Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Have a Blooming Winter: How to Force Amaryllis Bulbs Indoors

The art of tricking a bulb into flowering indoors is called forcing, though with the amaryllis bulb, “coaxing” may be a more fitting term.

Generally with most bulbs, once you force them to flower inside, their energy is spent and it’s unlikely that they will ever flower again. But this is not the case with the hardy amaryllis, which can be forced year after year when planted in soil. It even produces better results as it ages. Compared with the narcissus bulb, which is hands down the easiest flower to force, amaryllis comes in second, but it’s really the star of the show on account of its dramatic clusters of large blooms that you’ll look forward to enjoying every winter.

Amaryllis, which can be purchased as bulbs in the fall or as blooming plants in December, has become a popular year-end gift. Prized for its willingness to produce large lily-like trumpet blooms, which generally last indoors for several weeks, amaryllis is a fabulous choice for holiday centerpieces. Meanwhile, potted bulbs, whether in bloom or on their way, make wonderful gifts that are simple to put together.

A dramatic blooming amaryllis has four blooms atop each 12- to 24-inch straight stem, usually with a base of leaves, though they’re missing here. While bright red is the most popular color, amaryllis flowers range from white to deep red; unique striped varieties are also available.

Because the plant’s blooming performance is influenced by both the size and condition of the bulb, careful bulb selection is the first step toward success.

Tips for selecting bulbs:

Select the largest bulbs available, because they will produce more than one stalk (and blooms) the first year. Smaller bulbs will generally produce one stalk the first year. So while the larger, softball-size, bulbs are more costly, they’re a worthy investment.

The bulbs should be dry and firm, with no indication of rotting, decay or mold. Examine them carefully for signs of injury that could affect their performance.

Store newly purchased bulbs in a cool, dry location with good air circulation until they are planted.

What you’ll need to plant a new amaryllis bulb:

One amaryllis bulb per 6- to 7-inch pot, or group three bulbs together in a 10- to 12-inch container.

A pot slightly larger than the bulb (½ inch to 2 inches around the sides of the bulb)

Well-draining potting mix

A bamboo stalk or support structure

How to Force Blooms

1. Choose a plump bulb that has some roots at the base and a pot that is just large enough for the bulb (or bulbs) — the bulb needs to feel crowded to bloom.

2. Partially fill the pot with potting mix, then position the bulb so that the top third is exposed after you add more potting soil. Insert a bamboo stake or artful structure into the soil next to the bulb. This will help prevent damage to the bulb and roots later when the plant may become top heavy and require support. Water thoroughly and make sure the water drains from the pot.

3. Place the pot in bright, indirect light and keep the soil moist but not wet. Water only when the top inch or two of the potting mix is dry to the touch. Overwatering at the beginning of the growth cycle is the main cause of failure.

Do not fertilize the bulb until it begins to grow. After growth appears, fertilize plants with a half-strength water-soluble fertilizer every two to three weeks.

Continue reading Have a Blooming Winter: How to Force Amaryllis Bulbs Indoors

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