Houseplants in time for Christmas

Houseplants in time for Christmas

Getting some festive colour in your space

A beginner's guide

I spotted some Christmas displays in a shop the other day and thought to myself, ‘already?!’. We’ve only just shut the door on summer, so I do feel a touch guilty writing about the festive season as early as this, but it’s needs must I’m afraid! Today, we’re talking about planting bulbs so they’ll flower in time for Christmas in the depths of winter.

It can be really disheartening when we’re faced only with stark bare branches, rock-hard ground and frosty, shrivelled grass on stepping outside, so why not do a bit of preparation to make sure you’ve got some beautiful blooms to enjoy inside your home over the festive season? Bulbs can take a while to flower, so time is of the essence as the weather turns. Making some simple preparations over the coming weeks will ensure you’ve got lovely flowers in the house to enjoy just when you need them!

'Amaryllis Purple Rain' from Flickr: <a href=">">Maja Dumat

Flickr:Maja Dumat

What plants are good to use at this time of year?

Plants like Paperwhite Narcissus, crocus, hyacinth and amaryllis enjoy relatively modest care inside the house, and as an added bonus they’re really good looking blooms too! To enjoy the flowers over Christmas, you’ll need to ‘force’ the bulbs to bloom. Here’s how to get started.

First, you’ll need to choose your bulbs. Generally speaking, bigger bulbs produce the best flowers, so bear this in mind when choosing. If you’re wanting to grow hyacinths, it’s best to pick these up as early as possible and make sure you buy bulbs labelled ‘prepared’ or they won’t bloom early enough. It’s also a good idea to wear gloves when handling hyacinth bulbs as they can cause a sore rash on bare skin.

Choose a compost that’s free draining and has a good, open texture – bulb fibre is ideal for this task. Place a layer of damp compost in the bottom of your container and place the bulbs on top, spread evenly apart and making sure they’re not touching each other or the sides of the pot. Cover the bulbs with the rest of the compost, making sure the tips of the bulbs are peeking out and that there’s about a centimetre of space between the surface of the soil and the pot’s rim to leave plenty of space for watering.

After planting, you’ll need to make sure the bulbs have a good environment to start building up a strong root network, so place them somewhere cool and dark. You could nestle the bulbs along a shadowy wall outside (cover with about six inches of compost if you choose this method) or wrap in a black bin liner and huddle them in the corner of your shed or garage. Note: if you’re growing Paperwhite Narcissus, the partly-exposed bulbs prefer a warm and sunny spot, so carry out this step on a bright windowsill.

'One Hundred Views . Hyancith' from Flickr: <a href="">r berndt

Flickr: r berndt

Then sit back, leave your bulbs and wait. This time frame varies greatly depending on the bulb and outdoor conditions, so make sure you check when you’re purchasing – but a ballpark figure would be around eight or ten weeks. When the roots are good and long, and the green shoots are around five centimetres tall, it’s time to bring your bulbs inside. Place your pots on a tray and put them in a cool room, where they’ll appreciate a bit more time to grow their leaves and start turning green. Then, bring them into a sunnier location like a windowsill so they can start to bloom! Try to avoid draughts or artificial heat like radiators that will dry out the compost and could lead to stunted growth.

Voila! Beautiful blooms you can enjoy even as the weather outside is bleak and grey. Once the flowers have died back, the bulbs can even be dried out and stored for replanting next year. Now, I promise you won’t hear me mention Christmas again for at least another few weeks!

Happy planting!