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20181118-gm-garden-paperwhites 1.jpg (copy)

The white, cloud-like blooms of paperwhites will appear about a month after planting.

Quick before they disappear, stock up on paperwhite and amaryllis bulbs to plant for holiday blooming. You will enjoy having these flowers fill the house during the winter.

I got my bulbs yesterday. I may wait a week to plant, but I am so happy I remembered to shop local and shop early. I bought several and will stagger the planting times to guarantee I have blooms throughout the holidays. I even like them to bloom well into January when the house feels so empty without a tree and decorations.

Paperwhite narcissus is part of the daffodil family and something I plant every year. They are easy to grow. I pot several small containers but have seen them mass planted in large centerpiece type displays, and the effect is stunning.

I start with a container 6-8 inches wide. Since paperwhites can be grown in pebbles or soil, I often do both. With the pebbles, I use a glass container because seeing the roots is part of the fun.

I use enough pebbles to give me at least three inches of depth for stabilizing the bulbs. Then using four or five bulbs, I begin placing them root side down and the smaller tip side up. I nestle the bulbs in tightly, making sure two-thirds of each bulb is planted. This is important. Soon the stems will need a secure base for support as they grow tall.

Paperwhites do not need much water. Fill the container just enough to cover the root tips. Don’t worry about exposing them to direct sunlight until you see the stems start to sprout. Then move them to an area with sunshine. The stems will grow quickly and reach a height of 18 to 20 inches.

Planting the bulbs close together will help them stand tall, but once mine reach about eight inches tall, I wrap a pretty ribbon around them for extra support. Another tip. The stems will grow towards the light; it’s a good idea to rotate the container once a week to keep the plant from leaning.

The white cloud-like blooms will appear about a month after planting. Each stem will produce multiple blooms, which will last for about 10 days if not in direct sunlight. Oh, I should mention that each bulb will give you several stems, so that small container of 4 bulbs will become a garden of tall green stems topped by frilly white flowers.

Be creative. I have planted paperwhites in short frosted glass cylinders, small Blenko daisy bowls, and other clear glass bowls. If using soil, I have a favorite red ceramic planter that screams Christmas when filled with blooming paperwhites. I have also used a generic plastic pot placed in a favorite basket for a more rustic look. I change my ribbon with each pot and maybe add jingle bells or pinecones to the container.

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After the blooms have faded, I treat the bulbs as annuals and toss them into the compost pile. It is important to note that paperwhites are toxic to dogs and cats.

Another holiday bulb is the elegant amaryllis. Gosh, it is a beautiful plant when blooming. The bulb is much bigger than a paperwhite bulb but is treated much the same way.

Plant the bulb root side down and cover two-thirds with soil. No need for a big pot; this bulb does well being slightly root bound in its container. The amaryllis is much slower to bloom than paperwhites. Blooming happens 8-10 weeks after planting. Be patient. It is worth the wait.

First, you will see the flat leaves and stem appear. Then, the buds will form and swell in size before bursting open in bloom. Flowers are generally red, white, or even pale pink. This year I veered from my solid red and bought a red with white variety. I know it will be lovely.

Expect to have several blooms from one bulb. They will be big flowers and like the paperwhites last about ten days. When shopping, remember, the bigger bulbs will likely give you more and bigger blooms. Over the years, I have tried to keep my bulbs and have blooms the second year. This only happened once.

I can almost always get the leaves and stems to come back, but no flowers. This may be my fault; I don’t follow the steps of the dark and dormant cycle. It sits on my basement-potting bench and has lived (bloomless) for several years.

Both paperwhites and amaryllis are for both beginners and experienced gardeners. You can purchase loose bulbs at local garden centers or big box stores. If this is your first time, pick up a boxed kit containing a pot, planting medium, and bulbs; it is a no-fail solution for bringing live flowers into your winter months.

Another great idea, share the fun. Buy two kits and give one to a friend.

Jane Powell is a longtime West Virginia University Extension Service master gardener through the Kanawha County chapter. She is the communications director for a community foundation and a volunteer with several nonprofits in the community. Find her blog, “Gardening in Pearls,” at gardeninginpearls.com. You can contact her at janeellenpowell@aol.com.

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