"Indoor" gardening now that
the cold weather has set in

Donna Zukus
Frederick County Master Gardener Program

An easy and rewarding type of gardening you may want to consider is forcing bulbs indoors. Forcing bulbs is basically "fooling" the bulb into thinking winter is over and that it is time to bloom once again. You will also find the time commitment and expense are minimal.

There are a number of suitable bulbs for forcing which include tulips, hyacinths, amaryllis, and paper-white narcissuses. At this time of year, you will find the most success with the narcissus followed by the amaryllis because they do not need any type of special preparation. In addition, these choices make beautiful, natural decorations for your home during the holidays.

Bulbs are widely popular these days and can be found at local garden centers, nurseries, retail chains and even supermarkets. Kits with everything you need to get started can be found as well.

Paper-whites are best grown in a shallow container without drainage holes. Fill the pot two thirds full with gravel, stones, colored beads or marbles. Place as many bulbs as will fit on the gravel with the pointed side up. Fill gravel in around them, leaving the top halves exposed. The widest part of the bulb should be even with the rim of the container. Add water up to the base of the bulbs and maintain water at this level. Place the container in a cool place (50 to 60 degrees F) with indirect light. Roots will appear within days and this period allows the root system a chance to establish. When green shoots appear in about 2 to 3 weeks, move the container to a cool, sunny spot until they bloom.

If you choose to plant in a container with drainage, use a high quality potting soil and plant with the tip of the bulb even with the rim of the pot. Plant the bulbs close to one another without touching each other. After planting, water thoroughly and keep moist. In about three more weeks you will have masses of heavily scented, white flowers. Blooms will last longer if kept cool and away from direct sunlight.

Once forced, paper-whites cannot be reused, except for outdoor planting. It will then take between 2 and 3 years for them to again achieve full blooming potential.

The Amaryllis looks exotic with a lily-like flower. Colors can include red, pink, white, peach, orange, and combinations of these colors. It is one of the simplest plants to grow for indoor beauty, and unlike other bulbs that are forced; it can be successfully replanted year after year.

Amaryllis is normally planted individually since the bulb is quite large. Start six weeks before flowers are desired in a container with a drainage hole. Choose a pot only slightly larger than the bulb, with no more than two inches between the bulb and the pot. Add several inches of potting soil and place the bulb pointed end up, with the neck and shoulders just showing over the top of the container. Fill in with soil and gently pat down, leaving top of bulb exposed. Water well. Place in a cool sunny spot and water sparingly at first. After the first sprouts appear (about two weeks), water often. As the plant grows, turn the pot regularly to allow even exposure to sunlight allowing the stalk to grow straight. The amaryllis thrives in a sunny location with fertilization every other week. Flowers should appear in 4 to 6 weeks. After blooms die, pinch back at the top and cut the flower stem off several days later. Move the plant outside when the weather turns warm and allow the leaves to grow throughout the summer, cutting them off once they have completely withered.

You may want to consider staggered planting, assuring continuous blooming flowers all winter long. You can store bulbs in a vented, paper bag, away from vegetables in your refrigerator until ready to plant. (Vegetables and fruits give off a gas that can kill a bulb's flower bud).

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