The joy of gardening doesn't have to disappear with cold, forbidding weather. Decorating with winter indoor bulbs is fairly easy, plus you...

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The joy of gardening doesn’t have to disappear with cold, forbidding weather.

Decorating with winter indoor bulbs is fairly easy, plus you can stay dry and comfy while getting a head start on holiday cheer.

By this time of year, most nurseries are stocked with scented paperwhite narcissus and giant amaryllis. Both of these do well indoors and bloom within about six weeks.

Pretty narcissus

Paperwhite narcissus (Narcissus tazetta ‘Galilee’ and other cultivars) develops icy white clusters of fragrant flowers with golden yellow centers. Some types like ‘Soleil D’Or’ are gold with yellow centers.

The shapeliness and colors of paperwhites combine perfectly with gold, red, green and dark blue to enhance nearly any decorating scheme. Pots of paperwhites can be combined with candlelight to create a simple, festive setting.

When buying paperwhites, you’ll likely see green tips growing from the bulbs. Handle carefully; they’re breakable.

The bulbs will bloom about five weeks after planting. I plant pots of them over Thanksgiving weekend to be given as gifts in December.

To grow paperwhites for gift giving, you’ll need flowerpots, potting soil and bulbs.

Catalogs sometimes show the flowers rising from shallow bowls of gravel and water. They will bloom that way, but their roots tend to topple over. They need the weight of soil in the pot.

A small pot, only 6 inches in diameter, can hold about five bulbs. Fill the pot about two-thirds full with soil; wet it well. Arrange bulbs on top of the wet soil; then top off with soil. The green tips should be left uncovered. Allow about a 1/2 inch of space at the top for watering. Label the pots with the planting date.

For these narcissus, cool temperatures slow growth; warmth speeds it up. If your pots are growing a little too fast, set them on a balcony, porch or patio during the day. Bring them indoors if temperatures drop below 35 degrees.

If you purchase extra bulbs, keep them in a dry, cool area (not the refrigerator). They may be kept there for several weeks so you can pot them for New Year’s or even Valentine’s Day.

Stunning amaryllis

Amaryllis (Hippeastrum species) grow up to 3 feet tall, with 9-inch flowers rising from their stalks. Leaves often emerge after the flowering stem. These hail from South Africa and like warmth. Do not put them in a drafty area.

One nearly softball-sized bulb fits in a 6-inch diameter pot. Fill the pot halfway with soil, add the bulb and cover the bottom of the bulb with soil (but leave they top half uncovered). Water well.

A little bottom heat will help an Amaryllis get started — the top of the refrigerator for a week or so will encourage growth.

Amaryllis, available in colors ranging from soft white to variegated reds, make stunning gifts. The lack of scent may also be a gifting advantage for those sensitive to fragrances.

Whether you choose paperwhites or amaryllis, both will brighten the home even on the grayest day.

Garden expert Mary Robson, retired area horticulture agent for Washington State University/King County Cooperative Extension, appears regularly in digs and in Practical Gardener in Northwest Life on Wednesdays. Her e-mail is