Flowers for Christmas

Many people think the gardening season is over. Well, for the true gardener, the season is never over—it just changes and we have to move our activities indoors for the next few months.
These columns over the winter will give you many tips and techniques for indoor gardening projects, as well as preparing and planning for next season.
The Christmas season is fast approaching. One of my favourite indoor flowering plants is the amaryllis, which is commonly seen at this time of year as a decorative element for the Christmas season.
The amaryllis is a bulb that can be planted in a pot and will reward you with many large lily-like blooms within about 12 weeks of planting.
As such, if you want to use the amaryllis as a decoration for Christmas, you need to plant the bulb about 12 weeks before Christmas (usually mid-September).
The amaryllis is a large bulb about the size of a small onion that grows very well when planted in a pot.
When selecting a pot for an amaryllis bulb, choose one that will allow one-two inches between the edge of the pot and the bulb (this is usually means about an eight-inch diameter pot).
Clay or ceramic pots are best for this as they are heavier than plastic. An amaryllis is very top heavy and can cause a lighter pot to tip over once the flower is in bloom.
Fill the pot three-quarters full of a sterilized good quality, all-purpose house plant soil. Make a depression for the bulb, allowing one-third of it to stay above the soil.
If you are giving as a gift, you may want to cover the soil with moss, pebbles, or glass marbles to dress it up a bit.
Moisten the soil and place the pot in a spot that can range from moderate to full sun. Within a few days, the bulb will start to produce its leaves. The leaves of the amaryllis are strap-shaped, remain semi-erect, and can grow up to three feet long.
The foliage on the plant is appealing enough, but the real reward comes when the flowers start to bloom. The flowers of the amaryllis range from pale whites to vibrant dark reds, with many combinations in between.
Some of the varieties have single flowers that look like lilies while many new varieties are now available with spectacular double flowers.
Once the flower stalk starts to grow, you may have to stake it with a bamboo stake so it doesn’t flop over.
I love growing an amaryllis, but I also love giving them as gifts to friends and family. You can purchase an amaryllis bulb in a package, on its own, or in a starter pack which can be found in many retailers this time of year, not just at the nursery.
You also can get the bulbs through your favourite seed mail-order catalogue.
Whether you plan ahead and plant the bulbs so they flower for Christmas, make a planting kit up with a nice pot and the soil for your favourite gardener, or plant them and present as a gift for the holidays, the amaryllis will be sure to reward the lucky recipient with an outstanding show of flowers.
As this plant is relatively easy to care for once it is planted, it also is an ideal project for kids.
Once planted, the amaryllis is very adaptable to varying amounts of light. A north window doesn’t have quite enough light, but all other windows are fine—even a hot south-facing one.
The plant needs to be watered once the bulb starts to sprout leaves, when the soil is dry to the touch, continuing through until the leaves die back after flowering.
Once the leaves die back, you must give the bulb a period of rest without water. You can put the pot in the dark for three months at this time or leave it in its regular place, but make sure you do not water it until you see green leaves appear again.
As you can see, the amaryllis is an easy to care for house plant that will reward you for many years with outstanding flowers. I have had some of my bulbs last for more than 10 years.
Plant one for yourself, or give one as a gift that will be much appreciated for years to come.

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