Winter Bulbs

by Diana Dhaliwal, Master Gardener

Having put our gardens to bed for the winter, we can now turn our thoughts to gardening indoors. The first thing that comes to mind is to start bulbs indoors. Amaryllis (Hippeastrum spp. and cvs.) and paperwhites (Narcissus papyaceus) are very popular as they do not require vernalization.

One can buy amaryllis either in a pack with a pot and some peat or coir to grow it in, or as loose bulbs. As they are not cheap bulbs it is worth keeping them from year to year. Keeping amaryllis involves cutting off the flower stalk, keeping the leaves in as bright light as possible indoors, and then planting out once the danger of frost is passed. Feed the bulbs over the summer but don’t overwater. In late summer or fall bring the bulb into a cool dry place, allow the leaves to wither and the plant to go into dormancy. Do not water the bulb. Once the bulb is dormant it can be started up again after 2-5 months of dormancy by potting it into new soil, watering it, and putting it into bright light. Amaryllis will bloom about 5-8 weeks after starting. Of course the very biggest bulbs will give the best results.

The second easy bulb for indoor blooms are paperwhites. They will bloom 5-6 weeks after starting. Although most people love their strong smell some do not and there is a variety of scentless bulbs that are available in some garden centres.

Other spring bulbs can be started for flowering in the winter but they need a period of cold (vernalization) which is about 16 weeks. Finding a suitable cold space in our houses may be difficult. Most spring bulbs will flower a few weeks after they have been brought out of the chilled area. It used to be possible to buy ‘prepared’ hyacinths which had already been cold-chilled but it is hard to find them now. The easiest bulbs to grow indoors are crocus, hyacinth, muscari, and mini-daffodils.

Bulbs can be attractively displayed in shallow, wide pots that are 4”-6” deep as long as there is 2” of growing medium below the bulbs for root growth.

How lovely they will look on your windowsill or table in the dark days of winter.