Christmas may be the last thing on your mind in summer, but if your festive displays are to include bulbs in bloom, it pays to think ahead. Amaryllis, hyacinths and paperwhite narcissi are easy to grow. You can buy bulbs in garden centres from late August.
Caption: Buy bulbs from late August onwards
Plant early varieties, such as 'Jan Bos', in early October and late varieties, such as 'Gipsy Queen', in early September. Look out for 'forced bulbs' which have been specially treated to flower early. The larger the bulb, the larger the flower spike. Plant so the tips of the bulbs are just above the surface of the compost or bulb fibre.
Put the bulbs in a cool, dark spot where the temperature is 10C or less. Once the shoots are 5cm high, bring the pots into a room-temperature greenhouse. When they're ready to flower, bring them into a cool, well-lit spot in the house. Too much warmth and not enough light encourages leaves and stems to elongate and flop.
After flowering, deadhead, leaving the stem. Stop watering when the leaves start to fade. When dry, plant out in the garden; they won’t flower well a second time indoors.
Caption: Bring hyacinths into a warmer place when the shoots are 5cm tall
Paperwhites have been bred from the wild species Narcissus papyraceus, native to the eastern Mediterranean. They are unlikely to survive our winters outside, but are quick and easy to bring into bloom indoors. Each flower is only small, but several are produced per stem and they are very fragrant.
Bigger bulbs produce more flower stems. Plant in mid-November in containers at least twice as deep as the height of the bulb, leaving the tips of the bulbs exposed. They are easier to support if grown in compost (they often need staking), but they can be grown in gravel in bowls without drainage holes. Keep the water level just below the base of the bulbs. For impact, pack in as many bulbs as you can; it’s fine if they touch.Keep in a cool place where the temperature is 10C or less until the shoots are 5cm high.
If flower stems flop, cut them for a vase instead. Bulbs grown in compost and fed (incorporate a controlled-release feed when potting up) may flower again next winter if deadheaded and watered until the leaves die down. Store either in or out of the pots in a dry place.
Caption: Paperwhite narcissi have a wonderful fragance
Plant an early variety, such as ‘Minerva’, in mid-October. Bigger bulbs are more likely to produce at least two flower stems. Use a pot, with drainage holes, that is only 2-3cm wider than the bulb. Cut off dead roots before potting. Plant so that the top two-thirds of the bulb is above the surface. Water sparingly until leaves develop, never allow the pot to sit in water.
Cutting off the pollen-bearing part of the stamens makes flowers last longer. For Christmas blooms, keep watering until mid-August then move to a cool, shady spot and let the compost dry out. In mid-October, return it to a sunny windowsill, cut off the leaves, mix in a controlled-release feed and resume watering.
Caption: Hippeastrums, such as 'Red Rascal', will flower for many years