Best Bulbs to Grow Indoors

Few plants are easier to raise or give better returns for outlay than bulbs. Many bloom when little else is in flower, in rainbow shades and various heights and shapes. Additionally the fragrance of some – like hyacinths and lilies – is proverbial, providing a bonus on beauty.

A bulb is a thickened, generally underground bud having a flat basal stem with roots from its underside, and neatly packed layers of fleshy leaves which have been converted to non-green storage organs. When an onion is cut in half these details can be seen.

The term, however, is loosely applied to a number of plants which are not true bulbs, although they may have similar storage organs and periods of dormancy. Bulb growers find it convenient to group these together.

Gladioli and crocuses, for example, have corms, composed of swollen stems (not leaves) with membraneous coats; tubers and succulent stems or roots, usually (although not invariably) underground, with eyes or buds near their surfaces, like aconites. Crowns or pips are names applied to lily-of-the-valley roots, and rhizomes are underground stems which run horizontally like Solomon’s seal, some irises and wood anemones.

Allium Ornamental Onion; Asia/Southern Europe

Several ornamental onions are suitable for pot or pan culture in an alpine or cold greenhouse, or can be brought indoors for a short period when in flower. The flowers are in umbels and the foliage is strap-shaped; the characteristic family smell is only apparent when the bulbs are lifted or the leaves bruised. The whole family appreciate good drainage and full sun. Recommended kinds are A. beesianum, bright

blue, 23-30cm/9-12in; A. cyaneum, brilliant turquoise blue, 23-30cm/9-12in; A. flavum, bright yellow, 30-39cm/12-15in; A. moly, golden-yellow, broad flat leaves, 15-30cm/ 6-12in; and A. narcissifiorum, pinkish-purple, flowers pendulous, 20-30cm/8-12in. All these are summer flowering but A. neapolitanum, white, 20-30cm/8-12in tall, flowers in spring. Propagate from seed or offsets from older bulbs.

Anemone Windflower; Greece

A. blanda can be grown under cold conditions in a frame or alpine house, when it will flower through late winter to mid-spring, with starry blue, mauve, pink or white flowers on 10-15cm/4-6in stems. The deeply cut leaves resemble those of a buttercup. The tubers should be planted 5cm/2in deep in rich soil and grown in full sun, or a light window. Propagation by division.

Babiana South Africa

Funnel-shaped flowers, sometimes fragrant, and tapering flat leaves make this an attractive houseplant. Insert four or five 2.5cm/lin deep in a 10cm/4in pot of sandy soil with a little well-rotted manure at the base. They bloom in early summer and then should be dried off gradually so as to ripen the corms. B. stricta is the best species with 15-30cm/6-12in stems carrying several flowers with six segments – three of which are white and three blue with darker blue blotches. Varieties have cream, crimson and brilliant blue flowers. Give a light situation indoors. Propagation by seed or offsets.

Brodiaea North and South America

Sun-loving Cali-fornians with grassy leaves which die away before the umbels of tubular flowers appear in summer. They thrive in a good light and rich loam soil, being particularly suitable for bright office windows or cool greenhouses. B. cali-farnica is lilac-pink, 60cm/2ft; B. ida-maia (syn. Dichelostenuua), the floral firecracker, has umbels of long crimson flowers tipped with yellow and green on 46cm/18in stems and B. laxa (syn. Triteleia), the grass nut, has umbels of violet-blue or white flowers up to 30cm/1 ft across on 6()cm/2ft stems. Propagate by division.

Bulbocodium Meadow Saffron of the Spring; Europe

Also known as the red crocus, B. vernum has 8-10cm/ 3-4in crocus-like flowers of reddish-violet. These have no stems but seem to sit on the soil and are in character in early spring. The leaves are broadly strap-shaped. Suitable for pans in an alpine house. Frequent lifting and dividing is advisable.

Calochortus Mariposa Lily or Butterfly Tulip; North America

These beautiful bulbous plants have three ‘petalled’ tulip-shaped flowers, several to a stem in mid-summer. The segments are usually prominently blotched with other colours near the flower bases. Suitable for pan culture in a cool greenhouse or short sojourns indoors, calochortus must have sharp drainage, plenty of water in the growing season and a good baking when the flowers are done. C. venustus has white, yellow, purple or red flowers with contrasting blotches, 60cm/2ft; and C. unifiorus has lilac-pink flowers veined with crimson, 30-46cm/12-18in. Propagate by seed or division.

