Thursday, November 12, 2015

Easiest Bulbs for Winter Forcing

Once the fall and early winter hit, us gardeners can get a bit “antsy “ when we have nothing to plant or to maintain in our gardens. Why not bring the garden right into your own home if you haven’t already tried. Real flowers unfurling right in your own home is so rewarding and therapeutic, especially during the holiday season. If you haven’t already guessed what plant I’m referring to…it’s the ever-popular Amaryllis (Hippeastrum).  Many people love the cherished beauty of these large and exotic bulbs to either grow for themselves as a holiday/winter center piece or to give as gifts.


Amaryllis are one of the easiest bulbs to force to bloom, anyone can grow them! When we refer to forcing bulbs  it simply means to bring a bulb out of its chill time and provide optimal growing temperatures so that it will eventually bloom.  The beauty of purchasing and growing the amaryllis bulb is that it has already had its necessary chill time and when planted it is tricked into thinking it is spring right in your own home.

Once you receive your bulb it is recommended to soak it in warm water for at least an hour prior to planting. This will encourage the bulb to sprout faster.  Rinse the bulb in clean warm water before planting.

Many Amaryllis’ come with a pot but you may choose to use your own. Choose a pot that is 1-2” wider than the diameter of the bulb and about the same depth. It is also recommended to choose a pot that will provide good drainage to ensure that the roots don’t get too wet. Use a well drained soiless/potting mix to ensure your bulb performs its best. Heavy wet soils from outdoors and bagged topsoil is not recommended. Moisten the soil as shown in the picture below with warm water before filling the pot and planting.

Fill the pot about ½ way and place the bulb on top of the soil spreading out the roots. At this time you can be creative with your planting! If you have chosen a large enough pot, you can plant additional bulbs, which adds a greater impact for your display! Add additional soil around the bulbs to be sure they are securely anchored.  Apply water around the bulbs to see how much soil will settle and add additional amount if needed. Soil should only come up the bulb ¾ of the way being able to still see the top of the bulb as pictured below. Place the pot in a warm and sunny location providing room temperature and water sparingly. When growth starts, increase watering keeping the soil evenly moist. Room temperature is needed for the bulb to sprout.

As the flower stalk starts to grow (usually within 2-8 weeks), you can begin to fertilize with a balanced water-soluble fertilizer every 10-14 days or as necessary. As the stalk elongates, rotate the pot to keep it straight. You will almost think you can see it grow! Four stunning flowers will generally open within 7-10 weeks once they have begun to sprout. Some bulbs are slower to start then others, so patience is required. I assure you though…they are worth the wait!

If your bulbs do not sprout within this time frame, gently check the bulb to be sure that it is still firm and lightly tug on it to make sure that the roots are starting to take hold and grow. If it hasn’t rooted, gently remove the bulb. You can try soaking the bulb in warm water, replanting, watering well and place in a warm, possibly different location once again. You could try using heat mats as an added increase of temperature just to get them started. Once they show signs of sprouting, remove the heat mats. Even though you feel that your home is warm enough, bulbs may not. They may be getting a bit of a draft if placed near a window without you even knowing.

The beauty of this beautiful plant is that you can do a succession planting all through the winter because it’s so easy to grow. Start forcing a bulb or two every two weeks from October onward and have colour all winter long.

The next question is…what do you do with the bulb when the flower fades?  Like most fall bulbs that are used for forcing in containers, as the flower fades and the stalk starts to naturally brown, you can trim back the flower stalk “leaving” only the leaves. Keep the soil that surrounds the bulb moist but not too damp and store in a cool and dry location.

Stay tuned for information in early spring with interesting instructions on how you can transplant these bulbs to grow outdoors and as well as storing indoors for a re-bloom next season. You can also check out our growing guide for additional information on how to grow Amaryllis bulbs as well as other easy bulbs for forcing indoors

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