Beyond the poinsettia: growing winter-flowering bulbs

4:26 PM, Dec 16, 2012   |    comments
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Cyclamens, sometimes called Persian violets, bloom heavily in winter with unique down-turned flowers and dark green leaves that are beautifully marbled with silver. They may be red, white, pink or salmon pink. Some are sweetly scented, so check with your nose when you buy them. They may be kept from year to year but bloom heavily in winter. They are not for hot, dry houses, but if you live in a drafty house like mine and wear sweaters around the house, they're ideal for your chilly windowsills.

If you want to perfume an entire room, grow a pot of paperwhite narcissus. These daffodil relatives have clusters of white flowers with an incredibly sweet scent. Not everyone likes the scent. The bulbs are hardy in places like California and Texas, where they bloom in spring. Since they aren't hardy here, we grow them on the windowsill. They are exceedingly easy to grow. They can be potted in soil or gravel and burst into bloom in a few weeks.

Oriental lilies are often forced ahead of schedule for winter display in the house. They are also heavily fragrant. The bulbs are hardy here, so save the plant until it's safe to plant outside in May. It won't bloom again this coming year, but it will readjust its schedule and commence blooming the following summer.

Two unusual bulbs that make rewarding winter plants are the star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum) and the pineapple lily (Eucomis). Both belong to the lily family. The former bears stems of starry white flowers. Legend holds that after the star of Bethlehem lead the Wise Men to the manger, it burst into tiny pieces and fell to earth. From the debris sprang the pretty white flowers. These bulbs can be saved from year to year.

The pineapple lily is so named for the shape of its inflorescence, where the flowers are studded along the stem in the shape of a (skinny) pineapple with a tuft of greenery on the top. The flowers may be white or pale burgundy. Although these bulbs are native to South Africa, they are now being marketed as "aloha lilies." The bulbs make wonderful container plants for the summer, so make sure to save these as well. They multiply as well, so I have many dozens of pineapple lily bulbs that are currently in their dormant state in a dark, cool basement room. I pot them up again in May.

The most remarkable plant on the winter windowsill is the amaryllis. It's the Jennifer Lopez of houseplants. It's a show stopper. The South American bulb has tall, leafless stems that bear enormous flowers in the shape of trumpets. The flowers do not have a scent but when you're that beautiful, who needs it? The flowers may be red, white, orange, pink or chartreuse. Some varieties have two-toned flowers that may be pink and white or red and white. Easy to grow, the bulbs will flower in an "amaryllis vase" where the bulb sits above a reservoir of water.

This is effective for a one-time show, but in the long run they should be potted in soil with half the bulb above ground. They may be summered outside and will grow long, strap-like leaves. Right before frost, bring them inside and withhold water. They will appreciate a rest period for several months and then can be re-activated again in December to repeat their spectacular winter show.

Plants are courtesy of Tagawa Gardens.

(KUSA-TV © 2012 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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