Chionodoxa Glory of the Snow; Asia Minor

A delightful early blooming bulb for window boxes, alpine pans or mixing with eranthis, tulips or narcissi in fancy bowls. Growing about 15cm/6in high, each stem carries several starry blue flowers with white centres. Plant the bulbs 3.75cm/ l^in deep in any good well drained soil. C. luciliae is the most common species and has a pink form ‘Pink Giant’. C. sardensis is brilliant blue with almost navy blue buds, 15-20cm/ 6-8in. Propagate by seed or division.

Clivia Kaffir Lily; Natal

C. miniata makes a splendid houseplant and can exist for years in the same pot if fed during the growing season. Broad, glossy, evergreen strap-shaped leaves are attractive at all times and in spring the plant produces its stout 60cm/2ft stems carrying umbels of large, funnel-shaped flowers with yellow throats. In the type they are light salmon-red but deeper red and yellow forms exist. Under good conditions these are succeeded by scarlet berries. Any good potting mix is suitable and the plants are propagated by division of the thick fleshy roots.

Colchicum Naked Boys; Europe/Asia Minor

These are mostly autumn-flowering, tuberous rooted plants with showy, goblet-shaped flowers like giant crocuses. They appear without the leaves (which follow on 30cm/1 ft stems with the seedpods in spring) – hence the common name. They should be planted 5cm/2in deep in late summer, in good potting soil and deep pots. They can also be successfully flowered dry, without soil or water, but naturally deteriorate unless planted soon afterwards. C. autumnale has starry petalled, rosy-lilac or white flowers; C. speciosus, rosy-purple, has larger and more globular flowers. Good cultivars from the last include ‘Album’, white; ‘Disraeli’, deep mauve

Colchicum Naked Boys

Convallaria majalis Lily-of-the-Valley

with darker markings; ‘Waterlily’, fully double, rosy-mauve and ‘The Giant’, mauve-pink with a white base. The normal height is around 7.5-15cm/3-6in. C. luteum, with 2.5cm/ lin yellow flowers, blooms in late winter. Propagation by seed or division.

Convallaria majalis Lily-of-the-Valley; Europe/Asia/North America

Lilies-of-the-Valley can be induced to flower out of season by forcing retarded crowns. These are usually sold in bundles of 25 and on arrival should be loosely planted together in peat, light soil or vermiculite. Keep them in a warm (24°C/75°F) dark place – such as a covered propagating frame or an airing cupboard – for about four days. They should then be brought into the light and a temperature of 10-13°C/50-55°F to flower. Some people plant them separately at this time. The whole operation takes approximately three weeks, from planting to flowering.

Crocus Asia Minor/Adriatic coast/Alps

Well-known plants for window boxes, bowls and pots. There are three main groups. Autumn-flowering crocuses need planting in late summer (July or August). C. speciosus, deep mauve-blue with violet veining and prominent orange stigmas, is one of the best, but the mauve-lilac C. sativus has special interest inasmuch as its stigmas are the source of saffron.

Winter-flowering crocuses are variable, particularly the C. chrysanthus group which has many cultivars like ‘E. A. Bowies’, yellow with bronze feathering, and ‘Cream Beauty’, cream and greyish-mauve with yellow throats. C. tomasinianus has long narrow flowers, varying from lilac-mauve to rich red-purple, usually with darker ‘petal’ tips. All these should be planted in early autumn.

The spring-flowering crocuses are the most useful for forcing purposes, especially the large flowered forms derived from C. neapolitanus (C. vernus) and commonly known as Dutch varieties. These come in a wide range of colours of which ‘Kathleen Parlow’, white;

‘Yellow Giant’ (sometimes called ‘Dutch Yellow’), golden; ‘Pickwick’, pale lilac heavily striped and feathered with purple; ‘Gladstone’, deep purple, and ‘Remembrance’, violet-purple, are typical. These should be planted in autumn and like all crocuses require well-drained soil and good light. They will also grow in water, in a bulb glass, and can be propagated from seed or by growing on the young cormlets.

