Amaryllis, paperwhites and hyacinth create a beautiful windowsill

December 22, 2016 | Doug Oster comments
These Amaryllis bulbs in Amsterdam, Holland were the biggest I'd ever seen. They were larger than grapefruits. The bulbs are popular gifts for the holidays. They have everything they need to bloom and can be kept as houseplants to enjoy the flowers annually for many years.

These Amaryllis bulbs in Amsterdam, Holland were the biggest I’d ever seen. They were larger than grapefruits. The bulbs are popular gifts for the holidays. They have everything they need to bloom and can be kept as houseplants to enjoy the flowers annually for many years. Photos by Doug Oster

The first day in Amsterdam, I stumbled onto the floating Flower Market along the Singel canal. The huge amaryllis bulbs stood out as they were bigger than any I’d ever seen before, the size of the largest grapefruit.
Some were sold just shy of blooming with two or three stems topped with giant flower buds. Others were sans buds and ready to be planted.
I think the growers in Holland are keeping the good stuff at home, but when shopping locally look for the biggest bulbs you can find. Bigger is almost always better when it comes to amaryllis bulbs, whose tall flowers keep gardeners sane during the off season.
I like to buy them with and without buds to extend the show. They are often sold already potted up. If not, don’t bury them too deep, leaving at least the top half of the bulb above the soil. They’ll need water, but keep them on the dry side, especially before they send up flowers.
There are a wide range of colors including red, white, pink and even green. The flowers take many forms too. ‘Double King’ and ‘Sweet Nymph’ are a couple favorites as double flowers make my heart race. You can’t go wrong with whatever amaryllis you find. There are some cool, different looking varieties that have been showing up at nurseries like ‘La Paz’ with red stems and thin pointy petals of the same color.
It’s wonderful to see the buds push up out of the center of the bulb. Kids especially get a kick out of watching the process. When the bud stands high above the bulb, blushing with color, the flowers are only days away from opening. I like to attach the stalk to a thin bamboo stake assuring it stays erect.
Sometimes the bulb will produce another stalk or two with buds, extending the bloom time. That’s why it’s important to look for big bulbs. After the amaryllis is finished blooming, it will send up tall arched foliage. It’s there to collect energy that will be transferred to the bulb and used for next year’s flower. Remove the spent flower stalk so the plant doesn’t work at making seeds, while being sure to leave the other foliage in place.

Amaryllis 'Double King' puts on quite a show. Amaryllis bulbs are a popular gift for the holidays. They have everything they need to bloom and can be kept as houseplants to enjoy the flowers annually for many years.

Amaryllis ‘Double King’ puts on quite a show. Amaryllis bulbs are a popular gift for the holidays. They have everything they need to bloom and can be kept as houseplants to enjoy the flowers annually for many years.

 

Amaryllis bulbs are a popular gift for the holidays. They have everything they need to bloom and can be kept as houseplants to enjoy the flowers annually for many years.

Amaryllis bulbs are a popular gift for the holidays. They have everything they need to bloom and can be kept as houseplants to enjoy the flowers annually for many years.

Now the plant is treated as a houseplant. Fertilize monthly starting in late February. The plants will enjoy time outside when all danger of frost has passed. In August, I bring them in, stop all watering and fertilization to put the plant into dormancy. Once the foliage dies back, I’ll wait six to eight weeks and start watering again. If the first thing to emerge is a bud, we get another flower show. If it’s that strapping foliage, we’ll have to wait another year for flowers as the bulb didn’t have enough energy to bloom.
I grow about 30 bulbs and all eventually rebloom at some time or another. It’s not an exact science, at least for me. It’s always a great surprise though when one decides to create a bud after a few seasons of living inside and out.
Other indoor bulbs
• Paperwhites are tender daffodils with an intense heavy fragrance. When they bloom that smell takes me right to spring, but their aroma is not for everyone. Some folks think they just plain stink.
Like amaryllis, the bulbs have everything they need when purchased. They’ll bloom in planting mix, wet gravel or even water. The difference for these bulbs is that they are usually discarded after their flowers finish as they rarely if ever bloom again.
• It’s a lot harder to find someone who doesn’t enjoy the smell of hyacinth flowers. The bulbs can be found at local nurseries and have been given a cold treatment so they are ready to bloom. The most popular way to force them into bloom is placing them in a hyacinth jar filled with water.
Doug Oster is the Tribune-Review home and garden editor. Reach him at 412-965-3278 or doster@tribweb.com. See other stories, blogs, videos and more at everybodygardens.com.