For those of us that miss the pleasures of gardening this time of year, growing things inside the house can be a good substitute.
Forcing bulbs like Paperwhites and Amaryllis can help us fill a need to be grounded in nature, and can uplift any soul mired in the gray doldrums of a Northwest winter. This is the time of year when garden centers sell these easy-to-grow pick-me-ups, and if you are feeling a little down, perhaps you should give them a try. Here are a few pointers on how to succeed.
Paperwhites are a type of Narcissus, much like the ones you would find growing in the Skagit Valley, only Paperwhites come from a milder climate in and around Israel where it seldom freezes. In San Diego, where I grew up, these were the only type of Narcissus that would naturalize and bloom reliably every year. The Paperwhites sold in stores this time of year are intended to be planted indoors. Do not plant them outside or they will freeze and die. All you have to do is place a half dozen of them in a shallow bowl with some small pebbles to anchor them and add water up to the bottom of the bulb. After one week, they will start to put out roots and in two weeks they will have 2 to 3-inch-long green shoots. In 5 to 6 weeks, they will be blooming and smelling up your entire home. It’s a no-brainer!
If you have grown Paperwhites before, then you know what I am talking about. You don’t even need dirt, just rocks, water, average household lighting and a small stake and some twine to hold them up. If they are getting too tall, add a teaspoon of vodka to the water — that will slow them down. When they have finished blooming, just throw them out. They’re cheap.
For a bit more drama, give Amaryllis a try. This is a large bulb about the size of a softball that produces several 24-inch naked (as in no leaves) stalks with large colorful trumpet-like flowers in about 8 to 10 weeks from planting. These bulbs, technically known as Hippeastrum (pronounced Hippy-aye-strum), are native to Central and South America, where they go dormant in the winter and bloom in the spring. When purchased and planted this time of the year, they are already dormant and ready to start growing.
Plant Amaryllis in a 6 to 8-inch pot using potting soil and leave about one-third of the bulb above the soil line. Water thoroughly, and then sparingly from then on, keeping the plant in full light and above 55 degrees. In about 8 weeks your plant will bloom and continue to do so for several weeks. When the blooms fade, cut off the stalk and new leaves will start to appear. You can move your Amaryllis outside after all danger of frost and enjoy the foliage for the summer. Just bury the pot and all, and don’t forget to fertilize it. In late summer, let it dry out and that will force it into dormancy where you can start the whole process over again.
In recent years the horticultural industry has come up with the brilliant idea of selling Amaryllis where the bulb has been dipped in paraffin and dressed up with moss so that all you have to do is place it on the coffee table and watch it grow. I have to confess that as magical as this might be, it somehow doesn’t quite fill my need to be grounded in nature. I still need a little dirt under my fingernails. Whatever indoor blooming bulbs you choose, you won’t be disappointed. Stay safe and keep on gardening!
Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached at email@example.com.