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Buying bulbs that beat winter blahs

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[JAN. 22, 2005]  URBANA -- People tired of winter and hoping to brighten their spirits and their home with flowering plants from bulbs should follow some simple guidelines, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

"One of the easiest flowering plants to grow inside is the paperwhite narcissus," said James Schuster. "These bulbs can go a long way in warming the heart and cheering the soul."

The bright, peppery-scented bulb flowers are actually members of the daffodil family. They require no cold treatment like all the other spring bulbs. As they grow easily, they do not need potting soil.

"You can use a bowl with pebbles, marbles or something else that will help hold the bulb's roots in place so the stems can reach for the sky," he said.

Paperwhites are available at many garden centers and floral shops. They can often be purchased as bare bulbs for planting or in easy-to-grow kits. Pre-grown potted plants are available for those who want to enjoy the blooms with a minimum of effort.

"The growing of paperwhites without potting soil is both easy and full of possibilities," said Schuster. "Paperwhites make a great fun project for kids and adults. They can be used as arrangements or beautiful gifts."

If buying bare bulbs, Schuster said it is important to look for firm, heavy bulbs with no bruises or nicks. Buy big bulbs for more stems and flowers.

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"If you cannot plant the bulbs soon after purchasing, store them in a cool location but not in a refrigerator. Do not store with any kind of fruit," he said.

No fertilizing is needed, as the bulb contains all the plant nutrients. For the same reason, no soil is needed.

"Use a watertight container that is at least 4 to 5 inches deep," said Schuster. "Fill the container with an anchoring material such as marbles, small washed river rocks or something similar. Place the bulbs evenly around the container, pointed side up. Add enough water so that it is just beneath the base of the bulbs constantly.

"Do not let the bulbs sit in water or they will rot."

The container should then be placed in a cool but very bright location, he noted.

"Too much heat and not enough light causes weak, stretched-out plants," he said. "It can take from two to four weeks at this time of year to get the bulbs to bloom. Once the plants are done blooming, throw the plants away. They are too worn out to be used again."

[University of Illinois news release]


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