Make Flower Bulbs Bloom in Winter

January 30, 2009 at 9:38 pm 1 comment


1Tulips are natives of southwestern and central Asian semideserts and mountains. There are many species and many cultivars from hybrids of these species. Most varieties are hardy to USDA zone 3 (minimum temperature = minus 40F & C), and many are spectacular icons of spring. In the garden, however, there is a strong tendency for plantings to die out after only a couple years. The commercial growers rotate their tulip beds with other crops regularly to maintain vigor and prevent disease. Therefore, “forcing” tulips to bloom during the winter involves purchase of the largest and healthiest bulbs in the fall, and, in most cases, discarding the bulbs after flowering, because forcing is usually too stressful for the bulbs to grow and flower well in future years.

1. Good varieties for forcing by beginners:
a. “Early Single” and “Triumph” classes. Caution: if you delay their blooming until March or April, they bloom fast and drop their petals in a couple of days.
b. Certain (shorter stemmed) Darwin tulips (Red Apeldoorn, Schoonard, etc.).
c. Tulipa griegii, T. kaufmanniana (water lilytulips), T. fosteriana (Emperor).
d. Early Doubles may need staking to prevent the heavy blossoms from bending the stalks. Most early double tulips planted at the same time, bloom at the same time. So you can mix varieties and colors, because they are color sports cloned from only one or two old varieties.
e. Late tulips (May blooming) are difficult for beginners; they take much longer to winterize, grow very tall before blooming, but they do make marvelous bouquets as cut flowers.
2. Buying bulbs from a catalog (see last pages of this outline):
a. Purchase bulbs as soon as you get the catalog to get the best selection and any early discounts, they will be sent “at the proper time for your area”, so emphasize that you are forcing them and want them as early in the fall as possible. They should arrive in late September.
b. Order only 12 cm or larger bulb size (circumference). If you can get larger bulbs, spend the money!
c. Some varieties and nearly all unmodified species are much smaller. Reliable companies will say # 1 size, and mean it. Others that advertise lots of bargains may be not as reliable. Look for the guarantee section of the order blank. The company should guarantee the catalog description and general health.
d. When you receive the bulbs, immediately examine each bulb (q.v.) for damage, disease, and size. If more than 5 % are substandard, immediately call, FAX, and write (all three!) customer service describing the problem and condition of the bulbs and ask for replacements. A reliable company will bend over backwards to correct your problem.
3. Buying bulbs at an outlet store (e.g., Walmart, Camelot Gardens, Alpengardener, Rocky Mtn. Trees and Landscapes for the Gunnison area):
a. Purchase the bulbs as soon as they are displayed (mid-September). Purchase only those that you can handle and examine.
b. Select the largest bulbs (not including bulblets), and pass over any damaged, cankered (woody-white patches), or soft bulbs. Learn how your thumb and forefinger can test the circumference of a bulb. Tulip bulbs should be at least 12 cm in circumference, better to be 14 or even 16 cm. (Species and miniatures are smaller and you have to learn what each kind’s largest size is.)
c. Prepare the bulbs right away, or place them in a cold (36-40F) environment until you can work with them. I regularly put them in a cold room at 36-40F for about a month or until November 1st. This pre-cooling cuts about two weeks off the growing period. Longer bulb cooling is OK for a couple months, but this depends on how you are growing the bulbs and when you want them to bloom. Remember, Triumph and early single tulip flowers do not last long if started too late.
4. Preparation for forcing:
a. Remove the tunic (the helmet-like covering over the bulb). Remove bulblets since they just produce messy leaves. Keep the tunic and bulblets on the bulb if you plant it outside instead of forcing it.
b. Discard any soft bulbs. If you notice extensive damage under the tunic, discard the bulb. Don’t compost discarded bulbs or debris, because virus can be spread this way. Green penicilium mold is not harmful to the bulb, but any bruises under the mold may be harmful enough to warrant discarding.
c. Soil – use soil-less potting mix (not potting soil) and a 6-inch plastic pot which will hold 5 or 6 large bulbs planted close together, but not touching. Don’t fertilize, since you are not saving the bulbs.
3d. Put about an inch of mix in the bottom of the pot, and place the bulbs with the flat side toward the edge of the pot. If there is no clear flat side, look for the root ridge on the bottom of the bulb and place this toward the center of the pot. The lowest and largest leaf (which forms on the flat side of the bulb opposite the root ridge) tends to droop and it looks better draping over the side of the pot. This can be quite attractive in the striped-leaf varieties (e.g., Tulipa griegii). Actually, the leaf may drape better if the flat side of the bulb is twisted clockwise slightly, and the root ridge is pointing directly to the center of the pot. Fill the pot with the potting mix and tamp it down. The weight and density of the mix may prevent the roots from pushing the bulbs up out of the pot. If the bulbs do start rising, push them back down.
e. Rarely, a bulb has no root ridge, or the top growing tip has been sliced off by the digging machinery. Discard it, it won’t grow no matter how healthy the rest of it seems.
