How to Force Bulbs Indoors
What smells so good in here? I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve been asked that question during the month of December. It’s paperwhites of course! From the moment you walk through the door, the heady aroma is enveloping.
These bulbs can either be planted in soil or directly in water and are super easy to grow. If planting in water, use smaller river stone/gravel size pebbles. Paperwhites can grow up to 3 feet and will need to anchor themselves. Be sure to have the water level touching just the bottom of the bulb, otherwise the bulb will rot if immersed for prolonged periods. Within a few days the roots will start to grow and the first sign of green foliage will appear. Within 3 to 5 weeks clusters of fragrant, white blossoms will appear and stay in flower for about 2 weeks (depending on the temperature of the room). Paperwhites often become top heavy and will flop over… however some branches, twine or ribbon will easily have them upright again. Paperwhites are a temporal thing of fragrant beauty, enjoy them and then discard. Starting bulbs at staggered times will afford you the opportunity to always have something in bloom during the gloomy winter months.
Forced hyacinths are also fragrant and can either be planted in soil or water. If you would like to plant them in the ground afterwards, simply fertilize them after flowering so that they may “recharge their batteries”. Plant in the spring and they will bloom the following year.
Amaryllis are a beautiful alternative for those with a sensitivity to fragrances. They come in an array of colors and boast huge, spectacular blooms. At times they can be frustrating because each individual bulb has its own schedule as to when it wants to bloom, but are very rewarding when that first sign of a of a bud starts to peek through! (I planted a “red lion” 3 weeks ago and it’s just starting to peek through… very exciting!) If however you are eager and simply cannot wait, choose a bulb that already has a green shoot showing. Amaryllis are a top heavy bulb so we recommend planting in soil. They should be planted so that only the “shoulders” of the bulb are exposed. Keep soil barely moist when first starting, so as to not rot the bulb. They will require slightly more water as the bulb comes into flower and produces foliage. Depending on the number of flower stalks and temperature, amaryllis can stay in bloom for up to 2 months. Some people enjoy the blossoms and then discard, however they can be saved, stored and will rebloom again the following year.
To save, cut spent flower stalks and keep the foliage. Treat it as you would any other houseplant by watering and fertilizing. Think of this vegetative foliage period as how, via photosynthesis, the bulb “recharges its battery” to store energy to bloom next year. In late summer send the bulb into dormancy by withholding water. After the leaves start to yellow and wither, remove leaves and store in a dry, dark place. Let bulb rest for 2 to 3 months then break dormancy by bringing it into the light and watering lightly.
This process can be repeated for many years of enjoyment!