Discovery in corner of garden comes too late for Christmas

There are some corners of the garden that I don’t venture into often. They mostly manage themselves, and I only ventured into one of them a couple weeks ago to cut back the purple hyacinth bean (Lablab purpureus) that was looking terrible, having succumbed to the cold nights.

And that’s when I stumbled upon the beautiful, strappy foliage of a cluster of amaryllis. I had completely forgotten about last year’s holiday bulbs, which I’d haphazardly stuck in that corner for summer to soak up the sun and plump up the shriveled bulbs.

And that they did. What I found when I hastily dug them up was big, dense bulbs with plenty of stored energy to bloom again. But these bulbs won’t be blooming for the holidays this year.

In order to force amaryllis bulbs to flower inside in winter, they need to be dormant for six to eight weeks, and then replanted and grown for about six weeks (although some varieties don’t require as much time). That means that I should have dug those bulbs up and stored them in a cool and dark spot in early to mid-September instead of late October.

I could have left the bulbs in their original pots all summer, essentially treating them like houseplants outside, giving them water and fertilizer, but the lazy gardener in me much prefers sticking them in fertile soil, watering them in and then forgetting about them for, apparently, far too long.

Whether you’re reusing bulbs from last year or purchasing new amaryllis bulbs, believe it or not, it’s time to start thinking about planting them in the next few weeks if you want blooms for the holidays. Timing bulbs can be difficult, but if you’re shopping for new bulbs right now, look for ones that haven’t sprouted. Once you see a bud forming, flowers will follow within a couple weeks.

Amaryllis bulbs are very easy to plant. They prefer to be a little crowded in a pot, so don’t plant them in anything too big. And if you’re planting multiple bulbs in the same pot, you can set them shoulder to shoulder.

Use a well-draining soil mix — usually any labeled “potting mix” will do the trick — as bulbs detest sitting in wet soil. The key to planting amaryllis bulbs, which is contrary to planting most other bulbs, is that they must sit above the soil. Plant them with between a third and a half of the bulb sticking out of the ground, and keep the soil level about an inch below the rim of the pot so there’s room to water. If you don’t like looking at soil, you can mulch with mini pinecones, moss or just about anything else you like.

Then all they need is light, a bit of warmth (the average house temperature is just fine), enough water to keep the soil just slightly moist and some patience.

The last item is one I’ll need lots of because my late discovery of bulbs tucked in the garden means I’m shooting for Valentine’s Day or maybe even St. Patrick’s Day flowers. That’s OK with me. Any flowers in winter are good flowers in my book.


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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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