Incorporate bright seasonal blooms in holiday decorating


As I move through local l_col_hallett_1116stores, preparing for the holiday season I notice displays of paperwhite and amaryllis bulbs. Growing or “forcing” these bulbs are excellent projects for young gardeners, for holiday hostess gifts, and for adding a natural element to your holiday decorating. Pots of flowering bulbs add a touch of cheerful color to a room and make wonderful eye-catching centerpieces for a holiday table whether you have a rustic or glittering theme.

Paperwhites belong to a group of daffodils that are not hardy for Northern New York gardens. But they grow easily in a pot indoors. Their large clusters of pure white flowers arch above green foliage, and their perfume fills a room with fragrance. Paperwhites require no preparation and are absolutely foolproof.

Plant paperwhite bulbs in the soil close together, but not touching and always plant the bulbs with the tip of the bulb growing toward the sky. The bulbs should be planted just below the surface of the soil to leave as much room as possible for rooting. Keep the pots in indirect light and evenly moist but not soggy. For best results, as the paperwhites set buds, move them to a brighter relatively cool location, as if the bulbs were outside in the spring, as buds develop and bloom. I found that paperwhites tend to get very tall and tip over in their pots. I like to plan and use a support for them. I think three to four birch sticks, red twig dogwood, or a coat hanger wire trimmed and wrapped in raffia or holiday ribbon looks nice.

Once they start to gain some height I tie them in with the raffia or garden twine. If you are not looking for a rustic natural look you can always use decorative or holiday ribbon to keep the leaves and blooms looking tidy. Gardeners often dispose of paperwhite bulbs after they finish blooming. With proper storage and care during the winter, however, your paperwhite bulbs will grow and flower again in two or three years. I keep bulbs wet thru winter and cut off spent blooms. I set my potted paperwhite bulbs outside in a shaded part of garden in the summer. Before the first frost, I cut back the green leaves, bring the bulbs in and store them in my basement and repot them about 6 weeks before Christmas time. Sometimes the bulbs will develop “sister” bulbs that can be carefully broken away and repotted as well.

Of all flowering bulbs, amaryllis bulbs are the easiest to bring to bloom. The amaryllis comes in many beautiful varieties including various shades of red, white, pink, salmon and orange. The amaryllis (hippeastrum) is a tender bulb that will bloom without special treatment when first purchased. The amaryllis is often thought of as blooming at Christmas, but they can be started at various times to have a continuous display of color. The planting period can range from October to April. The bulb is native to tropical and subtropical regions from Argentina north to Mexico and the Caribbean. The larger the bulb the more flowers will be produced and always store un-planted bulbs in a cool place between 40 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

When you are ready to plant place the base of the amaryllis bulb in lukewarm water for a few hours. The bulb should be potted up in a light, rich soil, a pro-mix in which you might start seeds, in a pot that is only 1 to 2 inches larger in diameter than the bulb. The upper half of the bulb should be exposed above soil and the roots should be down and in the soil. Press the soil around the bulb down firmly to set the bulb securely in place after planting. Initially, after planting water thoroughly, allow the soil to become quite dry. Water more frequently after the flower stalk appears, but never water when the soil is already damp or this will cause the bulb to rot. Put the plant in a warm, sunny spot until the flower buds show color, and then move it out of direct sunlight. You can place them on a table or other focal point to truly enjoy the show of color.

After blooming, cut off the flower stalk about 2 inches above the bulb to prevent seed formation. At this point, place it in the brightest possible location where it eventually has full sun for at least five hours daily. When the weather warms move it outside and fertilize it weekly with a household plant food as you would your window boxes and hanging baskets to build up the nutrients needed for blooming the following year. Amaryllis should be brought indoors before the first frost of fall. Traditionally, the bulb is then given a resting period by placing it in a dark location, withholding water and allowing the leaves to dry. The bulb may be forced into bloom again after resting eight weeks. If necessary, repot in a slightly larger container. If the pot is large enough, remove the upper 2 inches of soil and top-dress with fresh potting soil. This completes the cycle, which may be repeated annually for many years of lovely blooms.

Throughout the holiday season, pots of flowering potted bulbs add a touch of cheerful color to a room and give the gardener in all of us the satisfaction of a job well done and a little hope and warmth for the holidays.

BRIAN HALLETT is an art teacher at South Jefferson Central School in Adams. His family owns Halletts’ Florist and Greenhouse in Adams, which has been in business for more than three decades.

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Editor’s note: Deanna Nelson and Paul Haldeman own Zoar Tapatree Co., Rodman, where they boil and bottle small batch maple syrup. Recently, Deanna partnered with The Farm House Kitchen, Sackets Harbor, to make her maple-infused strawberry shrub. Contact Deanna through Facebook or online at if you’re interested in trying these local products.


Brian Hallett

This past spring, I walked into my friend’s kitchen anticipating some maple syrup tasting and she asked me if I had tried shrub. I have to say that I get a lot of gardening questions in the spring, but this was a first. I had never heard of shrub, but I tried the strawberry shrub that she had been perfecting and it was delicious. The brightness and flavor of fresh strawberry balanced with an interesting sweet acidity really got my attention. [Read more…]

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Enjoy fragrance, color of bulbs all winter long

Columnist, Brian Hallett

Columnist Brian Hallett

In a few months the daffodils and flowering magnolias will bloom, but spring comes early when you force bulbs and branches indoors. During the frigid, dreary months of winter, you’ll enjoy the powerful fragrance of hyacinths, the sweet scent of paperwhite narcissus, and the cheerful color of amaryllis, as well as spring flowering branches. But with just a little patience and work, you can force Mother Nature’s hand to create bright blooms indoors before spring actually arrives. A pot of narcissus on the windowsill in February and March can make a winter-worn gardener renew the desire to survive the winter. [Read more…]