f. Drench the potted bulbs with “Gnatrol®” or “Knock-Out Gnats®” solution to control fungus gnats. (See section on Bulb Specialists and Suppliers.)
g. Allow the potted bulbs to root for 8-12 weeks @ 40°F ± 3°F, watering them well – but do not allow them to sit in standing water or dry out.
5. Various Winterizing Methods:
4a. Bury pots in the ground and cover them with straw bales or certified weed-free hay bales. They must not freeze. Extend the hay bales two to four feet beyond the edge of the planting area. Select days above freezing to move the bales and inspect the bulbs for growth. At this time, water them with cold water.
b. Keep the pots in an attached unheated garage in an area that stays about the correct temperature. They will dry out faster than in “a” (above), so water them frequently with cold water.
c. A few bulbs can be forced in a refrigerator that is not frost-free (“frost-free” dries the pots out). It should be dedicated to the forcing project; don’t store fruit, or other ripening plant products in this refrigerator. They produce ethylene gas that will kill the flower buds! Also, this apparatus must be in a room that is warmer than the inside of the refrigerator. A freezing cold room will freeze the contents of the refrigerator.
d. I have set up a concrete former coal cellar with a refrigeration unit and wide spectrum fluorescent lighting. I can control the temperature with ease. I also plant bulbs hydroponically in ceramic pebbles for a few weeks in this room, so that I can later plant the bulbs with similar root growth together in a pot. They then will be more or less synchronized at blooming time.
e. Whatever winterizing method you use, when the green shoots are two to three inches tall, bring the bulbs into a lighted, cool room (no more than 60°F). When the flower buds begin to open, the pot can be brought into the coolest, brightly lit (not direct sunlight) part of the house. This will allow the tulips to bloom for a longer time for your enjoyment. Again, don’t let the pots dry out!
6. Water culture alternative.
a. There are special pots, dishes, etc., that are designed to grow certain varieties of tulips that have been pre-cooled at 36°F for a month or two without further cooling. Pre-cooled bulbs can be grown in stones also, like paper-white narcissus. The major problem is keeping the grown bulbs from toppling over. They also will flower better in a cool room (60°F).
b. The water bath should have several pieces of horticultural charcoal and a few salt-free (i.e., washed) pieces of oyster shell (like that fed to chickens and pet birds). Change the water once a week. The bulbs should be perfect, large, without blemishes with the tunic removed. Only the root ridge should be in contact with the water and the water level must remain constant. If you do not have the molded plastic holders that keep the bulbs upright, you will have to devise another method to do the job. Small perforated square plastic pots that fit the bulb tightly and placed in another water-tight container will work nicely.
c. The best bulb varieties for water culture are the very early blooming ones (needing less winterizing) with shorter stems (6-9”). Examples are short-stemmed members of the Triumph class (Jingle Bells, Christmas Marvel, Paul Richter), T. griegii, T. kaufmanniana, and their hybrids (Stresa, Shakespeare, Showwinner, etc.).
7. Approximate Schedules:
a. Early Tulips
1) Bulbs that have not been pre-cooled (most of those available)
Sep. 15: Receive bulbs, plant immediately in pots, put in winterizing environment.
Dec. 1: Check for top and root growth (shoots approx. 1” tall, roots emerging from drain holes.) If ready, transfer from cold to lighted, 60°F room to grow.
Dec. 20 – Jan. 15: Blooming should commence.
b. If you must delay (e.g., too warm in fall for winterizing), or want to extend the blooming season, keep the unplanted bulbs at 40°F for as much as two months before planting. For example:
Nov. 15: Plant pre-cooled bulbs, keep at 40°F.
Jan. 15 – Feb. 1: Check for top and root growth. If ready, remove bulbs to a lighted, 60°F room to grow.
Mar. 1: Blooming should commence (note that the total growth time is less than if planted early in the fall).
c. Bulbs that, according to the dealer, have been commercially pre-cooled for more than 6 weeks, sometimes can be planted and started right away – but it is better to let them grow in pots at about 50°F for a couple weeks first. Then bring them to the 60°F room to bloom. Sometimes the dealer is mistaken about pre-cooling, so always check the root growth before placing the pots at 60°F.
Oct. 1-15: Receive bulbs, plant in pot, keep in cool condition until Oct 15 – Nov. 15, depending on the variety. Jingle Bells, Stresa, and Christmas Marvel bulbs root very quickly – in two weeks they should be rooted enough to bring to the blooming room.
Dec. 1 – 15: Blooming should commence.
d. Bulbs labeled “late blooming”: (parrot tulips, peony-flowering, lily-flowering, late single, etc.): Keep planted pots in cold room or ground storage for at least 12 to 16 weeks before moving to 60°F room.
Sep. 15: Receive bulbs, store in cold; plant and place in winterizing conditions when possible.
Jan. 15 – Feb. 1: Check on top and root growth. If ready, move to growing conditions.
Mar. 15 – Apr. 1: Blooming should commence. Use for cut flowers or stake to prevent tipping over. Height may exceed 3 ft. Really late bloomers do better planted outdoors, especially in late frost areas like Gunnison.

