How to Grow Holiday Bulbs Outdoors

AWAY FROM THE COLD: Amaryllis can be planted in the garden after flowering indoors. They're best grown in soil indoors so the soil anchors the plant and keeps it from tipping over when the bud opens.(Photo: Tom Oder).

If your intent in having paperwhites during the holidays is to enjoy their fragrance and appearance and then discard them, growing them in a dish of stones, marbles or decorative beads will work just fine. However, if you want to try to recreate that holiday fragrance outdoors by planting them among other ornamentals in the spring, you’ll need to grow them in a soil mixture indoors.

That’s because there are no nutrients in the water mixture to nourish the bulb and replenish the energy it uses to flower in your house. Flowering requires so much energy that with water it’s one and done regarding the number of blooming seasons the bulb will yield.

Even if you grow them in soil, it will be difficult to grow them successfully outdoors in many parts of the country. That’s because paperwhites are native to frost-free regions of Spain and France along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.

However, if you are an adventurous gardener, there are reports of successfully growing paperwhites outdoors in USDA Zone 7b near the Virginia coast. The key to successful culture is to find a micro-climate in the garden that gets plenty of light but is protected from frost.

Amaryllis can also be planted in the garden after flowering indoors. These bulbs are best grown in soil indoors because the flower is so large the soil will help anchor the plant and keep the plant from tipping over when the bud opens. If you live in an area where there are winter freezes, plant amaryllis below the freeze line (ask the county extension agent in your area how deep that is). Amaryllis will want a sunny location in the garden.

In all cases with bulbs that flowered indoors during the holidays, cut off the spent flowers and wait until danger of frost has passed in the spring before transplanting them in your garden.

Be careful when selecting fertilizer for your bulbs. Avoid fertilizers higher in nitrogen (N, the first of the three letters on the package) than Phosphorous (P, the second number) or Potassium (K, the third number). Fertilizers too high in nitrogen will cause the bulb to expend energy in vegetative grown rather than making flowers — the blooms, of course, being the objective.

How else could you recreate the feeling of the holiday season?

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