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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Time for Amaryllis and Paperwhites

Whether you go all out with your holiday decorations, or not so much..... the beauty of amaryllis and paperwhites is hard to beat. They'll add charm to an elaborate holiday display, or a bright touch of elegance to a more low-key setting. And there's a bonus: both amaryllis and paperwhites are easy to grow, and waiting for you now at Tagawa Gardens. This is a perfect time to start them!

Part of the appeal of an amaryllis is watching it grow. Once they start sprouting, the giant bulbs can easily put on an inch of growth in a single day. I used to send a bright red amaryllis to my grandfather every Christmas. He was frail and didn't get around much, but he was always anxious to tell me that if he stared long enough, he was sure he could actually see that stem get taller and taller. It had been a long time since he'd been able to garden, but the amaryllis brought some of the old joy of gardeneing indoors.

Amaryllis come in a wonderful variety of colors: red, salmon, pink, white and stunning bi-color mixes. The giant flowers look like lilies. Each bulb will produce one or two hollow stems. Three to four huge flowers will emerge from the top of each stem. What fun!!

So where do you start? At Tagawa's, of course!

Tagawa's has a wide variety of amaryllis bulbs to choose from. Some are sold loose in bins, so you can pick exactly the bulb you want. Other amaryllis come boxed with a pot and soil included, and make a great gift.

The bigger the bulb, the bigger the flowers it will produce. Makes sense. And the planting takes about two minutes... no more!

Amaryllis like to be a bit crowded, so a pot just a couple of inches larger than the bulb is perfect. The pot has to have good drainage. Soggy soil is a sure way to rot the roots of an amaryllis.

You can set the pot with the drainage into a nice designer pot. The heavier container will give the plant stability as it gets taller, and more inclined to tip. Just remember to take the amaryllis out of the designer pot when you water it and let the excess water drain away before you put it back on display. This can help protect your furniture, too, and avoid the need for a saucer.

Amaryllis do best in good quality potting soil.... something loose and airy.
Fill the pot half way with the soil, set the amaryllis into the pot, then backfill with the remaining soil until only one third of the bulb is still showing. Water the bulb well, then set it in a warm room and don't water it again until the first shoots are a couple of inches tall. Bright light will keep the plant from getting leggy. Give the plant a quarter turn each day to keep it straight.

Next you wait... but not for long!

You should see your amaryllis begin to grow within a couple of weeks after planting. Depending on the size of the bulb, your amaryllis will take about eight weeks from planting to flowering. Larger bulbs take a bit longer. The bud stalks usually emerge first, followed by the leaves.

Water your amaryllis when the top of the soil is dry to the touch.... always remembering never to let it sit in standing water. Once the flowers have begun to bloom, keep the plant in slightly cooler conditions, even if it's just overnight, to help the blossoms last longer.

And there's more, if you choose....

When the flowers finally begin to fade, remove the stalks with a very sharp knife an inch or so above the bulb. Continue to nurture the leaves with bright light and feeding a gentle fertilizer (5-10-5, for example) twice a month. The amaryllis can even go outdoors in the summertime to give the leaves a chance to "bulk up" the bulb for next year's show. You may need to stake the leaves they get floppy.

Once the leaves die back on their own, store the bulb, pot and all, in a cool place for a couple of months. Water it just a bit to keep the soil from completely drying out.

And next fall, start all over again!


You can also choose to enjoy your amaryllis this season only, and then toss it out. If this is your preference, why not grow an amaryllis in a special glass vase that lets you see through to the lovely tangle of roots.... one more way to enjoy these fascinating plants.

Paperwhites are just as easy!

Tall, elegant paperwhites have been a winter and holiday tradition for years, and for good reason. It's easy and inexpensive to start several paperwhites in a shallow bowl of small rocks, marbles or decorative stones. The reward comes four to eight weeks after planting, with petite white flowers that look like tiny daffodils.

Tagawa's sells pre-rooted paperwhites for no additional charge. Gently transfer the bulbs to your own pot or tray, and watch them take off! The bulbs can sit on top of the pebbles an inch apart, just barely nestled in. Leave the bowls of paperwhites in a bright, cool room until the shoots appear, then move them into direct sunlight to keep them from getting leggy.

You water them with what?

Another trick to keep the leaves and stems slightly more compact: booze!
Specifically, any of the clear distilled spirits like gin, vodka or tequila.
The alcohol serves as a growth regulator that keeps the plants more compact.

Kris, one of Tagawa's amaryllis and paperwhite experts, offers the following instructions: Water the paperwhites normally for seven to ten days. Once the shoots are two- to three inches tall, replace the plain water with a diluted alcohol solution.

With any clear distilled spirit ranging from 40 to 80 proof, use one part of alcohol to seven parts of water. Use this solution for all further watering of the paperwhites. Kris says the result will be plants that are about one-third more compact, with flowers just a large, long-lasting and fragrant as usual.

Why not plant now?

Amaryllis and paperwhites can be grown indoors so easily. The only challenging part is making sure that you buy the bulbs while they're available, like now, leading up to the holiday season.

Whether you grow them for you own home or give them as a lovely holiday gift, amaryllis and paperwhites from Tagawa's are a terrific way to make the season an especially sweet time of year.

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