Some people may be sensitive to tulips if in contact with skin, or if plant fluids touch the skin or eyes. The resulting dermatitis is usually mild. Tulips are an example of plants tasty to wildlife but may be toxic to people. Although some sources list tulip blossoms as good garnishes for salads, be cautious or avoid them.


5Narcissi (Narcissus spp.) are Mediterranean Basin species found from sea level to quite high in the mountains. Some are tender and can stand no freezing temperatures, whereas others are hardy to USDA zone 3 (minimum temperature -40°F & C). Some species produce several flower stalks in succession, whereas others produce only one stalk and flower. Most are spring-flowering before, or synchronous with, leaf emergence after winter dormancy. A few are fall-flowering, but not commercially available—in fact, endangered. The more winter-hardy species naturalize very well in moist, temperate habitats, but seldom become invasive. They are subject to few diseases and are distasteful to grazing animals. However, some cultivars may be more palatable and lose buds and flowers to deer, rabbits, etc.
1. Good varieties for forcing by beginners:
a. Hardy complex hybrids (mainly Narcissus pseudonarcissus).: King Alfred, Golden Harvest (an improved King Alfred selection), Dutch Master, Rijnveld’s Early Sensation, Ice Follies, Little Beauty, Little Gem (miniatures), and Rip Van Winkle (miniature that blooms at same time as, and looks like, dandelions). These varieties can be forced to bloom by Christmas or New Year’s Day.
b. Hardy, complex hybrids that require a little longer winterizing. Mount Hood (white), Carlton, Barrett Browning, Topolino (miniature), Unsurpassable, Texas (double), and Beersheba (white).
c. Species (miniature mostly) for early and mid-winter blooming: N. triandrus: late blooming, Hawera, Ice Wings. N. obvallaris: “wild” Welsh Tenby Daffodil is not reliably hardy in Gunnison gardens, but forces well and looks like a tiny daffodil. (For what it’s worth, AARP Bulletin, Jan. 2007, p. 17, reports that extracts of this species, particularly rich in galantamine, have been used to slow dementia development.)
N. cyclamineus: early to mid-February, February Gold, Tete-a-tete (available in bloom from many outlets), Jetfire (blooms later) and Jenny. Dried flowers of this species keep their shape and color.
N. jonquilla: late blooming, Quail (very reliable), original Jonquil, Single and Double Campernelle.
d. Semi-hardy, but not in Gunnison gardens (excellent forcers, nevertheless).
Poetaz group (very fragrant hybrids of tender N. tazetta and hardy N. poeticus):
Cragford (forceable by New Year’s), Geranium almost identical to Cragford, but much later blooming, Falconet, Minnow (miniature), Abba (double sport of Cragford), and Sir Winston Churchill (double sport of Geranium). The last two varieties bloom the same time as their parents.
Complex origin: Erlicheer (can bloom by Christmas), needs a very short cold treatment, dried double flower clusters last for years! If you keep the bulb cold until May, it may be planted in the garden and bloom in late June or July. Some sources sell this variety for summer blooming.
e. Paper-Whites N. paparaceus (a species of the Tazetta group that does not need a cooling period except to delay blooming): (white) Bethlehem, Ziva, Galilee, Nazareth, and (yellow, orange cup) Grand Soleil d’Or, N. tazetta (Chinese Sacred Lily – white, yellow cup); it is hard to keep paper-whites from blooming by February). Tazetta species from the mountains of Italy, Greece, Crete, and the Pyrenees may be fairly hardy, but are not commercially available.
f. Exotic types: Most late doubles and Butterfly types (split corona) are for experienced forcers: some are “easy” and some are difficult if you can not control the temperature easily. Double narcissus sometimes do well for me (Texas, Replete, Bridal Crown), as well as the butterfly class (Cassata, Mondragon, and Palmares). They are excellent as cut flowers and even dry well for nice arrangements (hang upside down until dry). They do fade to cream color, though.
g. My failures include Old Pheasant Eye, Actaea (latest of all to bloom), and N. bulbocodium. If the catalog says nothing about forcing a particular variety, beware – try forcing at your own risk!
