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LifestyleColumnistsJessica Damiano

What to do with spent paperwhites, getting gardenias to bloom and how late is too late to plant bulbs?

DEAR JESSICA: What do I do with my paperwhite Narcissus after it has bloomed? Can I plant it in the garden outdoors or in a pot indoors? I received one for Christmas in a glass container with all the roots showing. I watched it bud and then bloom and enjoyed every moment of it. It has now stopped blooming and is browning up. I hate to just throw it out; it has been so lovely. What do I do next? — Joan Rebholz, Copiague

DEAR JOAN: Your beautifully blooming holiday Narcissus was a one-shot deal. So alas, your next step would be to throw it out. Sorry.

DEAR JESSICA: I own a gardenia plant that is about a year and a half old. It has grown very large, has lots of shoots and appears very healthy, even though I don’t get blossoms. How do I know whether it needs cutting back or repotting, or something else in order for it to blossom? — Ruth Sussman, via email

DEAR RUTH: Gardenias are beautiful plants best known for their dark, glossy foliage and sweetly perfumed blooms, so I can understand your disappointment in getting only half the package you signed up for. The problem with gardenias is that although they often are in full bloom when they arrive, getting them to rebloom can be a trick. To increase the chances of flowering, certain conditions must be met.

The plants must be kept between 65 and 70 degrees during the day and between 60 and 62 degrees overnight. Flowers will not form — and any existing buds will drop — if temperatures veer outside this range. This can be difficult to maintain in the home, especially if you like the room toasty at night, like I do.

In addition, these plants require humidity. They do well in bathrooms, where daily showers add moisture to the air. But if you actually want to enjoy it when you’re not in the shower, you can place pots on shallow trays that contain pebbles and water or run a humidifier.

Keep the soil evenly moist, never letting it dry out completely, but don’t let it get soggy.

Gardenias should be placed in bright-but-indirect light, like near a sunny window but off to the side a bit. Fertilize every two weeks with a product intended for acid-loving plants, following package directions precisely. And, finally, make it a name tag that reads, “Hello! My name is Goldilocks.”

DEAR JESSICA: I purchased several boxes of bulbs in the fall, anticipating planting them at my new home in East Northport. However, we are waiting three months in contract, and the seller has now informed me he will not let me plant them on the property until we close. My dilemma: Can I put them in the ground as late as March? I know the 100 crocus bulbs, plus peonies, will not bloom this year, but I spent about $500 and they are languishing in a cool spot on my windowsill that doesn’t get sun. — Elaine Rosselli, Brooklyn

DEAR ELAINE: Spring flowering bulbs are planted in autumn because they require a winter chilling period to bloom. This period typically should be between 12 and 14 weeks long, and temperatures should remain below 40 degrees for the duration.

Bulbs are different from seeds in that they contain a flower, plant and all the energy (food) they need within them. So, unlike seeds, they need to be kept alive. If they dry out, or get moldy or mushy, they’ll die, so keeping them on your windowsill won’t cut it.

To answer your question, I consulted with Debbie Van Bourgondien, who’s widely known as The Bulb Lady — and for good reason: Van Bourgondien is matriarch of the West Babylon-based bulb companies Dutch Bulbs and K. Van Bourgondien & Sons. She suggests planting your bulbs in crates lined with newspaper and setting them outdoors near the foundation of your current home. “Because you should have done this a month or so ago (they needed to make roots before winter set in,) you should cover the crates with a very thick layer of mulch, pine boughs or leaves,” she recommends. “After they flower in the spring, let the foliage die back naturally until it is yellow. Then you can transplant them into your new garden.”

Van Bourgondien acknowledges you might not get optimum results this year, but says crocuses will naturalize and come back next spring.

Because peonies are perennials, she says, you just need plant them in pots and transplant into the garden after you move in to your new home. They won’t flower until next year, she warns, but they should survive.

Good luck!

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