Eranthis Winter Aconite; Europe

A very easy, tuberous-rooted member of the buttercup family, with bright golden, chalice-shaped flowers set off by ‘toby dog’ ruffs of pale green, deeply cut, leafy bracts. They bloom in early winter and make delightful subjects for pans in an alpine house or tubs and window boxes. Damp soil is essential and the tubers should be set 5cm/2in deep. E. hyemalis is the easiest and when left undisturbed spreads by means of self-set seedlings. It grows 5-10cm/2-4in tall. E. x tubergenii has larger and deeper gold flowers on 7.5-12.5cm/3-5in stems but is sterile.

Erythronium Trout Lily; North America/Asia/Europe

Erythroniums can be planted 10cm/4in deep in pans of potting soil with extra peat added and must be kept cool and damp and in partial shade during the summer months. The roots must never dry out. E. americanum has pale to deep gold flowers with reflexed petals like a cyclamen, basally marked and flushed outside with red. The tongue-like leaves are beautifully blotched with chocolate. E. dens-canis is the dog’s tooth violet (so called because of the shape of the tubers). It has purple blotched leaves and pink, crimson or purple flowers with reflexed petals and deeper basal markings. E. tuolumnense has plain green leaves and two or three large, deep yellow flowers on 15cm/ 6in stems. ‘Pagoda’ is a more vigorous form with larger flowers on 30cm/1 ft stems and a fine cultivar of disputed origin is ‘White Beauty’ which is white with dark red basal markings. Erythroniums flower in spring and are not really suitable for house cultivation; they are better in a cold greenhouse or alpine house. Increase by offsets.

Erythronium Trout Lily

Hyacinthus orientalis

Hyacinthus orientalis Hyacinth; West Asia/Eastern Europe

Hyacinths are easy to grow, the foliage is attractive, the flowers showy and in vivid colours and they are delightfully fragrant. Roman hyacinths are not a distinct species but a form of H. orientalis with slender stems and looser flower spikes. They come in pink, blue and white and usually bloom earlier than the sturdier Dutch hyacinths, which also have a wider colour range. Multiflora hyacinths are other derivatives, characterized by several graceful spikes from every bulb and there are also cynthella or miniature hyacinths only 14-15cm/5-6in tall -ideal for window boxes.

Hyacinths can be grown in ordinary potting soil, loamless mix, bulb fibre (best for fancy bowls with no drainage holes), newspaper and bulb glasses. Fertilizers are unnecessary but apply water regularly to keep the soil moist.

Representative of specially prepared forcing bulbs for Christmas and New Year flowering are: ‘Carnegie’ and ‘L’lnnocence’, white; ‘Yellow Hammer’, yellow; ‘Lady Derby’ and ‘Rosalie’, pink; ‘Jan Bos’ and ‘Amsterdam’, red ;’BlueGiant’,’De1 ft Blue’and’Ostara’,blue.

Ipheion uniflorum Spring Flower; South America

Also known as Brodiaea uniflora and Triteleia uniflora, this is a pretty plant from Peru and Argentina with tufts of lax grassy leaves and many smooth 10-15cm/4-6in stems terminating in single, fragrant, pale violet flowers in spring. Suitable for growing indoors in pots and bowls like crocuses or in alpine houses and cold extensions.

Galanthus nivalis Snowdrop; Europe

Single and double snowdrops can be grown indoors or in pans in alpine houses but must not be subjected to much heat or the bulbs go blind. Grow them in good loam soil mix and keep them from strong sunlight through glass or direct heat. A north window and temperature around 10-13°C/50-55°F is ideal. Propagate by seed or bulb division.

Hippeastrum South America

Hippeastrum, frequently but erroneously known as amaryllis, are outstanding winter-flowering bulbs with funnel-shaped flowers of great substance and in striking colours – pink, rose, red, scarlet and white, frequently with narrow white petal streaks or mottlings of other shades. Up to four blooms are borne at the tops of 60cm/2ft stems, each flower up to 12.5cm/5in long and 10cm/4in across when open. The flat strap-shaped leaves are more or less evergreen, although for convenience mature bulbs are usually dried ofTand rested in summer. Seedlings, however, should be kept going until the bulbs reach flowering size.

Prepared bulbs will flower around Christmas in the northern hemisphere. Start them by soaking the lower parts of the bulbs in tepid water for four to five days, then pot them singly in good loam, leafmould (equal parts) with enough silver sand to make the compost friable. Half the bulb should be left exposed. Bottom heat encourages vigorous growth so stand them on a warm mantelpiece, a shelf over

a radiator or in a cupboard until they get going. They should then be placed in a good light to develop and flower. Little water should be given for the first two weeks and after that only a little on top of the soil. They must not be too wet. Propagate by seed or offsets.

