There’s something so charming about having amaryllis and paperwhites bloom during the holiday season. They add a fun breath of life to the room at a time of year when the view outside your window is primarily gray and green. Growing your own bright and cheery flowers from bulbs is simple, rewarding, and a great project to do with kids. Forced bulbs also make wonderful gifts during the holiday season.
Supplies for Forcing Bulbs
Purchase high-quality bulbs to ensure success. Bulbs should be firm with no sign of mold. If they’ve already started sprouting a bit, that’s fine, but you don’t want to see too much growth. Bulbs are sold by circumference size, and larger bulbs will produce more flower stalks and blooms.
For forcing amaryllis, you’ll need potting soil and a container with a drainage hole. If you have a special container without a hole that you’d like to display your amaryllis in, you can always select a plastic pot with a drainage hole to fit inside of it. Put a little gravel between the pot with a drainage hole and the outside pot. This will ensure that the interior pot does not sit in water. The container holding the bulb should be about six inches deep, and wide enough to leave at least one inch of soil around the bulb.
For forcing paperwhites, you have two options. To grow them without soil, you’ll need gravel or small pebbles, as well as a container without a drainage hole. Containers for paperwhites only need to be a few inches deep, so you can get creative with your selection. Another option is to use a tall vase, which can prevent the stems from falling over. Many people choose clear containers so that they can see the water level inside. Alternatively, you can grow them in a pot with a drainage hole using potting soil and gravel.
When to Plant Bulbs for Forcing
It may seem too early to be thinking about the winter holidays, but amaryllis bulbs take approximately six to eight weeks from potting to bloom. Paperwhites take almost as long, at four to six weeks. If you want to grow forced bulbs for the holidays, it’s important to plant early.
How to Plant Bulbs for Forcing
To plant amaryllis, cover about two-thirds of the bulb with potting mix. Water it lightly and place it somewhere out of direct sunlight. It will grow best when kept somewhere warm, between 65° and 70°F. When it starts growing, water it again and move it to a place where it will get sunlight. Once the bulb is growing, you should water it whenever the soil begins to dry out. When the buds begin to develop color, move the pot out of direct sunlight. This will help the flowers last longer.
To plant paperwhites in gravel, fill your container with gravel to within about one inch from the top. Add your bulbs, and then add a layer of gravel around the bulbs to hold them in place. The bulb tips should show above the gravel. Fill your container with water to the base of the bulbs. Always keep the water up to the base of the bulbs (the roots should be in the water but not the bulb itself). A clear container can be helpful for this reason.
Paperwhites can also be grown in regular planters with potting soil. Select a container with drainage holes and fill it up to about one inch from the top with potting soil. Add your bulbs, followed by a layer of gravel to anchor them. Keep the soil lightly moist at all times.
Place your container somewhere dark and cool until you see new growth. When the shoots are about two inches tall, you can move your plant into the light. The flower stalks develop in about two to three weeks. They may need support to stay upright. The brighter the light they receive, the more compact they’ll be, and the less likely they’ll be to tip over. Once the plant begins to flower, keep it in a cool place to maximize bloom time.
What to Do After Forced Bulbs Finish Blooming
Unfortunately, paperwhites will only bloom once, so they should be composted after flowering. Amaryllis, on the other hand, can be kept as a houseplant and will bloom again the following year. After flowering, cut the flower stalk (not the foliage) down to about four inches above the bulb. Place it in a sunny window and care for it like a houseplant. Keep the soil moist, but not wet, and provide water-soluble fertilizer once a month. You will see new leaves begin to grow. At that point, you can cut the rest of the flower stalk.
In late summer or early fall, move your plant somewhere cool (55°F), dark, and dry. A garage or basement is ideal. Stop watering the bulb. The leaves will wither and the plant will go dormant. Cut off the dead leaves. After two to five months, re-pot it the same way you potted it the first time, and move it into a sunny room. Water sparingly until it begins to grow. Then you can water it normally.
Bring life and color to your holiday decor with forced bulbs this season. They’re an excellent choice for gardeners who want to keep growing. Plus, growing them together can be an excellent family activity. Use them to decorate your own home or give them away as Christmas or housewarming gifts.