s a lot of fun.