2. Buying bulbs at an outlet store (buying from a catalog, see 2c):
a. Purchase bulbs as soon as they are displayed (mid-September).
b. Select the largest bulbs. Narcissi are classified as “single-nosed,” “double-nosed,” even “triple-nosed.” Single-nosed has only one point from which a flower stalk will arise. Double-nosed may have two points very close together or may be two bulbs joined at the base by a small bridge. If the bulbs are large enough, the flower stalk will be sturdy and have a large blossom. Get the largest bulbs possible, sometimes two or three conjoined bulbs are small, so ignore them. Miniatures and unmodified species have small bulbs naturally. Purchase the largest in the selection. Pass over any soft or damaged bulbs, because they are likely to be diseased or parasitized.
c. If you buy from a catalog, do not get mixtures, because you should plant each variety separately for synchronous bloom and a mass “statement.” Order #1 sizes, or “double-nosed # 1* (DN1) labeled at least 16 cm in circumference. (See the Tulip section for further considerations, Par. 2a-d). Order as soon as the catalog arrives (late spring to summer) to get any discounts and the best selection, prepare for the bulbs to arrive in September. It helps to emphasize that you are forcing the bulbs.
d. Prepare the bulbs right away, or place them in the cold environment until you can work with them. Narcissi, once they start developing, are difficult to hold back, so they are better held as dry bulbs until you want to start them for, e.g., Easter (start about January 1 for late March to April blooming.)
3. Preparation for forcing:
a. Remove loose bulb scales but leave the rest on the bulb. The dry scales contain bactericidal and fungicidal compounds that counter most bulb diseases. Narcissi are mostly immune to rodent and deer predation also, because they are laced with oxalic acid and several nasty-tasting alkaloids.
b. Discard soft bulbs. Keep only those that are rock hard and are undamaged.
c. Growing medium: use soil-less potting mix, not potting soil, to fill a 6 inch plastic pot that will hold 5 to 6 large, double-nosed single bulbs or 3 to 4 large double bulbs. A few large pieces of horticultural charcoal, mixed with potting mix in the bottom of the pot, help drainage and “sweeten the pot.” If you plan to place the hardy varieties later in the garden, fertilize the pot with a teaspoonful of 15-15-15 Osmocote® granules (mixed in the mix) or ¼ strength liquid fertilizer (5-10-10, or close to that) at every watering. Also use diluted Gnatrol® (Bacillus thuringensis israelensis, or B. t. i.) as a soil drench to control fungus gnats (which are nuisances at best and root-hair-eating pests at the worst).
61d. Potting the Bulbs: Unlike tulips, no particular bulb orientation in the pot is necessary. Since you may want to plant the bulbs outdoors later, don’t plant them as deep as you would tulips, allowing the roots to get more contact with the soil-less mix. Bury the bulbs so the shoulders are at rim level. The roots are so dense in growth that they can push the bulb out of the pot. Use rubber bands on the bulb shoulders and around the base of the pot to hold them down.
e. Allow the planted bulbs to root for 6-8 weeks at the usual 40°F, water them regularly, and do not allow them to dry out or stand in water, or freeze.
f. After Winterizing – see Tulip Forcing (Par. 5a-e): When the green shoots are 2-3 inches tall, bring the pots into a lighted, cool room (no more than 60°F). After a week of adjusting to the light, and the shoots turn green, place them in a stronger light – even sunlight. The more light will generate shorter and sturdier flower stalks and leaves. Again, keep the soil moist and cool, because the plants transpire lots of water.
4. Water culture alternative: This method works best on very fast growing Tazetta narcissi. Use stones, marbles, or hydroponic porous ceramic pebbles. Addition of some horticultural charcoal improves the purity of the water for the health of the roots. Change the water once a week, using distilled water. Remove all loose bulb scales and dry roots from the previous year before planting. Paper-white narcissi are classically grown this way. Don’t fertilize, because the bulbs don’t flower well the next year after being forced this way, as the Tazetta group is not winter-hardy in Colorado, and too much fertilizer could burn the roots.
