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Blooms For The Holidays

Forcing bulbs is a great way to make sure your home is filled with fresh flowers throughout the holiday season. And now is the time to start cultivating them. Georgia Raimondi has some pointers for brighten up your winter.

Bulbs are grouped in two categories: hardy and tender. The hardy kinds include crocuses, daffodils, snowdrops, hyacinths and tulips. Tender bulbs include amaryllis, paper whites, Easter lilies and calla lilies. Tender bulbs are the easiest to force because they do not require a cooling period and can be forced to bloom indoors. Bulbs are readily available at local gardening stores and gardening catalogs.

Paper White Narcissus color>
These bulbs do not require potting soil although they do well when planted. Chose a shallow bowl or pot without a drainage hole. Fill the container up to two inches from the top with decorative pebbles or sand. Colored pebbles and sand can be found at Smith and Hawken retail stores.

Nestle the bulbs shoulder to shoulder with the noses up and add more pebbles or sand leaving approximately a third of an inch of the top of each bulb uncovered. Add water until the water just reaches the base of the bulbs. Set the container in a cool spot (50 to 55 degrees) in low light until bulbs are rooted. Shoots appear after about two weeks. Check the water daily and add more as needed. Move bulbs to a brightly lit spot (60 to 69 degrees) and in about two to three weeks fragrant clusters of delicate papery flowers will bloom. Once the flowers have faded discard the bulbs, they cannot be forced to bloom again.

Amaryllis color>
These bulbs grow best when planted in soil. For the biggest blooms, chose the biggest bulbs. Place the bulb base and dried roots in lukewarm water for a few hours so they plump up. For planting, select a pot that is only two inches wider than the bulb. Partially fill the pot with a light, well-draining potting soil. Add the bulb, spreading the roots out. Add more soil, leaving at least the top third of the bulb exposed.

After planting, firmly press the soil down. Place the bulb in a warm place with direct light. Water sparingly until the stem appears. As the bud and the leaves emerge, keep the soil evenly moist. The amaryllis will bloom in six to eight weeks producing huge six- to eight-inch trumpet shaped flowers on two to three-foot tall stems.

There are varieties of amaryllis in shades of pink, red, salmon, orange and white. After the flower buds have opened move the plant out of direct sunlight to prolong the blooms. The flowers will last for weeks when placed in a cooler location in the home.

After the blooms have faded, cut back the flower stem to two inches leaving the thin green leaves intact and set the pot in bright light. In the spring, after the danger of frost has passedplace the potted amaryllis bulb on a patio away from hot sun or bury the entire pot up to its rim in the garden in light shade. Amaryllis love growing outdoors and will produce large leaves. Keep it well watered and fertilize monthly with liquid houseplant food.

In early September, before the first frost, dig up the pot and bring it to a dark location indoors. Be sure to clean off the pot and check for insects or slugs. In order to make an amaryllis bloom again, it needs a dormant period. Stop watering and fertilizing at this time. The leaves on the plant will die back. After a dormant period of at least two months, place the bulb in direct sun. In six to eight weeks the amaryllis will bloom again.

These bulbs are hardy, therefore, be sure to purchase pre-chilled hyacinth bulbs for indoor forcing. A special vase-like glass container shaped like an hourglass is used to force hyacinth. The vase is available at Smith and Hawken and the White Flower Farm. To add color, place colored stones or marbles in the bottom of the forcing vase. Fill the vase with water and rest the bulb in the top portion of the vase. Keep the water level just at the base of the bulb to prevent rot.

Place a cone made of construction paper over the top of the bulb to encourage lengthening of the stem. Place the bulb with its paper cone in a cool dark place for six to eight weeks. When the shoots emerge and the roots have filled the glass, remove the paper cone and move the bulb in its container to a brighter and warmer location. Hyacinths are highly fragrant, long-lasting and come in shade of pink, lavender, purple, apricot, rose and white. When the flowers are faded, discard the bulbs.

Planting Tipcolor>
Plant bulbs at intervals of two weeks for a continuous bloom of flowers during the winter months. For an added touch, round up an interesting collection of containers - wooded crates, ceramic bowls, weather urns, enamel pots, tin boxes and watering cans - and plant bulbs in them.

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