Amaryllis & Paperwhites

Throughout the fall, many gardeners are busy planting spring bulbs to shorten their winter. It is also a good time to plant bulbs like amaryllis and paperwhites that you can have in your home throughout the winter, and especially for the holidays.

Believe it or not, now is the time to plant your amaryllis to have them blooming in time for Christmas Day.  And while paperwhites grow quicker than amaryllis, it's not a bad idea to buy them now and store them in the refrigerator, as they tend to sell out fairly quickly.

Amaryllis is a tropical bulb native to South America. They are beautiful six to ten inch trumpet shaped flowers at the top of a one to two foot stem. The large blooms come in a variety of colors, sizes and can even vary in being a single layer of petals to a fuller double layer of petals.  The colors range from a simple white or red to striped petals of pink or a bright lime green.  Petal shape can also vary, giving you loads of textures available to decorate your home with.

Amaryllis take between six and ten weeks to bloom after planting, meaning that now is the time to get yours planted to have it blooming for Christmas.  It is best to put the potted bulb in a warm, sunny place to begin its growth. Once it has begun, place the pot somewhere a bit cooler so the stem does not grow too tall.  These make great holiday gifts for gardeners who want a little bit of color in their home during the winter.

Amaryllis can be planted from October through April. When you go to plant your bulb, choose a pot that is barely larger than the bulb itself.  Be sure your pot has proper drainage.  Being that an amaryllis is a bulb, it will rot easily if the water has nowhere to go after you water it.

As you plant the bulb, be sure to avoid damaging the roots.  No matter how deep your pot is, be sure that at least a third of the bulb is exposed at the top of the soil. (See photo) While it may look funny to us, this is how amaryllis need to be planted to ensure success.  Water the bulb after you planted it, but then less frequently until the stem begins to grow.

Amaryllis may shoot up only one stem, but can often shoot up multiple stems, each producing multiple flowers.  Once an amaryllis flower has finished blooming, cut that faded flower off promptly.  This will allow the plant to give its energy to the flowers that remain, keeping them in bloom longer.

If you want to try to get the bulb to bloom a second year, there are a few extra steps.  Once all the flowers are done, allow the leaves to continue to grow and develop, treating it as you would any other houseplant.  In May, plant the bulb, pot and all, in a sheltered spot in your garden. Starting in September, stop watering the bulb.  In October, trim the foliage down and place the bulb, pot and all, in a cool, dry place.  Come January, re-pot the bulb in new soil, removing old roots, and wait for it to start the process over again.

The blooms the second time around may not be as spectacular as newly-purchased bulbs. This is because the new bulbs go through a three-year preparation process to produce brilliant blooms. This is also why amaryllis bulbs cost more than your tulip and daffodil bulbs.

Paperwhites are more well-known among amateur gardeners.  They are truly the "Just add water" type of plant.  Part of the narcissus family, paperwhites produce bunches of fragrant, small, white flowers that look like miniature daffodils.

These bulbs can be easily force-grown indoors, not needing to be chilled before growth begins, as hyacinths or tulips need.  As soon as the flowers are planted, they begin to grow, producing blooms about three to four weeks later.  To prolong blooming, it is best to keep them in a cooler room and indirect light.  These are also popular gifts to give, as well as decorations in the home.

Paperwhites are popular because they can be grown in or out of soil.  Many people will use them a a table centerpiece after being grown in decorative stones and water.  You can basically plant them in any medium, and as long as they have water, they'll grow.  Just be sure that when growing paperwhites in this manner that you do not have the bulbs completely submerged in water, as they will rot.

When you plant them, put a layer of your medium, let's say stones, in the bottom of a shallow dish that has no drainage.  Then place your bulbs in the medium so that they will start standing.  Part of the trick is to pack the container with as many bulbs as it will fit.  Once all your bulbs are placed, fill in the gaps with your stones, leaving the point of the bulb sticking out of your stones.  Then fill the containers with water up to the base of the bulbs. Be sure to refill the container with additional water as needed.

Both amaryllis and paperwhites can add to your home during the holiday season and throughout the winter.

Christian Goers