5. Approximate schedules depend on bulb condition, growth control, care during winterizing, variety, luck.
a. Early narcissi:
i. Bulbs that have been pre-cooled (heated to 90°F for 3 days, then cooled to 36°F for 6 weeks) or paper-white Tazettas. They can be potted and grown at 60°F conditions right away.
Oct. 15: Receive and pot bulbs, place in a lighted or unlighted 50 – 60 ° F room, light regime doesn’t matter, contrary to the mystique.
Nov. 15: Bring to 65 to 70°F and bright diffuse light.
Dec. 15: Blooming should commence.
ii. Delay blooming: keep dry bulbs refrigerated until one month before you want them to bloom. Then plant and grow them at 55° F for two weeks, then 65+ F for two weeks. Plant the dry bulbs by New Year’s Day at the latest. However, Erlicheer can be kept dry at 36°F for all winter, planted in the garden in June and will flower in a month! –not winter-hardy, tho.
iii. Bulbs that have not been pre-cooled (most of the available bulbs)
Sep. 15: Receive bulbs, plant immediately in pots, and place in winterizing conditions.
Nov. 15: Check for top and root growth. If ready, remove from the cold, place in brightly lighted, cool room to grow.
Dec. 15: Early varieties will commence blooming.
Jan. 15: Later varieties will commence blooming.
6. DELAY BLOOMING by (a) putting dry bulbs in the cold @ 36-40° until needed, planting them no later than Feb. 1 or (b) by keeping pots at winterizing conditions (36°F) until needed. In Gunnison, if you have buried the bulbs in a trench in the garden, and have covered them with bales of hay, remove the hay bales by late March, or the shoots may be squashed as they grow. They can be brought into a bright, cool room anytime after sprouting. Because buds of some very early varieties can be frozen by cold snaps, definitely bring them inside to bloom if the weather reports predict a cold snap below freezing.
a. Delayed schedule example:
Feb. 15: Remove dry bulbs from cold, pot them and keep in the cold for two weeks until
Mar. 15: Check for rooting and top growth. If ready, bring into lighted 60°F room.
Apr. 15: Blooming commences
b. Depending on the date of Easter, Passover, etc., you may have to keep the pots in the cold longer or shorter. Note that the growing period is progressively shorter, the longer that the cold regime lasts.
c. Bulbs labeled “late” blooming. These behave more like late tulips in their forcing behavior. Increase the winterizing time to at least 12 weeks. The duration of growth after sprouting may be twice as long as early varieties depending on variety. There is an increased risk of “blasting”—buds just dry up and turn brown, indicating lack of moisture uptake, too warm growing conditions, or too dry relative humidity. This is a major reason why most late varieties are not listed as good forcers.
7. General Considerations:
a. It is crucial to keep the soil in pots evenly moist at all times, but never wet nor standing in water. If you wish to plant hardy narcissus bulbs in the garden after they have bloomed, they will survive well, bloom well in the second year, and even spread slowly over the years if the following conditions are met: (a) plant in full sun, (b) fertilize spring and fall with a good bulb fertilizer and compost mulch, (c) keep watered during the growing season and fall, dry during the summer, (d) keep the green leaves until they die naturally.
b. Narcissi are immune to most diseases and pests, including rodents and deer. The leaves and bulbs contain oxalic acid and alkaloids that are distasteful to grazing animals. Prevent toddlers from sampling the leaves and flowers. They may be very unhappy or sick if they do. No pesticides are needed for narcissi. However, narcissus bulb grubs may be a problem if you plant infected bulbs. Diazanon kills the grubs, but try to avoid this pesticide by using good prevention practices.
c. Compared with tulips, narcissi last longer in bloom, perennialize in the garden more permanently. The cut flowers last longer and blooms of many varieties can be dried for dry, formal arrangements. Many are very fragrant, whereas only a few tulips are fragrant. Too bad there are no red or blue daffodils!


