Planting Bulbs To Flower At Christmas

As gardens slow down for a period of winter rest, gardeners kick into high gear. This time of year, the "to do" list of chores may seem endless. High on a savvy gardener's list, however, is an important inside job:

Planning ahead for holiday bloom.

Now is the time to buy and pot up hyacinths, amaryllis, paperwhites, tulips and daffodils for dramatic and scented displays to welcome friends and family into your home during the holidays.

Do-it-yourselfers who plan to start bulbs that need chilling must pot up their selections in September and October. Bulbs such as hyacinth, tulips, crocuses, muscari and daffodils require 10 to 15 weeks of cold treatment. You'll either need free space in a refrigerator, unheated garage or storeroom, or to purchase pre-potted bulbs from someone who did.

Bulbs that need no chilling may be started later. Paperwhites, for example, will bloom three to five weeks after planting. Amaryllis will bloom in six to eight weeks.

Of course, procrastinators can skip the planning process entirely. Ready-grown potted bulbs are increasingly available in garden centers and chain stores throughout the fall. But the selection of "instant" bulbs is often limited and, by mid-winter, fairly picked over.

For those with an afternoon and some empty containers, establishing a series of potted bulbs for a succession of winter bloom can be a rewarding task. Even inexperienced gardeners can select special bulbs, use a special container and end up with a spectacular and unique holiday display. Plant an extra pot or two to give as a generous holiday gift.

Tips

  • Flowers will last longest if kept out of direct sunlight and away from sources of heat, such as radiators, televisions or fireplaces.
  • To help your potted bulbs last even longer, move them to a cool window sill during "off-hours," during the work day or overnight, when no one is around.
  • Potted bulbs are generally sold in little plastic pots; repot them for a more decorative look.
  • For a quick makeover, simply double pot, lowering the plastic pot into a larger, prettier pot or cachepot. Disguise the soil with a light cover of moss.
  • Re-pot by moving bulbs and soil into a prettier container either permanently or temporarily. Unusual containers without drainage holes will be fine for a few days if you want to create a special display. A favorite crystal bowl or your grandmother's best serving dish can make a dramatic, temporary home for blooming bulbs.
  • Line the bowls or drape them with glimmering, glittering holiday decor: bits of silver balls, tinsel and other baubles are glamorous mates for the hyacinth's strong vertical presence; sprays of evergreen and ivies are equally appealing.
  • Special hour-glass-shaped glasses are available for forcing hyacinth and amaryllis with no soil, suspending them just above (but not touching) water. The growing roots visible through the glass add special interest.