Hippeastrum South America

Iris Northern Hemisphere

Iris Northern Hemisphere

Several dwarf irises are suitable for windowboxes or growing in pots in the home or alpine house, but they will not tolerate hard forcing so keep them cool (in a garden plunge, cellar or shed) for about eight weeks and then bring them into temperatures of around 10-13°C/50-55°F to flower. /. dan-fordiae has fragrant lemon-yellow flowers on 7.5cm/3in stems in mid-winter (February). J. reticulata, in character a few weeks later, has violet-scented, dark purple-blue flowers with prominent gold markings on the falls on 10cm/ 5in stems.

Named varieties of this include ‘Cantab’, cornflower-blue; ‘J. S. Dijt’, reddish-purple; and ‘Harmony’, rich blue.

Lilium Lily; Japan/China

Mid-century hybrid lilies which bloom in late winter make welcome houseplants. The treated bulbs arrive in early winter (December) and should be immediately planted in leafmould, loam and coarse sand (equal parts) with a little crushed charcoal. Allow three bulbs to a 15cm/6in pot and cover them with 5-7.5cm/2-3in of soil. Keep them in full light and a temperature around 20°C/ 68°F. Varieties include ‘Brandywine’, apricot-yellow; ‘Cinnabar’, maroon-red; ‘Enchantment’, cherry-red; ‘Paprika’, deep crimson; and ‘Prosperity’, lemon-yellow.

Many other lilies make good pot plants for summer flowering especially L. regale and hybrids, L. longiflorum and L. auratum. All demand a rich soil mix consisting of equal parts loam, peat, leafmould and well decayed cow-manure with enough coarse sand to ensure good drainage. Use 15cm/6in pots, cover the bulbs with 3.75cm/l2in of soil mix and grow them along in a cool place, shaded from direct sun until the buds appear. They can then go into a warm room to flower.

Muscari Grape Hyacinth; Europe/Asia

These popular bulbs sometimes known as starch lilies because the mucilaginous bulb sap was once used for starching linen. Easiest to grow indoors are M. botryoides ‘Album’, which has compact cones of small grape-like, white, fragrant flowers on 15-25cm/6-10in stems and the brilliant blue M. armeniacum, also fragrant, and its double blue cultivar ‘Blue Spire’.

Plant these 2.5cm/lin deep in pots of good soil mix and keep in a cool place (4.4°C/40°F) for six to eight weeks before bringing them into higher temperatures (10-13°C/50-55°F) to flower. They look particularly attractive when interplanted with daffodils, early tulips or primroses.

Narcissus Daffodil; Southern Europe

Daffodils may be grown in window boxes, bowls or pots of soil, soil mix or bulb fibre and additionally certain of the Tazetta varieties can be flowered on pebbles. All containers should be at least 12.5 cm/5in deep as narcissi make vigorous roots. Set them close together on a layer of soil mix, work more soil between them and leave with the noses of the bulbs just exposed, except in the case or window boxes when the bulbs must be completely covered. They require no fertilizers.

Prepared bulbs for Christmas flowering have to be planted in early autumn (October) and need eight or nine weeks in a plunge bed outdoors or a cool, dark but frost-free place inside (4.4°C/40°F). Unprepared or ordinary bulbs should go in earlier (September) for New Year flowers, or October for February blooms, and need 10 or 12 weeks in cold darkness. There is no other difference in cultivation except this one of timing. At the end of these periods take them into a good light and temperature of 10-13°C/50-55°F for flowering. Water freely.

Suitable kinds for Christmas flowering include ‘Golden Harvest’ and ‘Unsurpassable’, both yellow trumpets; ‘Yellow Sun’, a large-cupped; ‘Barrett Browning’, small-cupped; ‘Texas’, a double; ‘Peeping Tom’, a cyclami-neus hybrid, and ‘Cragford’, ‘Soleil d’Or’ and

Narcissus Daffodil

Scilla Squill

‘ Paper White’, Tazetta hybrids. There are many others for later flowering, also certain dwarf narcissi like N. bulbocodium, the hoop petticoat daffodil, 15cm/6in; N. asturiensis, 7.5cm/3in; N. minor (N. nanus), 10cm/4in; and N. cyda-mineus, 15cm/6in.