All parts of Daffodils and their relatives are poisonous. The oxalic acid and alkaloids leave a long-lasting burning sensation in the mouth. Indoor pets and toddlers are at risk, keep the plants away from them.


7Amaryllis is the common name of a popular winter blooming plant native to South America. A very similar species is Amaryllis belladonna, “Naked Ladies,” from South Africa, and the Hippeastrum genus used to be classified in the genus Amaryllis. If you receive an amaryllis kit, it may contain a pot, a bag of fibrous planting material or powdered sphagnum moss, and a big bulb with many or few white or dried up roots bare of any soil, plus instructions (which you should follow) on how to plant and care for it. If you receive just a bulb, you should treat the bulb as follows:

1. Examine the bulb for any soft spots, frost damage, mechanical injury, or prematurely sprouted stems all coiled up. If the damage is severe, return or discard the bulb.
2. Cut off any brittle, dried-up roots, leaving only the white, flexible, living roots if any, and remove loose, papery bulb scales that may harbor pests and will make a mess on your dining room table.
3. Select a plastic pot that provides drainage and one or two inches space between the bulb and the pot wall.
4. Use good quality moist, potting mix to fill ½ the pot, and make a cone of mix on top of that in the center.
5. Spread the roots, angled downward around the planting cone (if the roots are very long, cut them so that they just reach the wall of the pot.
6. Fill around the roots with more potting medium mixed with a tsp of slow release bulb fertilizer. Firm the potting mix around the roots and the bulb, but leave at least 1/2 of the bulb exposed (I prefer to leave most of the bulb exposed, if there are enough roots to steady it in the pot.)
7. Thoroughly water the potting mix, but keep the growing tip of the bulb dry.
8. Place the bulb in a warm spot out of direct sunlight, not watering it again until the flower stalk or leaves have emerged a couple inches from the top of the bulb. If you want to speed up the development, use under-tray heat — an electric soil warming pad is a good choice. Use a soil thermometer to monitor the temperature; it should be between 75-80°F. The bottom of the pot should be cooler than a baby bottle.
9. As the plant grows, keep the potting mix moderately moist, not wet. The horticultural Hippeastrum is derived from semi-desert or pampas plants, and is harmed more by too much water than too little.
10. Sometimes, amaryllis bulbs arrive from the supplier without roots or they are all dried out. This is usually caused by long storage, especially bulbs from South Africa that were dug in their fall (our spring), stored during their winter and sent to us in October, “guaranteed” to bloom by Christmas. If you plant the bulb in potting mix, use rubber bands to keep the plant upright until enough roots have grown to support it. Keep the potting mix moist. If the flower stalk has started to grow, roots may not form until after flowering. The bulb will take up water a bit, but most of the water for the flower will come from the bulb scale storage layers. Water culture (see below.) may be better than soil culture for getting the bulb to grow new roots.
11. Leaves may emerge from the bulb after at least one stalk has flowered. Remove the flowers as they wilt, and let the green stalk die and dry up. When it is green, it is manufacturing food for the bulb. Sometimes a newly planted bulb may shrink to only ½ its original volume while flowering.
12. When the leaves start growing, and after the flowers of the last stalk have passed, place the plant in brighter light, but try to keep the pot and roots shaded and cool (a piece of cardboard will help shade the pot.) Keep the mix moist. If the leaves flop over because they are long, this indicates too little light. Do not trim them. The bulb needs the nourishment the leaves provide, and should now begin to increase in girth, but a couple years may pass before the bulb begins to grow appreciably.
13. When the danger of frost has passed, put the bulb, roots undisturbed, in a slightly larger unglazed clay pot. Add potting mix as needed, fertilize with a bulb fertilizer at ¼ the recommended dose and sink the pot to the rim in the ground in a protected, but sunny spot. Leave the bulb at least 1/3 exposed. Shade the leaves for a week or two from the midday sun (10 AM to 2 PM). Keep watering lightly.
14. Some cultivars (especially Pasadena) will die back around August, but most of the others will keep green and growing until frost. Bring the bulb inside, in its pot, before autumn frost causes the whole leaf, or the crown, to die. Let the pot dry in a cool place for at least one to two months.
15. By the time new growth is apparent, repot in a plastic pot which allows one inch of space around the bulb’s maximum girth. Add potting mix, if necessary, without disturbing the roots too much, and add ¼ the recommended dose of bulb fertilizer. Start watering regularly to keep the mix moderately moist. Speed up the development as before, or slow it down by putting the pot near a north window (not on the cold window sill). There is a danger that the bulb could rot if the soil is too moist and too cold.
16. RULE: The roots should be growing actively before any cold treatment. If you keep the bulbs growing without a rest, the flower stalks may become unsynchronized, one emerging a couple months after the first. Of course, this could be a desirable outcome.
17. PRECAUTIONS: To keep the amaryllis for many years, always keep at least the top third of the bulb exposed above the soil. Never cut the leaves while they are still alive and green. Use soil-less potting mix and fertilize regularly but sparingly, the soil-less mix is poor in minerals. Remove spent flowers before seed pods develop. Never allow the pot to sit in water for any length of time, and do allow the soil to dry moderately between watering.
18. One or more bulblets will develop per year. If you wish to keep the mother bulb growing to its maximum size, producing a maximum number of flower stalks (2, 3, or even 4), remove and discard the bulblets as soon as you see them. If you want to propagate more bulbs, let the bulblets stay with the mother plant for a year to develop their own roots, then remove them when you repot the mother bulb, and place them in a small pot. It will take three or four years before the bulblets will be large enough to flower.


