Thanksgiving is a time for the family to get together with a giant meal. As we all know, the next day is Black Friday: the official start of the holiday shopping spree.

Some of you will give, as gifts, either paperwhite bulbs or amaryllis bulbs. The biggest question that many people have is, “When do I start these bulbs if I want them to bloom for a particular date?” Let me tell you how to go about doing this timing to get those bulbs to bloom for a particular time.

Let’s start with the paperwhite bulbs. You can buy these bulbs in a gift box that contains a flowerpot, soil and the bulbs. You can also buy the individual bulbs at many of the local garden centers. The individual bulbs can be planted in soil, or they can be grown in a dish that holds water.

Over the years, I have found that growing the paperwhites in soil can create a problem. Once the bulbs begin to root in the soil, the roots tend to push the bulbs up and out of the soil. If you grow them in soil, you have to pack the soil firmly around the bulb and you possibly will have to keep pressing down the soil as the roots form.

I prefer growing these bulbs in a dish that holds water. You will take the bulbs and add some washed stones into the bottom of the dish. You will then arrange the bulbs in the dish and then fill around the bulbs with additional washed stones. You are adding enough stones so that just the necks of the bulbs are above the stones.

The stones are there to stabilize the bulbs. If you only add enough stones to partially cover the wide part of the bulb, the bulbs will eventually begin to tip over. The trick is to find a deep-enough dish that will allow you to set the bulbs in the dish and to properly cover the bulbs with stones. At this point, you add enough water to the dish to cover the base of the bulbs with water. If you add a bit too much, it isn’t really a problem.

Place the dish in a sunny window. Growing the bulbs in the sun is the key to having shorter flower stems that won’t flop over. You need to keep the roots covered in water, so be sure to check the water level on a daily basis. If you are growing the bulbs in soil, keep the soil moist but not soaking wet.

In about four weeks, the bulbs should be in flower. Once you know when you want to give the bulbs as gifts, allow four weeks from planting time to have the bulbs in bloom.

If you want to grow an amaryllis, you can buy them as a boxed gift that contains the soil, a pot and the bulb. You can also buy individual bulbs that you can put into a flowerpot.

You want to plant the amaryllis bulb in a good-quality potting soil. Most of the lightweight potting soils will work the best. Just as you would do with the paperwhites, you want only the “neck” of the bulb to be above the soil.

Amaryllises are native to South Africa, so they will grow best at warm temperatures. If the soil is cool, it will take substantially longer for the roots to form.

Once you have the amaryllis bulbs planted up, water them with warm water and place in a sunny window. The sun will help keep the soil warm. I have found that you should take the pot away from the window at night and place it somewhere in the warmest part of the house. This prevents the soil from cooling down and slowing root growth. You should move the pot back into the sunny window during the day.

Another way to keep those roots warm is to use an electric seed-starting mat. The mat will keep the soil warm, and you won’t have to keep moving the pot away from the window. As is the case with the paperwhites, sunshine will help keep the flower stalk of the amaryllis short.

It can take six weeks or more for the amaryllis to form its roots and to put out a flower stalk. You want to keep the soil moist but not soaking wet. Use warm water.

Now you know how to pot up and grow these two types of holiday bulbs. However, there are a few tricks to make the bulbs grow better. Those tips will be in next week’s column.

Well, that’s all for this week. I’ll talk to you again next week.

Tim Lamprey has worked in the lawn and garden industry for 45 years. 

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