Big Beautiful Bulbs

Hurry spring by planting an amaryllis indoors.

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It's almost planting time for tulips, daffodils, crocuses and all the other harbingers of spring. But there's no need to confine your planting efforts to the garden — not when it's so easy to coax an amaryllis bulb into producing lovely, dramatic blooms to brighten your home this fall or winter. Whether you're planting a brand-new bulb or forcing an established one into bloom, it takes only weeks to get gorgeous results.

If you don't already have an amaryllis to force, choose a new bulb about 32 to 34 centimeters in diameter. By September or October, local nurseries and mail-order companies will have bulbs for sale.

Using a peat-based potting mix, plant the bulb in a sturdy clay pot that is an inch or two wider than the bulb. Make sure the pot has a drainage hole. Leave the top one-half to one-third of the bulb exposed, and place the pot in a warm, sunny spot or under plant-growing lights.

Water well, and keep the soil moist but not soaking wet. There's no need to fertilize the newly planted bulb.

Within a week or two, one or two stalks will begin to emerge from the bulb. By the end of four to six weeks your plant will bloom and make a handsome addition to any room or a bright and beautiful centerpiece for your table.

When the planting has finished blooming, cut off the flower stalks. Leaves will emerge, and when warm weather arrives, you can move the pot outside.

In order to force an established amaryllis into dormancy and rebloom, cut off the leaves approximately two inches above the bulb. Place the potted plant in a dark place — a closet or basement is ideal — at room temperature or slightly cooler for about five weeks, leaving it completely alone. It's important not to water the plant during its dormancy, says gardening expert Larry Mason.

When the period of dormancy has passed, return the bulb to a sunny area or place it under plant-growing lights. Replace the soil, water the plant, and get ready for a new cycle of bloom.

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