1. CUT FLOWERS: Cut the flowering stalk when the first bud has opened, and place it in a vase of water where the cut surface will develop a water-absorbing callus. There is no reason to cut the stem again, despite some published directions. The flowers last at least as long as they would on the bulb, each one about 4 days or longer. This may be the best way to treat large, double blooms which cause the plant to become top-heavy.

2. WATER CULTURE: Amaryllis bulbs develop roots and bloom well in water, just like hyacinths, paper-whites, etc. There are expensive amaryllis water-culture glasses, but narrow tumblers work well. A square plastic flower pot, whose shoulders will support a bulb at its mid-section, can be used effectively. The square shape allows more aeration at the corners than does a round shape. If you can find a transparent one, you can see the rooting progress better. Place a few, large pieces of horticultural charcoal in the pot, set the pot in a water-tight container, and fill the container with water until the water just touches the bottom of the bulb. Remove dead roots, dirt, debris, and dead bulb-scales before inserting the bulb. One-tenth strength water-soluble houseplant fertilizer can supplement the bulb’s nutrition. Once a day raise the pot out of the container to aerate the water, and check whether more water should be added. Clean away dying roots and replace the water once a week with fresh solution.
The bulb can be maintained permanently in such an arrangement – even outside, in a sheltered place, during the summer. In the fall, if you wish to synchronize flowering, let the roots dry a few days, cut the leaves within 1 – 2 inches of the bulb (watch out for a nascent flower bud!), and place the roots in barely moist Sphagnum moss at 50°F. When top growth resumes, clean the roots and replace the bulb in the water container with the roots in the water. The bulb will grow rapidly in girth.
I have been very successful using this technique in our 13th-floor apartment in Chicago! In fact, I thought I had invented the technique, but I find that others have done the same thing. The only problem is neglect to keep the water level up, water cool and aerated, and fertilizer down in concentration to prevent the roots from drying out or being poisoned by too much fertilizer. Replace the water every week or two with fresh solution.

All parts of amaryllis (Hippeastrum spp.) are poisonous to ingest. Keep plants away from small children and pets likely to sample the greenery. Gastric upset is the likely symptom, although dermatitis is possible from touching the plant, and, rarely, respiratory distress may occur.


1. Ellis, J. E. & J. R. Feucht, 1997. Fall Planted Bulbs and Corms (Fact Sheet #7.410). Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Service. (Available in Gunnison. Covers only outside planting, but thoroughly and succinctly.)

2. Flower Power. Consumer Reports. September 2000, pp. 38-41. Does not consider shipping charges in its cost/performance analysis. The subject was researched well, but in several places indicates that the author had limited first hand knowledge.

3. Hessayon, D. G., 1999. The Bulb Expert. 128 pp. Transworld Publishers Ltd., London. Profusely illustrated in color. 103 genera are individually detailed, plus general culture, forcing, diseases, what to look for when purchasing, etc. The book’s British focus may not always apply to temperate North America, especially the high mountain West. “The world’s best-selling book on bulbs.”

4. James, John, 1977. Flowers When You Want Them. 233 pp. Hawthorn Books, Inc., N.Y. Commercial green house professional in Ohio, industrial consultant in botany, agricultural chemicals, geneticist. Timing of forcing, emphasis on small gardens and low tech methods. Out of print, but is the best general treatment of forcing out-of-season blooming for bulbs, woody cuttings, herbaceous plants, etc.

