Last updated on November 26th, 2017
Yesterday, because I insist on having fragrant blooms in time for the December holidays, I grabbed my old soup tureen, several jardinieres, and some
tacky whimsical Santa mugs, and planted them with tropical narcissus bulbs. Would you like to see the fun procedure?
Note: If you want your tropical bulbs to bloom in time for Christmas, be sure to plant them by mid-November. December plantings will bloom just when you want them to: during a snowstorm in January.
Unlike hyaincths, tulips, and other cold-hardy “Dutch” bulbs, tropical narcissi do not require a lengthy chilling period in order to bloom. Nor do they require soil, unless you are planning to save them for future planting outdoors. For indoor bloom, a simple medium of pebbles will do the trick.
Tropical narcissi will grow in any water-tight container. The only rule is that containers be deep enough, preferably 4-5 inches, to permit enough pebbles to be spread under and around the bulbs, and thus give support to the big root masses which develop.
Need a few bulb-containing ideas? I use the following:
A matching pair of green jardinieres (these, I think, will look great on the parlor mantel)…
And some Santa Claus mugs. Although the mugs are intended for hot beverages, their true calling is horticultural. Planted with paperwhites (one bulb per mug), and arranged in a row on the dining table, the mugs make a nifty centerpiece for the Christmas buffet.
Tips for Planting. You’ll need pebbles or some other aggregate to anchor the bulbs in place. I prefer aquarium gravel, because it is composed of tiny, polished pebbles. Unlike driveway gravel or marbles, which are only suitable for large containers, aquarium gravel works in all planting-situations. The pebbles aren’t cheap, but they can be reused year after year.
Now arrange the bulbs on their gravel bed. Never twist or push bulbs into gravel, as this might damage the basal plate. The basal plate is the flat bottom of a bulb, from which roots emerge. Odd groupings of three, five, or seven bulbs make the most attractive displays.
Sprinkle more pebbles betwixt and between the bulbs, just to anchor them in place.
Bring the container(s) to a sunny window in a cool room (65°F max). I put my soup tureen in the south-facing window in the music room. There, the bulbs can share gossip freely with ferns and geraniums.
Yes, houseplants are major gossips. I can only imagine what they say about me when my back is turned.
To keep the stems from growing too tall (unstaked, they will collapse in a miserable heap just as the flowers open), give them a stiff drink: Let the roots grow for one week, then pour the water off, and replace it with seven parts water to one part gin (or vodka or tequilla — any liquor that is 40-percent alcohol will do the trick).
The cocktail method really works. The plants will grow to half their normal size, but flowers will remain just as large and fragrant as usual. As evaporation occurs, replenish with the same liquor-mixture mentioned above, to a level that just tickles the base of the bulbs.
Here are just some of the tropical narcissus varieties I planted today:
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