Potting Up

Once I have all the Christmas decorations put away – a landmark I only reached this morning – I start my paperwhite and amaryllis bulbs. I used to mail order bulbs, but Downtown Home and Garden here in Ann Arbor has the best amaryllis bulbs ever: big, healthy, glorious, blooming beautifully year after year, and even sprouting bulblets that eventually make additional flowers. I get one new amaryllis every year just to increase my collection, along with a bagful of Ziva paperwhite narcissus. I tend to force my paperwhites in small containers without enough dirt to feed them up for the future, so they have to be replaced. I buy the bulbs in November, since the selection’s best before Christmas.b prep

So now I gather all the bulbs I lifted a few months ago along, find the new ones, round up some containers and a bag of dirt, and set up an indoor potting bench on my craft table. I dig out my much-used plastic drop cloth for the tabletop, and random salvaged plastic to line the containers. If you’re using regular flowerpots all you’ll need is a saucer to go underneath. But if you want to use baskets, crates, or interesting objects like that, you’ll need to line them. I keep a little stash of whatever sturdy plastic bags come my way, and this is where they end up. The usual plastic grocery bags are way too flimsy, but see the bag the potting soil is in, right there in the background? That’s a great one. Old liners from shower curtains are great, too. Flannel shirts and leggings mail ordered from my favorite purveyors also come in tough plastic. Liners made of sturdy plastic are usually good for two or three years in one container before they tear and need to be replaced. I have a couple of baskets that came with professional flower arrangements in them, and the linings in these have lasted many years. If all else fails, buy a plastic dropcloth at your hardware store and cut it up. It may come in a wrapper you can also use.

b more prepDrape your plastic into your container, folding the corners sort of like you’d fold the corners of a bedsheet, and pleating and tucking around curves. Put in a couple of inches of potting soil, nestle your bulb or bulbs into that, and add soil to about halfway up the bulb. This will anchor the plastic so that you can now trim it off at the rim of the container – or lower, as you choose.

b settled inJust be sure to leave enough liner standing above the soil so when you water the bulbs the water doesn’t slosh into the space between container and liner. Which would be really annoying after you’ve messed with all this plastic. Halfway up the bulb is all the soil you need. Water your containers carefully, remembering there’s no drainage. On the other hand, if you’re doing this indoors in someplace like Michigan in winter, the air in the house is dry enough to suck up a lot of moisture, so watch that they don’t dry out.

Here’s a photo of all the narcissus and about half the amaryllis I potted up. As you can see, the narcissus were anxious to get underway. The narrow wooden b final pottingcontainer at the top is a favorite. It was given to me, planted with bulbs, by my dear friend Barbara more than thirty years ago. It’s been repaired, relined, has traveled across country, and has spent its summers on the shelves of various garages. But every January I bring it out and settle it with paperwhite narcissus bulbs, and I think of Barbara. When they bloom, all in a row like that, they’re a line of poetry.

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