Scilla Squill; Southern Europe/USSR/Iran

Several miniature scillas are suitable for window boxes and pot cultivation. S. bijolia has five to seven star-shaped flowers of turquoise blue, (or occasionally white or pink) on 20cm/8in stems; S. sibirica has brilliant prussian-blue bells about 2.5cm/lin across on 7.5-10cm/3-4in stems, and the 10cm/4in S. mischtschenkoana (5. tuber-geniana) is very pale blue with a deep blue stripe down the centre of each petal. All associate pleasingly with snowdrops or miniature narcissi and can be grown in bulb fibre or bowls of light soil mix. Keep them cool (4.4°C/ 40°F) for six to eight weeks before bringing them into warm rooms to flower.

Sparaxis Harlequin Flower; South Africa

These variable members of the iris family are best grown in pots or in raised beds in a cool greenhouse. The flowers resemble freesias somewhat in white, yellow, orange, red or purple shades, always with yellow throats. They bloom in early summer and have grassy leaves. Plant the corms 7.5-10cm/3-4in deep and the same distance apart in light soil mix. After the foliage dies down, dry the corms and store them in a dry place until planting time comes round again in late autumn (November).

Tulipa Tulip; Europe

Tulips make good pot plants for indoor cultivation but only when the roots have had a long session (14-16 weeks) in cold darkness. Too often this procedure is scamped with inevitable and disappointing results. Ordinary unprepared bulbs should be planted in late summer (early September to mid-October) in good potting mix and kept in temperatures around 9°C/48°F for 10 to 12 weeks. A plunge bed out of doors is best but failing that a dark frost-free cellar, shed or room. They should then be brought into warm darkness (15.6°C/ 60°F) for two or three weeks and only after this taken into a light living room to flower. Specially prepared bulbs for Christmas flowering are planted before the middle of September, kept cool as before until the first week in December, then taken into temperatures of 18°C/65°F for a few days until growth is apparent. All this time they should be in darkness but may then go into light to flower.

Good forcing kinds are: early singles, ‘Bel-lona’, golden yellow, 46cm/18in; ‘Brilliant Star’, scarlet, 30cm/1 ft ; ‘Doctor Plesman’, orange-red, 36cm/14in; early doubles, ‘Wil-helm Kordes’, orange-yellow flushed red, 30cm/1 ft ; ‘Orange Nassau’, blood-red, 30cm/ 1 ft ; ‘Electra’, cherry-red, 30cm/1 ft ; ‘Murillo Max’, white flushed pink, 36cm/14in; and ‘Mr Van der Hoef’, golden-yellow, 30cm/1 ft .

Vallota Scarborough Lily; South Africa

V. speciosa, a superb autumn-flowering amaryllid, does well in pots and bowls and looks most arresting in a fireplace with concealed lighting, on a pedestal stand or on a conservatory bench. Growing about 60cm/2ft tall, the 7.5cm/3in funnel-shaped blooms are vivid scarlet with prominent golden stamens. They are carried in umbels of four to ten on each stem. The leaves are long and narrow. Vallotas should be planted in loam, sand and leaf mould (equal parts) and are helped by an occasional feed during the growing season. They can be lifted, divided and repotted every three or four years.

Probably no plants give greater pleasure in the middle of winter than bowls of forced bulbs. Their message is clear; whatever the weather outside, spring is round the corner. No home too small, no situation too bleak for them, for with the aid of artificial lighting, both winter and summer bulbs can be grown in dim halls, stairways and landings as well as in light windows or greenhouses.

For table decorations they are unsurpassed; groups of bulbs can be arranged with other plants in empty fireplaces and in spring and summer they can be grown outside in windowboxes or on balconies. An ideal method for tiny bulbs which do not take kindly to forcing – like snowdrops, miniature narcissi and grape hyacinths – is to grow them in a cold alpine house or frame. The protection of the glass is enough to bring them to bloom several weeks earlier than outdoors and if raised on waist-high benches they can be seen and enjoyed in the bleakest months of the year and brought indoors when in bloom.

Cool (frost-free) greenhouses offer still greater scope: daffodils, tulips and hyacinths associate pleasantly with such plants as azaleas, cinerarias, primulas and ferns or, later in the season, vallotas and other exotics can be grown. No bulbs demand excessive heat so one or other of these situations suit most species.

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