Amaryllis and Paperwhites

It’s November and Christmas is seven weeks away. While there is still plenty of time for shopping and baking, if you would like to have amaryllis and paperwhite blooms for the holidays, it is time to get started.

Ednie Photo

Ednie Photo

Amaryllis take 6 – 8 weeks to bloom, depending on the variety. Once you get them potted up, put them in a low light location for the first week to ten days so that the roots get well established first. Then move them to more indirect light as the stems begin to emerge from the bulb. Remember to turn the pot occasionally so that the stems stay straight.

Did you know that amaryllis bulbs already contain the flower/flowers that will emerge? This is one key reason why bulb size matters. Larger bulbs produce more stems and more flowers per stem.

Amaryllis bulbs make wonderful gifts. They stay dormant until they are potted up and watered. One year I gave amaryllis forcing kits to a group of friends at the holidays. Not only did I enjoy growing one myself, but everyone I gave them to sent me pictures of theirs in bloom. It was a fun thing to see after the holiday season was over and the excitement shared in the pictures made me sure that they really enjoyed them.

Ednie Photo

Ednie Photo

Paperwhites are the instant gratification bulb of the season. Paperwhites need only 3 – 5 weeks to bloom. 3-week bulbs can give you blooms for Thanksgiving if you get started soon. As with amaryllis, bigger bulbs produce bigger and more abundant flowers.

There are many new varieties of paperwhites. Most of what you see in the retail stores is a variety called Ziva and they have a very strong scent. This variety has put paperwhites out of favor with many people. New varieties have milder scents and are more colorful.

The other great thing about paperwhites is that they can grow in our gardens in Columbia. After you have enjoyed them inside for the holidays, you can put them into your garden and enjoy them for years to come. Just add a little compost and a little bone meal to the soil when you plant them. (Note: this will not work if you use only water to force your bulbs indoors. They must be grown in potting soil).

Making Them Last

As you grow amaryllis and paperwhites indoors, keeping them cooler and away from direct sunlight will keep the blooms lasting longer.  High sun or warm temperatures may cause the stems to get very long. This, along with the heavy flowers, can cause the stem to fall over. If this happens, cut the stem at its base and put the flower in a vase. These make long lasting cut flowers too.

Floppy Stems?

One fun study at Cornell University has resulted in a way to keep your paperwhite and amaryllis stems from flopping over. And it involves alcohol! Gin, vodka or tequila works well. Do not use beer or wine, as they contain too much sugar. Mix one-part alcohol to seven parts water and use this mixture for your weekly bulb watering. It keeps the stems about one third shorter and does not affect the blooms. Do not make it stronger – too much is toxic, but we knew that didn’t we? Isopropyl (Rubbing) alcohol will also work the same way as liquor.

We Have Bulbs and Forcing Kits!

For the first time, we are offering amaryllis and paperwhite bulbs and forcing kits locally. We have searched out larger bulbs and some more unusual varieties to bring to you here in Columbia.  You can order them from the website here:

We will also have them available for sale at the Richland County Public Library on Assembly Street during their Farmers Market on Wednesday November 6th from 10 – 1.

Best wishes for a love-filled holiday season,