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Forced bulbs bring February flowers

02/03/03 12:00AM By Charlie Nardozzi
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Let's face it. It's been a long, cold, snowy winter already and it's just barely February. For a gardener used to seeing reds, pinks, blues, and yellows, the stark contrast of the brown tree branches, winter snows, and gray pavement is troubling. I feel deprived. Now don't get me wrong, I love winter and appreciate the beauty of the clear star-filled nights and wind blown snow drifts. But this time of year I yearn for color. The kind of color only a flower can give.

I've started buying cut flowers for the house this winter and that helps. But it's getting a bit pricey, so now I'm turning to the old stand bys, bulbs. Yes, Mother Nature has graced northern gardeners with a spring teaser; Greek Gods, you might say. They are called narcissus and amaryllis. Unlike other spring flowering bulbs such as tulips, hyacinths, and daffodils, these don't need to be chilled for months before being induced into flowering. Ahhh, my quick fix is at hand.

Amaryllis and paperwhite narcissus bulbs are easy to grow. Amaryllis bulbs fit nicely in 6 inch diameter pots filled with moistened potting soil. Place the bulb so its propped up halfway out of the soil. Keep it in a sunny window, well watered, and within a few weeks a flower stalk, or maybe two, will emerge trumpeting red, pink, white or striped flowers as big as an Easter lily. After flowering is finished, don't dump the amaryllis in the compost. Let the leaves form, keep it watered, and lightly fertilized. In summer, set it outdoors in a protected, partly shady spot. Bring it in before a fall frost and let it go dormant in the basement. In November, bring it up into a brightly lit, warm room, start watering and it should bloom for you again!

Paperwhite narcissus don't have the large, gaudy flowers of amaryllis, but they do have a scent. Ooh la la, what a scent! I love it, although some think they smell like a cat box. With white, yellow, and orange varieties named Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Chinese Sacred Lily, you know your growing something special.

Pot up 4 to 5 bulbs in a 6 inch diameter pot filled with moistened potting soil. Again, leave the top of the bulbs a little exposed to the air. Keep it in a sunny window and well watered. Within one month you'll have flowers in white or yellow depending on the variety. If you'd like to try to save these, pot them outdoors in spring, though chances are they'll not bloom again for a few years.

Whether it be an amaryllis or a paperwhite narcissus, just the touch of soil, the sight of nature's colors, and the scent of spring are enough to carry this gardener through until April.

This is Charlie Nardozzi in Hinesburg.

Charlie Nardozzi is an all around gardening expert with a particular fondness for roses and tomatoes.
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