A variety of spring-flowering bulbs can be grown in containers for indoor display. Two bulbs, paperwhites and amaryllis, do not need much special treatment and are very easy to grow in pots. Most other spring-flowering bulbs need a cold treatment first, but otherwise, container growing pretty straightforward.
Paperwhite narcissus bulbs are readily available and easy to grow in pots. Plant the bulbs with their pointed ends up in pots of well-drained potting soil. Plant enough bulbs in the pot to fill it without the bulbs touching each other and with the tips of the bulbs exposed.
Keep the pots in a sunny, cool location – preferably outside. Grown too warm or with too little light, the leaves and flower stalks will be tall and tend to flop over. This frequently occurs when people try to force paperwhites in a warm room indoors on a windowsill.
Bring the pot inside on those nights when freezing temperatures are predicted. When the first flower buds open, move the pot indoors to enjoy. Some people, however, find the fragrance objectionable.
After they bloom, you can plant the growing bulbs outside in a bed that receives part sun where they will bloom for you year after year.
Paperwhites may also be grown in bowls of pebbles and water. Choose a wide, decorative bowl and put a layer of gravel, pebbles or marble chips in the bottom. Place the bulbs on the surface and add enough rocks so that the bulbs are two-thirds covered. Add enough water to touch the bottom of the bulbs, and maintain the water at this level. From this point, follow the directions for growing potted bulbs.
Purchase pre-potted amaryllis bulbs ready to grow or loose bulbs and pot them up yourself. The pot should be large enough to have about a 1-inch clearance between the pot edge and the bulb. Plant the bulb so that the upper one-fourth of the bulb is exposed.
Place the pot indoors in a sunny window (the more sun the better) and keep the soil evenly moist. If you provide your amaryllis with too little light, the flower stalk may grow excessively tall and may even fall over. Flowering generally occurs in December from bulbs planted this time of year. Some large bulbs will produce two flower stalks.
After the flowers have faded, cut the stalk at the point where it emerges from the bulb, but do not cut any foliage. Keep the plant inside and continue to provide plenty of light, or the leaves will be floppy. Water it regularly when the soil begins to feel dry, but it is not really necessary to fertilize your amaryllis during this time.
You may remove the growing bulbs from their pots and plant them in the garden in April. Choose a spot with some afternoon shade. Amaryllis planted in the garden this coming spring will get into their natural cycle and bloom in April the following years.
Bulbs that need chilling
This is a technique for growing spring bulbs in containers. They will bloom about the same time as those in the garden. (Most spring bulbs tend to bloom early here in the Deep South anyway.) All spring bulbs except paperwhites (and other Tazetta narcissi) and amaryllis are grown this way.
Purchase high-quality spring bulbs by late November and place them in the vegetable bin of your refrigerator for about six weeks – but don’t put apples or other fruit in that drawer. The bulbs should be potted up in mid-January. It’s not hard to do, and nothing beats a pot of tulips, hyacinths, crocus, daffodils or grape hyacinths blooming indoors.
Just follow these steps:
1. Fill a container with drainage holes about two-thirds with potting soil.
2. Place enough bulbs, pointed end up, on the soil surface to fill the container without the bulbs touching. Plant tulip bulbs with the flat side facing the rim of the pot so the first leaf of each bulb will grow out facing the outside creating a more attractive planting.
3. Add soil until just the tips of the bulbs show and water thoroughly.
4. Place the containers in shade outside and keep the soil evenly moist.
5. When the sprouts are about an inch high, move the pots into a sunny location.
6. Continue to water the pots regularly. If temperatures below 28 degrees are predicted, move the pots to a cool location that will not freeze. Move the pots back outside as soon as possible.
7. When the flower buds begin to show color, move the pots indoors and enjoy.
Hyacinths may also be planted in bowls filled with pebbles. First, refrigerate them for about six to eight weeks. Bury the bulbs two-thirds deep in the pebbles and add enough water to touch the bottom of the bulbs. Maintain water at that level. Follow the above directions starting with step four.
Individual hyacinth bulbs may also be grown in a special hyacinth vase shaped like an hour glass. Place a bulb in the upper part of the vase and maintain water at a level just touching the bottom of the bulb. Hyacinths are incredibly fragrant and are wonderful indoors.
Dan Gill is a horticulturist with the LSU AgCenter. He can be reached at DGill@agcenter.lsu.edu