Last week, I was telling you about growing paperwhite bulbs and amaryllis bulbs. I told you that this week, I would give you a few hints on how to better grow these bulbs.
One of the biggest complaints when growing paperwhites is that the flower stalks tend to flop over when the flowers begin to open. Over the years, people would try to use stakes to hold them up, but when you are growing the bulbs in a container of stones and water, this becomes hard to do.
A few years back, a bulb salesman told me about a trick that would make the stalks stay shorter, yet the flowers would form normally and they would have the fragrance that many people enjoy. The secret is to add alcohol to the water.
The Flower Bulb Research Program at Cornell University figured out that if you use a 4% to 6% alcohol solution when “watering” the bulbs, the flower stalks would remain shorter. You can use any hard liquor, or you can use rubbing alcohol. You do not want to use beer or wine because the sugar content in these two can mess with the growth.
You plant the bulbs in a container with rocks and add water, as you normally would do. After about a week of root formation and with about an inch of green growth above the bulb, you start using the alcohol and water solution.
You need to figure out the proper ratio of alcohol to water. If you have liquor that is 40% alcohol, use 1 part of the liquor to 7 parts water to achieve the 5% solution. If you use rubbing alcohol that is 70% alcohol, the dilution is 1 part rubbing alcohol to roughly 10 to 11 parts water.
Once you have the solution made up, pour out the water in the dish of bulbs and replace it with the solution. Keep using the solution as your water mix to keep the roots covered in the mixture. Do not use a mixture that is above 10% alcohol, as it will damage the bulbs. You will find that the flower stalk will be about one-third shorter, making for a stronger stem to hold up the flowers.
Many people will give or receive amaryllis bulbs as a gift. Once the flowering is done, many people will throw out the bulb. With a little work, you can make that bulb come back next year, bigger and better with even more spectacular flowers. Here is what you need to do.
Once the flowering has stopped, you can cut off the flower stalk and you will have seen or will see the large straplike leaves come out of the bulb. The leaves are very important because they help in making food for the bulb. Do not cut off the leaves at this point in time.
Once the leaves emerge, you want to begin to use fertilizer when you need to water the soil. You want to mix the fertilizer with the water and use that solution every time you water the pot. The leaves will use the fertilizer to make food that is stored in the bulb.
Be sure to keep the pot in a sunny location to aid in the process of the leaves making food to store in the bulb. Eventually, the leaves will turn yellow in a few months. This is a signal that the leaves have made and stored sufficient food in the bulb. This will let you know that the bulb is ready to go dormant.
Once the leaves turn yellow, cut them off close to the neck of the bulb. You should cut back on the watering of the soil and let the soil go dry. Take the pot and bulb, and place it in a cool and dark place. You should keep the soil on the very dry side, watering only as needed.
In the fall of next year, you should remove some of the potting soil, but do not tip the bulb out of the pot. You should add some fresh potting soil and bring the pot up into the warmth of the house.
Give the bulb about a week to acclimate to the warmer conditions and then place it into a sunny location just as you did when you first got the plant the previous year. If you have done everything correctly, you will have a spectacular display of flowers.
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.