YOUR GARDEN - Bulbs to blooms in time for holidays


Need a little color for the holidays?

Then force it!

Has the weather, the holidays, and the economy left you stressed out? Maybe you should take out your frustrations on something else.

Go ahead, turn off the news. Come on, you can do it. Now, get up off the sofa and grab your garden gloves.

There you go.

OK, march yourself down to the basement. Do you see those cute little paperwhite bulbs you never got around to planting? Are they still in their comfy little mesh package with their pretty little picture tag on top? How about those hyacinth bulbs cowering in the terra cotta pot on the laundry shelf?

And those cocky amaryllis bulbs just sitting right out in the open - they're laughing at you aren't they?

Don't just stand their. Grab them! Grab them all if you want.

Feel a little better?

Now let's talk about "forcing" those bulbs. Forcing refers to the process of making a bulb flower out of its natural environment and in a condensed period.

Paperwhites, a species of narcissus, are easy and popular holiday and winter bulbs to force. They require no chilling time and can be forced to bloom in up to four weeks by placing them in water.

Use container that will hold water. Place an inch or two of stones, marbles or gravel in the base. Then, arrange the paperwhite bulbs on top of this layer with the pointy end up. Crowd paperwhite bulbs together for the best performance. Fill gaps between bulbs with more stones and add water up to the bottom of the bulbs. Covering the bulbs with water could cause rot. Keep the bulbs in a cool space and check water level daily. Once bulbs begin to flower, move them out of direct sunlight to get the most out of the bloom time.

Paperwhites can be started every few weeks to keep a continuous flower display throughout the winter.

Amaryllis is another bulb that is fairly easy to force. Originating in South America, these bulbs prefer a little more warmth when forcing and can be started in soil or water. To force an amaryllis in water, use a container that will hold the bulb snug. Fill it with stones, glass, gravel or nothing more than water. Wedge the bulb into the top of the container so the bottom is the only part that is wet. Place the bulb in a light warm space until it begins to bloom, which takes about four to six weeks.

To start an amaryllis in soil, find a pot that is about one inch larger in diameter than the bulb. Plant the bulb in a quality indoor potting soil, leaving the point and upper third bulb above the soil. Keep bulb moist but not wet, and try not to water over the exposed portion of the bulb. Grow your amaryllis in a sunny location where temperatures will be around 70 degrees. Once it begins to flower, move it out of direct sunlight to get a longer bloom time.

Hyacinth will need 10 to 12 weeks before blooming begins. Plant them close together with pointy top about a half-inch above the soil. Water bulbs thoroughly and keep moist but not wet. Hyacinth need a cool dark space to grow. These bulbs will grow in 35- to 45-degree temperatures. You can even grow them in the refrigerator. If bulbs begin to rise out of the soil, weigh them down a little with a layer of gravel, but don't cover the top of the bulbs. Once shoots reach about one inch in height, move plants to a north facing window to complete blooming.

Bryce Rugraff is owner of The Plant Company and Plant Company Landscaping in Walla Walla.


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