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Caring for holiday bulbs: A boost for those winter blues

Mid-January is when I usually start wondering how those tropical islands are feeling and wondering if there are any good flight deals out there. Here in Kansas City, there's usually a balmy day in the 70s when I take down my Christmas lights, but the lights are still up. After an unusually warm December, January has had its share of frigid weather and overcast days. While it's been a downer outside, indoor plants bring some much needed cheer.

What could be better during bleak midwinter??

Did you have a chance to get some indoor forcing bulbs like amaryllis or paperwhites during my holiday sale? They should have started blooming by now to put on a fantastic show. The key to amaryllis is to keep the soil moist, but not overwater so that bulb doesn't rot. You'll find the stems lean towards the sun so just give it a little turn to straighten those right up.

Once the flowers start blooming, extend the life of your flowers by moving your container out of direct sun. Did a stem topple over? Cut it off and stick it in a vase. It'll last just as long. Once a flower fades, removed it. Once the stem is done blooming, cut it off at the base so the bulb can regenerate for next year.

Yes, you can keep amaryllis bulbs from year to year! Once blooming is finished, move it back to a sunny window and water as usual. Fertilize once a month. When it gets warm in May, you can take the pot outside in a sunny spot so that it can grow nice big leaves to regenerate the bulb. Big bulb = more flowers.

After the first frost in October/November, cut off all the leaves and put the pot in a cool (50-60 degrees), dark spot for 8-10 weeks like a basement corner and DON'T WATER. Bring it into your living area again and it'll be ready to grow with some sun and water! Amaryllis like being pot bound so as long as it still fits in your container, you don't even need to transplant it. If that sounds like too much work for you, you can always compost the bulb.

How to keep paperwhites from flopping over
A little vodka keeps stems shorter and more stable

Paperwhites, on the other hand, are one and done. They tend to stretch very tall and flop over without support. The solution is to add 1 part vodka to 7 parts water. It causes stems to grow about 1/3 shorter. If you only have rubbing alcohol, the ratio is 1:10. Clear alcohols only. I don't think paperwhites appreciate brandy or rum. Wait until your shoots are 3" tall. Did you have some flop over anyway? Cut them off and put them in a vase. You can enjoy them still. Have you had a whiff of paperwhites yet? What do you think? Some are stronger than others. I like it, but I hear others really don't. You can always throw those bulbs in compost when they are done. They won't regenerate well for us in Kansas City.

If you didn't have a chance to have get any indoor holiday bulbs, houseplants can fit the bill during the winter. We had teenagers play Taboo at our house once and the clue given was "This house has a lot of...." and without skipping a beat, his teammate yelled, "PLANTS!" I looked around. Yup. That was true.

These days, indoor plants are ubiquitous and can be very easy to take care of. Just read labels or look up the plant for care instructions. Some are dangerous for pets so be careful about that. If you see a plant you like at your friend's place, ask if you can have a cutting. Many of these plants will root when placed in water or soil. See, they want to grow!

Whatever it is, I hope you have some beauty inside your home during these cold and grey winter days to bring some life and brightness to your eyes! Spring will be here soon enough with the appearance of dainty crocus heads and cheery daffodils. Until then, remember the days are getting longer every day.


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