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Tender bulbs brighten holiday scene

Two bulbs set the scene during the holidays – amaryllis, with its large trumpet like flowers atop a sturdy stalk, and paperwhites, a very fragrant daffodil that perfumes the room.

Center stage — Amaryllis growth stages from bulb to flower. (Photos courtesy Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center)

Center stage — Amaryllis growth stages from bulb to flower. (Photos courtesy Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center)

Amaryllis (Hippeastrum) and paperwhites (Narcissus tazetta) are readily available at garden centers and online and mail order merchants. Buy the biggest bulbs you can find. Here are some more tips:

Amaryllis

  • Pot it in a container that is slightly larger than the bulb is wide. Use a high-quality soilless potting mix that drains well. The top half of the bulb should be above the soil line. Water thoroughly. Place the bulb in a warm, sunny window. Allow the soil to go dry between watering.
  • In just a few weeks, the flower stalk will emerge from the bulb followed by strap like leaves. Move the plant to a bright spot, but out of direct sun when the buds have opened enough that you can see the color of the flower. Several flowers will open at the top of the stalk. A premium bulb will have more than one flower stalk.
Fragrant blooms — Easy-to-grow paperwhites perfume the room. (Photos courtesy Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center)

Fragrant blooms — Easy-to-grow paperwhites perfume the room. (Photos courtesy Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center)

Paperwhites

  • Just as easy are fragrant paperwhites (Narcissus tazetta), which frequently are grown in a shallow tray with water. You can grow paperwhites in water only or you can fill the tray about half way with decorative stones or glass beads. Place the bulbs among the stones or beads, adding more as needed to secure the bulbs in place.
  • Add enough water to reach the base of the bulbs and place the tray in a cool location. Check regularly and add water as needed to keep the base of the bulbs touching water.
  • When roots start to develop, usually in two or three weeks, move the tray to a sunny location when roots start to develop. Once the bulbs start to bloom, move the tray to a bright area, but out of direct sun.
  • To keep paperwhites from stretching and falling over, give them a shot of alcohol. Research at Cornell University has shown that paperwhites grown in a solution of one part alcohol to seven parts water, resulted in shorter plants that stayed upright. To read the report: http://tinyurl.com/5z9zlg. Paperwhites are not winter hardy in most of Indiana, so compost the bulbs when they finish blooming.

The Hoosier Gardener’s tips for reblooming amaryllis

Amaryllis (Hippeastrum) is easy to ‘summer over,’ making it a favorite, sustainable, pass-along plant that can bring the joy of heirloom blooms for generations. Here’s how:

  • Winter brightener — Many amaryllis flowers form at the top of the stalk. (Photos courtesy Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center)

    Winter brightener — Many amaryllis flowers form at the top of the stalk. (Photos courtesy Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center)

    Remove the blossoms as they fade to keep seeds from forming. When the plant has finished blooming, cut the stalk at the base of the plant without removing the leaves. Return the plant a sunny window.

  • When all danger of frost has passed, move the amaryllis outdoors to a semi-shady spot, gradually acclimating the plant to full sun. If you put the plant in full sun directly from the house, the foliage well get sunburned. The foliage is necessary for replenishing the bulb for next year’s flowers.
  • Apply a balanced, good quality, water-soluble fertilizer every couple of weeks throughout the summer.
  • Water when the soil feels dry.
  • Bring the plant indoors before the first frost.

Choices

You have a couple of options of what to do next, depending on when you’d like for the amaryllis to bloom.

Holiday blooms

  • Traditionally, the bulb is given a resting period by placing it in a dark location, withholding all water and allowing the leaves to dry. The bulb may be forced into bloom again after resting eight weeks, or even less, should new growth appear spontaneously. If necessary, repot in a slightly larger container. If the pot is still large enough, remove the upper 2 inches of soil and top dress with fresh potting soil. This completes the cycle, which may be repeated annually for many years of lovely blossoms.

Spring blooms

  • Amaryllis also can be kept growing actively year-round without the traditional rest and subsequent forcing. When handled this way, however, the bulbs probably will not bloom until spring. They still require annual repotting or topdressing along with adequate light and fertilizer to ensure repeated bloom.

Multiply

  • Often small plantlets will develop beside a well-grown amaryllis. These may be separated gently from the large bulb and repotted, or they may be left attached and allowed to grow to full size along with the original bulb. You could end up with a large pot containing several amaryllis, all blooming at once.

How to extend the bloom cycle

Pot up a few amaryllis every two weeks throughout late fall and early winter, add light and water and you can have waves of amaryllis blooms until spring.

Now, thanks to new information from the Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center, there’s another way – pot up all your bulbs at once and achieve the same staggered bloom times by harnessing the varying natural bloom times of different amaryllis varieties.

It may be surprising to learn that amaryllis varieties don’t all come to flower in the same timeframe. Some varieties flower very quickly in around four to six weeks; some can take as long as nine or twelve weeks to flower, while still others fall in between at seven to ten weeks. The common wisdom normally cites amaryllis bloom times as an average of six to eight weeks.

“Though actual timing can vary, some varieties are fairly predictable in terms of their relative bloom times,” says Sally Ferguson, director of the Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center.  “While these bloom schedules are not precise enough for critical professional applications, which is probably why they’re not listed on the packages, they can be nifty to know for home growing situations. Consider this the ‘inside skinny’ from the Dutch bulb experts.”

Today, amaryllis hybridizers and growers offer an abundance of exotic new colors, sizes and shapes. Some American retailers offer as many as 50 different varieties to meet consumer demand for all looks, new, old and different. The NFBIC provides a list of some of the more predictable varieties by bloom time:

Early Season Blooming Amaryllis Varieties (5 to 8 weeks to bloom)

  • Single flowered:  ‘Orange Sovereign,’ ‘Lucky Strike,’ ‘Apple Blossom,’ ‘Minerva,’ ‘Roma,’ ‘Vera’ and ‘Mount Blanc’
  • Double flowered:  ‘Lady Jane,’ ‘Mary Lou,’ ‘Aphrodite’ and ‘Pasadena’
  • Gracillis (or miniature) varieties:  ‘Donau,’ ‘Scarlet Baby,’ ‘Giraffe,’ ‘Amoretta’ and ‘Pamela’

Mid Season Blooming Amaryllis Varieties (7 to 10 weeks to bloom)

  • Single flowered:  ‘Red Lion,’ ‘Lemon Lime,’ ‘Liberty,’ ‘Royal Velvet,’ ‘Hercules,’ ‘Wonderland,’ ‘Rilona’ and ‘Picotee’
  • Double flowered:  ‘Double Record,’ ‘Unique,’ ‘Blossom Peacock’ and ‘White Peacock’
  • Cybister varieties:  ‘Emerald’ and ‘Ruby Meyer’
  • Gracilis (or miniature) varieties:  ‘Papillio’
  • Trumpet variety (shaped somewhat akin to Easter Lilies, but smaller): ‘Pink Floyd’

Late Season Blooming Amaryllis Varieties (9 to 12 weeks to bloom)

  • Single flowered:  ‘Las Vegas,’ ‘Clown,’ ‘Piquant,’ ‘Toronto,’ ‘Vlammenspel,’ ‘Happy Memory’ and ‘Charisma’
  • Double flowered: ‘Promise,’ ‘Dancing Queen,’ ‘Flaming Peacock’ and ‘Andes’
  • Cybister varieties:  ‘La Paz’ and ‘Chico’
  • Trumpet varieties:  ‘Amputo’ and ‘Misty’

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