5. Rockwell, F. F. & E. C. Grayson (revised edition by M.J. Dietz), 1977. The Complete Book of Bulbs. 368 pp. J. B. Lippencott Company, Philadelphia & New York. A little dated, but is really a compendium of knowledge that could be all that is needed by the average enthusiast.

6. Whiteside, Katherine, 2000. Forcing, Etc. 154 pp. Smith & Hawken, Milwaukee, WI. Many illustrations, but not as thorough as James’ book. Sold by Smith & Hawken, also by White Flower Farm.


These have proved reliable. Others not listed are not necessarily unreliable – I just have not used them. Dollar/Euro exchange caused a 25% jump in imported bulb prices in yr 2004 and 10% per yr since.  Prices quoted are as of Fall 2008 catalog.

1. Breck’s, US Reservations Center, 3261 Garden View Lane, Walker, WI 49550-8000.
Or Is linked with Spring Hill (perennials). Comments: Good quality, some real bargains as collections. Has a big bulb farm in Holland. Has a fund-raising program for organizations. Big discounts are offset by very high base prices.

2. Dutch Gardens, 144 Intervale Rd., Burlington, VT 05401. 1-800-944-2250. Comments: no discounts, good quality, many bulbs are grown on farms in Lisse, Holland. Have a fund-raising program for organizations.

3. John Scheepers, Inc., 23 Tulip Drive, Bantam, CT 06750-1631. Retail, linked with Van Engelen. Shipping is 15% for Colorado. Smaller quantities available than with Van Engelen, which is wholesale. Good selection, same as Van Engelen. Consumer Reports “Best Buy”, Sept. 2000, p. 40.

4. McClure & Zimmerman, 108 W. Winnebago St., P.O. Box 368, Friesland, WI 53935-0368. They are brokers for several Dutch and American suppliers and have the best selection of rare varieties and species, but are expensive, except that S & H is only $ 6.00 minimum, 10% between $60 and $500, maximum S&H $50. 10% discount if order before June 30! Catalog very informative about growth requirements. The company will make good if you are dissatisfied with the bulbs you receive.

5. Messelaar Bulb Co., Inc., P. O. Box 269, Ipswich, MA 01938. Retail/Wholesale (quantity prices, you can order display collections for resale.) Moderate prices, 15% S&H, fair selection, and high quality, with among the largest bulb sizes. Not listed in Consumers Reports.

6. Van Engelen, inc., 21 Tulip Dr., Bantam, CT 06750-1631. High quality, wholesale, in general least expensive of all companies listed, even considering 15% shipping to Colorado! Linked with John Scheepers, but not listed in Consumers Reports. Catalog is not illustrated, but you will automatically receive a Scheepers catalog which is well illustrated.

7. Veldheer Tulip Gardens, 12755 Quincy St. & US Hwy 31, Holland, MI 49424. Excellent quality, though more limited in diversity. Retail and Wholesale, relatively inexpensive. I have seen the farm and the bulb-sorting plant. Some are grown in the “Dutch” area of Michigan, and some are imported from Holland. Incidentally, DeKlomp Wooden Shoe Factory is next door; and it is the only authorized Delft factory outside of Delft, Holland. It makes a fascinating stop on a Michigan vacation! Not listed in Consumer Reports.

8. White Flower Farm, P.O. Farm, P.O. Box 40, Litchfield, CT 06759-0050. Retail, not bulb specialists, but they have very nice quality with some rarities. Consumers Reports “Best Buy”, 1997. No discounts, S&H = 13% average.

9. Gardens Alive!, 5100 Schenley Place, Lawrenceburg, IN 47025. Organic fertilizers and pest control, e.g., “Bulbs Alive®,” “KnockOut Gnats®,” “SoilGard®,” “White fly parasitoids (Encarsia)”, etc. “Stay Organic Garden Club” members for $14.95/yr fee get 10% discount on purchases.

10. Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply, PO Box 2209, 124 Clydesdale Ct, Grass Valley, CA 95945. “Gantrol” in 2.5 gallon lots.

Text and Illustrations by Bob Willey, Photos by Scottie Willey
Gunnison County Advanced Master Gardeners

Entry filed under: Indoor Gardening & Houseplants.

Tips from Gunnison County Master Gardeners What Fertilizer Should I Use?

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Mike  |  March 1, 2009 at 10:46 am

    Just passing by.Btw, your website have great content!

    Making Money $150 An Hour


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