Amaryllis and paperwhite bulbs blooming exuberantly around the house are now a part of my winter garden tradition. I like to have paperwhites for the holidays, and I enjoy amaryllis from January through March. I stagger the planting so there’s always something blooming. For paperwhites allow 3 – 5 weeks to bloom, and for Amaryllis, allow 6 – 8 weeks.
I select the largest bulbs I can find because they produce larger and more abundant flowers. Be sure they’re firm to the touch, too. To start, choose a favorite 6” – 8” wide container with a drainage hole, and fill it with potting mix. To determine the best size container, you should be able to just get your finger between the bulb and the container all the way around. Make sure it’s heavy enough that it won’t topple over when the top-heavy amaryllis is in peak bloom.
Place your bulb in the potting mix with the nose end up, leaving about half of the bulb exposed at the top. One bulb producer I talked to recommends immersing the bulb in lukewarm water for an hour before potting it up. They say it encourages the formation of roots. You can dress the soil around the bulb with stones or moss to give it a finished look. Bags of Sphagnum Moss are available at Parrino’s in Pawling.
Water sparingly until you see new growth, at which time you should increase the amount of water and light you give your plant. You don’t want the soil to dry out completely, but you also don’t want your bulb sitting in water, which will cause it to rot.
Bright, indirect sunlight is recommended to avoid leaf burn and drying. Once you have blossoms, they’ll last longer if the plant is moved to a cool, dark corner when you’re not there to enjoy it. Each blossom can last for two weeks, and one bulb will produce more than one flower. Amaryllis makes a great cut flower in a centerpiece and can actually last longer in water than growing in a container, I’ve read. You can also plant your bulb in stones instead of potting mix. When planting in stones, select a container without drainage, otherwise the water will drain out immediately and won't provide any benefit to the roots. When watering, keep the water level just below the bulb so it reaches the roots only. If you use a see-through glass container you can see where the water level is. The stem will likely be shorter than normal when planted in a glass container.
Reblooming Next Year
After flowers fade, cut down the flower stalk and continue to water. Fertilize once a month. You can plant the pot and bulb in the garden during the summer months. In September bring the pot and bulb indoors and start withholding water. Let foliage dry. Store in a cool dark place with no water or fertilizer for 8 – 10 weeks. In mid-November add some fresh soil and start re-watering.
I usually plant mine in a glass container filled with stones. Press your bulbs into the stones nose up, and leave some of the top of the bulb exposed above the surface. Use a container without drainage holes, otherwise the water will drain out immediately and won't provide a benefit to the roots. Fill the container with water just up to the base of the bulbs. The roots will grow into the water. Put in a well-lighted area but not in direct sunlight.
Paperwhites are top heavy, and they often topple over because their stems don’t support the weight of the flowers. There is a special recipe, involving a nip of alcohol, that stunts the growth of paperwhites so they aren’t as leggy! Visit the Womanswork.com website and search “paperwhites” to get the recipe. Do not improvise or you might kill your paperwhites instead of stunting their growth!
Dorian Winslow is the owner of Womanswork, Pawling, NY, (Womanswork.com). Email your gardening questions and comments to DWinslow@Womanswork.com.