Here are some tips for growing spring bulbs in containers

Richard Bogren, Gill, Daniel J.  |  11/3/2009 1:31:43 AM

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For Release On Or After 11/27/09

By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

A variety of spring-flowering bulbs can be grown in containers for indoor display. Two bulbs, paperwhites and amaryllis, do not need much special treatment and are very easy to grow in pots. Most of the other spring-flowering bulbs need a cold treatment first, but otherwise it’s pretty straightforward.

Paperwhites

Paperwhite narcissus bulbs are readily available and easy to grow in pots. Plant the bulbs with their pointed ends up in pots of well-drained potting soil. Plant enough bulbs in the pot to fill it without the bulbs touching each other and make sure the tips of the bulbs are exposed.

Keep the pot in a sunny, cool location – preferably outside. Grown too warm or with too little light, the leaves and flower stalks will be tall and tend flop over. This frequently occurs when people try to force paperwhites in a warm room indoors on a windowsill. Bring the pot inside on those nights when freezing temperatures are predicted. When the first flower buds open, move the pot indoors to enjoy (but realize that some people find the fragrance objectionable).

After forcing, you can plant the growing bulbs outside in a bed that receives part sun where they will bloom for you year after year.

Paperwhites also may be grown in bowls of pebbles and water. Choose a shallow, decorative bowl and fill it half full of gravel, pebbles or marble chips. Place the bulbs on the surface and add enough rocks so that the bulbs are two-thirds covered. Add enough water to touch the bottom of the bulbs, and maintain the water at this level. From this point, treat the bulbs the same as you would for potted bulbs.

Amaryllis

You can purchase pre-potted amaryllis bulbs ready to grow or buy loose bulbs and pot them up yourself. The pot should be large enough to have about a 1-inch clearance between the pot rim and the bulb all the way around. Plant the bulb so that its upper one-fourth is exposed.

Place the pot indoors in a sunny window (the more sun the better) and keep the soil evenly moist. If you provide your amaryllis with too little light, the flower stalk may grow excessively tall and may even fall over. Flowering generally occurs in December from bulbs planted this time of year. Some large bulbs will produce two flower stalks.

After the flowers have faded, cut the stalk at the point where it emerges from the bulb, but do not cut any foliage. Keep the plant inside and continue to provide plenty of light, or the leaves will be floppy. Water it regularly when the soil begins to feel dry, but it’s not really necessary to fertilize your amaryllis during this time.

You can remove the growing bulbs from their pots and plant them in the garden in April. Choose a spot with some afternoon shade. Amaryllis planted in the garden this coming spring will get into their natural cycle and bloom in April the following years.

Forcing bulbs that need chilling

This is more a technique for growing spring bulbs in containers rather than forcing because handled this way, they tend to bloom about the same time as those in the garden (most spring bulbs tend to bloom early here in the Deep South, anyway). All spring bulbs except paperwhites (and other Tazetta narcissi) and amaryllis are grown this way.

Purchase high-quality spring bulbs by late November and place them in the vegetable bin of your refrigerator for about six weeks (do not put apples or other fruit in that drawer). The bulbs should be potted up in mid-January. It’s not hard to do, and nothing beats a pot of tulips, hyacinths, crocus, daffodils or grape hyacinths blooming indoors.

Here’s how to get the bulbs to grow and bloom:

– Fill a container with drainage holes about two-thirds with potting soil.

– Place enough bulbs, pointed end up, on the soil surface to fill the container without the bulbs touching. Plant tulip bulbs with the flat side facing the rim of the pot. The first leaf of each bulb will grow out facing the outside and create a more attractive planting.

– Add soil until just the tips of the bulbs show, and water thoroughly.

– Place the containers in shade outside and keep the soil evenly moist.

– When the sprouts are about 1 inch high, move the pots into a sunny location.

– Continue to water the pots regularly. If temperatures are predicted below 28 degrees, move the pots to a cool location that will not freeze. Move the pots back outside as soon as possible.

– When the flower buds begin to show color, move the pots indoors and enjoy.

Hyacinths also may be planted in bowls filled with pebbles. First, refrigerate the bulbs for about eight weeks. Bury the bulbs two-thirds deep in the pebbles and add enough water to touch the bottom of the bulbs. Maintain water at that level. Then, follow the directions above starting with step four. Individual hyacinth bulbs also may be grown in a special hyacinth vase shaped like an hourglass. Place the bulb in the upper part of the vase, and maintain water at a level just touching the bottom of the bulb. Hyacinths are incredibly fragrant and are wonderful indoors.

Rick Bogren

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