‘Tis the Season: A guide to planting holiday blooms

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Amaryllis. Bill Gracey/Flickr Creative Commons

By Kathy Slayter

Boots, sweaters, hats, and driving with the top down in my convertible with the heater on full blast are some of my passions in the winter. Although I am glad for the chill in the air now, it seems the holiday season got here faster than I expected.

In the midst of preparing for the holidays, one way of bringing the garden inside is the process of “forcing” a red amaryllis bulb on my kitchen windowsill each winter. My south-facing kitchen window lets the lovely winter sun into the room almost all day, and that is where I place my bulb.

Greek mythology brings us the story of Amaryllis, a love-struck maiden who longed for the handsome but cold-hearted Alteo. Desperate to win his love, she pierced her heart with a golden arrow and then visited his cottage daily, shedding drops of blood along the way. On the 30th day, beautiful scarlet flowers bloomed along the path, and Alteo was enamored. Amaryllis’ heart was healed, and that’s how our favorite holiday bloom got its name. Native to South Africa, the U.S. imports more than 10 million amaryllis bulbs every year.

There are two different types of bulbs for indoor growing: those you need to chill and those you don’t. Bulbs that don’t need chilling are native to warm climates, so they don’t need a cooling period to trigger the bloom. Amaryllis and paper white narcissus both belong in this category. You can grow these bulbs in a heavy pot filled with soil. Another option is “forcing” the bulbs in a shallow bowl using pebbles to hold the bulbs in place. Plant the bulb, pointed-end-up, in your chosen medium. Pack the soil or pebbles gently around the bulb so approximately one-third of the bulb remains around the soil line, and add water. If you want to keep your stems short and sturdy, start them out with indirect light and 50 degree temperatures for the first two weeks. Then put them in warmer, brighter conditions after that. The “forcing” process is best for paper whites.

I have discovered that I like a wild, more natural, freeform type of garden, so I let my bulb start out from the beginning on my sunny kitchen windowsill. The joy of watching this bulb grow gives me a thrill every day throughout the holiday. As it opens to full bloom, the exuberance and beauty of this spectacle keeps wonder close in my heart. Amaryllis means “to sparkle” in Greek, so this is one way to make your holidays sparkle.

Once the blooms are finished, I set my plant in the garage, let it go dormant, and then I pop it in the garden in the spring, where it usually re-blooms in August. I have a “row” of Amaryllis along the driveway, and these bulbs do multiply and spread over time.

I look forward to telling special stories to my granddaughter this Christmas and being present in that sense of wonder that she will experience in every special moment of this time of year.

In the words of Joanna Gaines, of the popular “Fixer Upper” television series, “Whenever wonder comes knocking, I want to choose to not be inconvenienced but rather to always let it in.” See you in the garden.

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