When we think of holiday florals and greenery, we don’t often think of vibrant petals and delicate stems. Spruce, poinsettias, cedar, pine and eucalyptus are often our go-to fresh decor come Christmas time. However, there are two types of bulbs we love to grow for the holiday season: amaryllis and paperwhites. Anyone who has visited the shop during December knows we are well known for our big pots of Amaryllis! You too can force and grow these festive florals in your own home this winter by following these easy steps:
There are two types of Amaryllis: Christmas Flowering and Dutch. Although the name suggests it, Christmas Flowering Amaryllis do not necessarily flower on Christmas. Instead, they are grown in the Southern Hemisphere and flower within about 4 weeks from planting, making it easier to time their blooms over the holidays. Dutch Amaryllis are grown in the Northern Hemisphere and take 8 to 12 weeks to bloom. Other than the different growth and bloom rates, both types of amaryllis make a beautiful addition to your home in the winter. When it comes down to deciding with type to choose, it is often the colors and petal varieties that draw people to plant one over the other.
The most common way to force amaryllis blooms it to plant the bulbs in water in a specialized vase, like the one above, that supports the very heavy stalks of these blooms. To force in water, add just enough water to your vase as to just cover the bottom of the bulb (the root base). Be sure to gently cut off the dried up roots from the bulbs before placing in your vase. Add a few small pieces of charcoal to the water (we like to get ours from the pet store as they are used in aquariums). This is our secret to keeping the water fresh while your bulbs grow! The charcoal will filter the water and keep it from getting stagnant and smelly. New roots will grow within a few days but may take slightly longer depending on the bulb.
Once new roots are established, now is the time to plant your Amaryllis! Use a pot about the same size as the bulb, a 6" pot is perfect. If you plant your bulb in too large or deep a pot, it will keep growing roots and not be forced to flower (which is what you want!). Plant the bulb with the top third above the soil and water well. Place in a sunny window and do not water again until you see green shoots forming. As the stem gets taller, you will need to give it some extra support using a small stick or branch and some ribbon. Continue to nurture your Amaryllis and soon you will have beautiful, festive flowers for your home!
Paperwhites often considered a staple Christmas flower. They are quick and easy to force for in time for the holidays and will bloom in about four weeks from planting.
To force Paperwhite blooms in vases, follow the same directions as Amaryllis above. If you choose to force in rocks, start by filling a container with small rocks and pebbles and a few pieces of charcoal. Trim the roots from the bulbs as you would when forcing Amaryllis. Place the bulbs in the rocks by gently pushing them down enough to make sure they are stable. Add enough water to cover the bottom of the bulb where the roots were. You don’t want to cover the entire bulb or it will rot! Simply get the bottom wet where the old roots were to trigger new roots to grow. Now, just sit back and watch! The paperwhite bulbs will root in one to two days and begin growing.
Once it is time to plant your bulbs, fill a smaller container or pot with soil (three to four inches deep). As with Amaryllis, if you use too big a container, the bulbs will continue to grow roots instead of flowering! It isn’t called it “forcing” without reason! Within a couple of weeks, you’ll have gorgeous, delicate flowers to brighten up your home this holiday season!
We’re lucky in Charleston as both of these plants will naturalize in our own backyards! Once your Amaryllis or Paperwhites are finished blooming, put the pots somewhere the flowers won’t freeze or be damaged until spring. While it’s tempting to want to cut off those less-than-attractive yellow leaves that are left after the flower has wilted, resist the urge! These dying leaves feed the bulb as it waits to be planted when the weather warms up. Only remove once the leaves are completely dead. When spring rolls around (come March or so), it’s time to plant outside! Plant your Amaryllis or Paperwhites in a sunny or partially shaded area. Cover the entire bulb with about two inches of soil. Then, let nature do her job and you’ll have more lovely flowers for years to come!