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Minter: Have blooms from Christmas to Valentine's Day with these flowers

Hyacinths, ‘Paperwhite’ narcissus and amaryllis are ‘indoor bulbs’ to enjoy when the weather has changed our outdoor gardens into cold, bleak, grey winterscapes, writes master gardener Brian Minter.

The following column was submitted to the Tri-City News from Brian Minter — master gardener, best-selling author, Order of Canada recipient and co-owner of Minter Country Garden Store.


Hyacinths, ‘Paperwhite’ narcissus and amaryllis are ‘indoor bulbs’ to enjoy when the weather has changed our outdoor gardens into cold, bleak, grey winterscapes.

They have been specially prepared to bloom inside our homes.

The trick, however, is to create the very best conditions for optimum flowering over the longest period of time.

Fragrant ‘prepared’ hyacinths are some of the easiest bulbs to bring to bloom. Coming in colours of red, white, pink, blue and purple, they are generally larger sized bulbs that produce large flowers. It works well to pot them up as singles or triples in four- or six-inch contemporary-styled decorator pots. Most folks prefer to use either a hyacinth vase, which holds the bulbs on top, allowing the roots to filter down into the water or a clear glass rose bowl with colourful rocks holding the bulbs up and in place, while the roots feather down to the water below the rocks. However, you choose to set them out, remember the display is half the artistic value.

‘Paperwhite’ narcissus are the most popular indoor bulbs. There’s something very appealing about a narcissus blooming indoors over the winter months — perhaps we’re reminded that their cousins will be doing the same in our outdoor gardens come spring. The display you create with these bulbs is where the true fun begins. For one of the most beautiful presentations, I love to use tall, cylindrical, clear vases with colourful stones on the bottom, on which to nest the bulbs, and with water below. Shallow, coloured glass containers work well too as long as you can see the lovely white roots developing. Another great way to display them is planted in tall, thin clay pots with green moss over the soil and red huckleberry twigs placed in the pot to accent and support the stems as they grow.

The trick with hyacinths and ‘Paperwhites’ is giving these bulbs a cool start (5°C or 40°F) to ensure the slow development of good roots and sturdy stems and leaves. You’ll destroy the beauty of these flowers if you let them ‘rocket’ out of the bulbs. Start them near a cool window, outside on the patio if temperatures are above freezing or even in your fridge until the roots have formed and the stems are just emerging with the flowerhead inside. With a cool start, they will be much more attractive, and for the longest enjoyment, try to keep them as cool as you can as they grow.

Amaryllis are the granddaddies of all indoor flower bulbs, and probably the most spectacular. It is important to start with larger bulbs, ones measuring about 28 to 29 centimetres to guarantee good flower stems. To double your enjoyment, select 30- to 34-centimetre size bulbs, and you should expect two blossom stems. The colour range now available is quite remarkable, from reds, oranges, pinks and whites to bicolours. If you want to try something a little different, several species types are now available that have unique colours (like green) and different flower sizes and forms. The ‘Nymph’ series, for example, has fully double blossoms.

For the greatest success with amaryllis, plant the bulb in a pot just large enough to accommodate its particular size and no more. About 25 to 30 percent of the bulb should be above the soil. It’s always wise to use well-draining soil to prevent root rot from over-watering. They require a well lighted, cool location and temperatures of 22 to 24°C, and no feeding is necessary at this point in their growing cycle. Again, it is best to bring them along slowly in order to develop compact, sturdy stems. Their leaves may or may not open easily, so don’t be concerned — what’s important is to have nice strong stems.

As they begin to flower, you can extend their bloom time by keeping them cool, around 12 to 18°C. Some growers even put them in floral coolers to hold them back. Keep them just moist. When each stem finishes blooming, cut off the stem, but let the leaves grow.

Keep them in a cool window until they can go in the garden next spring.

Start several bulbs in sequence to enjoy continuous blooms from Christmas until Valentine’s Day.