Forcing Bulbs for Holiday Blooms
From a talk by Peggy Groce
On November 14, the Kiawah Island Garden Club met to hear Peggy Groce give tips for forcing all sorts of bulbs. She is a retired horticulturist who has had her own nursery in Plano Texas and has also been active in horticulture in Chicago and Pittsburg. She volunteers at the Charleston Horticulture Society and is vice President of the Alhambra Garden Club in Mt. Pleasant.
There are two types of Amaryllis, the Belladona which is South African in origin and grows outdoors and the Hippeastrum, native to South America and which can be forced indoors as well as being planted outdoors. These come in single, double, miniatures and many colors and combination. To force indoors, soak the roots (not the bulb) in lukewarm water for 30 minutes, then plant in soil in a small enough container that the bulb is tight and cozy, with about 1-2 inches on each side. Do not put more than 1/3 of the bulb below the soil and water once a week. Keep in a cool place for 3-6 weeks with filtered bright light. Don’t keep them in the dark as they will “stretch” to get light. Once they bloom do not let them sit in sunlight, and water lightly.
To make your Amaryllis bloom again, keep it cool through the holidays and keep it barely moist. When the last flower has faded, cut the flower stalks near the top of the bulb. Move it to bright sunlight, even a south facing window, fertilize monthly with a liquid fertilizer and never allow the soil to dry completely. In the spring, move the plant outdoors, water daily and fertilize every two weeks. If you want your plant to bloom for the holidays, it needs to enter its dormant period by mid August. Withhold water and move it to a cool (around 55 degrees) area. After 8-10 weeks of cool storage the tip of new growth will emerge. Three weeks in a warm spot (70-80 degrees) will encourage it and then you can repot it with fresh soil, put in a sunny spot until it begins to bloom. If done right, your bulb will rebloom for years.
Papperwhites and Hyacinths can also be forced to bloom, on top of rocks or pebbles, not soil. Water should only reach the roots, not the bulbs. Many people “gin up” their plants after 3-4 weeks of growth, to prevent weak flower stalks. Drain the water in the container and replace it with a mixture of one part gin (or rubbing alcohol) to 10 parts water and continue watering with this mixture. The whole container should be kept cool, in a refrigerator for the first 3-4 weeks before moving to a warm bright spot.
Amaryllis bulbs reached the US in 1811 and during the 1800s there were only about 2 blooms per bulb. Now cultivars provide 4-6 flowers per stem, and there are often several stems per bulb. In 1933 the Amaryllis Society was begun and all bulbs and seeds are inspected and controlled by the USDA. They now come from South Africa and Holland.
Pointsettias are still number one for the holidays. There are many legends about their introduction to the US, but the plant is endemic to Southern Mexico and arrived here in 1828 and was named to honor Joel Roberts Poinsett. Another popular holiday plant is Christmas cactus, which is a tropical cactus, discovered in 1819 in Brazil, where it grows on trees. Other cactus plants bloom at Thanksgiving and at Easter.
The Kiawah Island Garden Club will have a workshop to make floral arrangements in pumpkins the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. That workshop will be at the Sandcastle on November 22nd. On December 16th members of the club will gather downtown to visit four or five churches decorated for Christmas, followed by lunch at Virginias. Information will be on our website, www.kiawahislandgardenclub.org.