A potted bulb, whether partially or totally in bloom, makes a lovely, thoughtful gift. This is an easy project for older kids; for little ones, it’s an early introduction to Mother Nature’s magic. Basically, you’re fast-tracking winter and coaxing spring. Here’s the general idea: Kids plant the bulbs in clay pots and set them in a cool, dark place to establish roots— the key to successful blooms. Some bulbs bloom quickly; others take longer (give these to green-thumb friends who won’t be daunted by a just-greening bulb in a pot of dirt). One thing is certain: Whenever they flower, these one-of-a-kind gifts are sure to be treasured.
What You’ll Need (for each bulb)
- A clay pot a few inches wider than your bulb, with a drainage hole in the bottom
- Pebbles from your yard or a garden center, to allow for drainage in the bottom of the pot
- Soilless potting mix (drains better than regular potting soil, so bulbs won’t rot), moistened with water
- Bulbs: Paperwhite narcissus, amaryllis, hyacinth, or tulip from a garden center or hardware store
What You'll Do
Plant bulbs any time during the fall. Give your child as much or as little help as he needs, depending on his age and ability.
Let the kids choose firm bulbs with some roots at the base. At home, have each child pour some pebbles or gravel into the bottom of a pot for drainage (about an inch deep). Fill the pot halfway with soilless potting mix, set the bulb, roots down, in the mixture, then top with more soilless mix. The tips of the bulbs should stick out of the soil a bit. Water well.
Have the kids choose a cool, dark location to put the pots, such as a coat closet or a basement corner, so roots can develop. Keep the potted bulbs cold, but don’t let them freeze. (This step mimics winter.) Kids can mark the calendar or set a cellphone reminder to check on the bulbs and water them when the top of the soil feels dry. But don’t overwater; bulbs with wet feet will rot.
When the kids see roots poking through the drainage hole in the bottom of the pot, have them move the bulb to a location with a northern exposure. When the stems grow and buds appear, the pot should be moved to a warmer location to allow the buds to flower.
At holiday time, pop the pot in a gift bag. Kids can first draw a picture of the flower or write the name of the flower on the clay pot with chalk or a fancy marker.
Enclose a card, with “Here comes spring” written on the front and, inside, “This is a (type of bulb) planted by (your child’s name) on (date planted),” along with instructions to keep the bulbs well watered when in bloom.
Tips for Budding Gardeners
Narcissus and amaryllis will root quickly. They’ll start to sprout after about a month of darkness (maybe even sooner). Kids can gift these bulbs when partially or totally in bloom.
Hyacinths and tulips take longer to root (about 13 weeks for hyacinths, 8 to 16 weeks for tulips), so when gifting, note the remaining chill time on your card, along with your child’s drawing of what the bulb will look like when it flowers.