The bright petunias, colorful geraniums, and sweetly scented roses that graced our gardens a few months back, are becoming faint memory by the time December rolls around. The landscape is bare and frozen and often powdered with a few inches of freshly fallen snow.
While we may miss our flower gardens, don’t despair. There is an easy way to bring blooms into our homes. In the mid 1700’s plant collectors brought back large, fat flowering bulbs from South America and South Africa. They were called Amaryllis, derived from a Greek word meaning ‘to sparkle.’ (Latin name Hippeastrum.) Amaryllis produce one to two stems of four huge flowers. They come in a wide array of colors. The flowers may be red, white, pink, orange, salmon, or double with many petals, and bi-colored flowers.
Inexpensive Amaryllis can be purchased in a box, pre-planted, from many of the big chain stores. They cost $5-$8 dollars. Larger and more exotic blooming bare Amaryllis bulbs can be purchased at nurseries for $12-$19 dollars. Many catalogs sell new hybrids for $30-$40 dollars.
If you purchase the bare bulbs, they need to be planted in a pot not much larger than the bulb, with the top half of the bulb above the soil line, and placed in a sunny window. Once planted, water slightly and wait for the flower bud to appear and then begin watering more. Too much water in the beginning may rot the bulb. Sometimes the large strap like leaves may appear before the flower stalk. It will take 6-8 weeks or the flowers to bloom.
The colorful flowers are often gigantic, growing 10 -12 inches across! The flower stems may need to be stalked because the saucer sized flowers are so heavy. Your heart will do flip-flops of joy when you see the spectacular flower in full bloom!
After the flowers fade, cut back the stems and continue to water and treat it as a houseplant. In the spring after frost put it out in the garden and continue to water and fertilize. In late Sept stop watering, cut back the leaves, and place the plant in a cool dark place for several weeks, and it can be coxed back into bloom for many years! I have around 25 bulbs I have saved from year to year. I am still enticed to buy a few new ones every winter!
A second easy to grow flower is the Paper White, a type of Narcissus or part of the daffodil family of plants. While most daffodils need a cool period to bloom, Paper Whites can be grown very easily by simply filling the bottom with a large vase with several inches of marbles or pebbles. Place the bulbs on top of the marbles/pebbles and fill with water up to the base of the bulbs. Within a few weeks the bulbs will grow roots, produce large green leaves, and very sweet, pure white flowers! The wonderful sweet scent of the flowers can perfume an entire room! Paper Whites may need to be tied or staked to keep them from flopping over. When the flowers fade, simply pull out the bulb, toss them in the compost bin and start all over again with fresh bulbs. I have found the less inexpensive bulbs purchased from a chain store often produce smaller and less spectacular flowers. I purchase mine from a nursery at a cost of .79 cents per bulb.
Amaryllis and Paper Whites are an easy and inexpensive way to help fight off the winter blues!
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