The cold Chicago weather has me thinking about season extension, which simply means growing plants outside the parameters of one’s growing environment or season. One thing that always resonates with me when visiting other regions are the beautiful flowers that I can only dream of at home this time of year. In fact, I happily spend hours every winter surveying flower magazines for inspiration (and sometimes curse when west coast growers post pictures on Instagram of their flourishing gardens, not withstanding…)
Chicago weather is very temperamental and, as such, it’s extremely risky to plant anything outside before June 1. (I attribute it to Jack Frost’s frequent visits throughout the spring months and inability to contain his wily ways.) But, waiting until June to start planting (whether flowers or veggies) will delay any substantial presence in the garden. Also, most natural color outside is fleeting in the fall when the leaves abandon the trees and the frost kills off any straggler plants after a mere three to four short months.
The way through this quandary is not to flout Mother Nature (because she always wins), but to consider potential workarounds such as growing in containers and/or growing inside. While there are many options, this year I planted approximately 100 ziva paperwhites ‘narcissus papyraceus’ bulbs inside and have been amazed by how beautifully they have flourished.
Growing Indoors in Containers
The process begins with identifying the plant you want to grow. We planted three bulbs in a 6 inch container and then watered them for about 4-6 weeks. The bulbs produce long sleek green stems with clusters of white flowers that bloom for weeks. (Mine grew to about 21.5 inches tall from the top of the container). They also produce a beautiful fragrance that lingers in the air, which I immediately notice when I enter the room. These flowers are light and fresh and offer a welcome hint that spring is just around the corner (when it is needed the most). Also, starting one’s own plants and watching them grow is extremely satisfying.
Paperwhite bulbs are easy to grow in containers and bloom by Christmas, often into January. As an added bonus, the bulbs can be saved/stored (in a cool dry place) after the stems die back and will produce even more flowers next year.
Listed below are a few tips and tricks for successful growing indoors in pots:
- Soil mediums are key. When growing in containers, its important to use a light soil medium to support strong and healthy root development. Many growers use a mix of peat, perlite, and vermiculite. But, I personally like the coco coir and Nature’s Cure organic mixes. (Potting soil should be avoided because it is too heavy.) Note, the root system, plant leaves, and sun light are all essential success factors for heathy plant development.
- Choose bulbs that have demonstrated success growing indoors and in containers. Bulb size can often indicate how many flower shoots may be generated by an individual bulb. Also, certain bulbs have prooven performance as perennials while others are one and done. Perennials, which by definition come back for at least three consecutive years, are a good investment. (Google your particular cultivar/variety to understand these key considerations).
- Don’t forget to water your flowers regularly, but don’t overwater. Research your specific plant’s water requirements.
- If the stems get long and top heavy, you could also consider staking them or cutting and displaying them as a cut flower arrangement in a simple vase.
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