How to wax your flower bulbs for the winter

How to wax your flower bulbs for the winter

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I’ve long loved forcing bulbs to flower inside my house all winter, but I’m generally not good at remembering to water or maintain them. I like lanterns for a few reasons, mostly because they’re hands-free. You can’t really screw them up; All you have to do is put it somewhere and walk away. It does not need watering, just a little sunlight.

How to wax flower bulbs for the winter

You’ve probably seen lanterns on sale, usually priced between $20 to $30 apiece. However, the lamps themselves are actually very inexpensive. Even this late in the season, I scored three giant amaryllis bulbs for $21 from Lowe’s. Amaryllis are generally what you use for these wax bulbs, although you can force daffodils, tulips and all sorts of other bulbs too at this time of year – I’ve never seen them waxed.

My point is that you can save a lot of money by making your own candle lanterns, and they make really great gifts. All you need are the bulbs and some wax, and once you have waxed the bulbs, they will not need any water or fertilizer; It already has everything it needs.

A note worth noting: The bulbs are perennial, so they can come back again and again when planted outside, as long as when you cut off the flowers that sprout, you leave behind enough leaves so the plant can keep going until next year. Once the bulb is waxed, it will be very difficult to turn it into a bulb to plant outside; It will need to remove all the wax and regrow the roots. Most people who force bulbs indoors don’t actually end up planting them outside, but rather they are tossed after they bloom. It’s also worth noting that if you wax the bulbs, you won’t be able to compost them at all.

Peel the bulbs

The wax will not stick to the outer papery leaves of the bulb, so the first step is to peel them away until you reach the pale center of the bulb. Like an onion, you simply pull the outside to reveal the center.

Once the bulbs are peeled, you’ll use a serrated knife to cut off the basal plate, as shown on the right.
Credit: Amanda Bloom

Cut the roots

The bulbs have a so-called basal plate from which the roots grow. If you cut it, the bulb, trying to survive, receives the message that it must immediately go into flower and will send out buds. It’s also helpful to give the lamp a flat side to rest on. Using a serrated knife, cut above the roots but below the bulb ball.

Soak it, then dry it

The magic of a waxed bulb is that it keeps all the moisture in the bulb, so it never needs water once it’s waxed. But first, you need to saturate the bulb, so take a bowl of warm water, and soak the bulbs for four to eight hours, but no more. You wouldn’t want it to be soggy.

Place the lamp on a towel and let it air dry for a few hours. Don’t worry, the bulb won’t dry out; Only its surface will.

Soaking the bulbs is on the left, then preparing the wax, water and tin on the right.

Soak the bulbs for 4-8 hours, then allow them to air dry. Prepare the wax, cold water for dipping, and foil.
Credit: Amanda Bloom

Wax preparation

There are all types of wax, from soy to paraffin, or even the type of wax you use for your crayons. I’ve read reviews that suggest you can use any wax, but I prefer soy wax. You can get soy wax online easily; You won’t need more than a pound or two, and you can color the wax using dyes designed specifically for it. (Or you can use uncolored soy wax, which is a clear wax.) You want to melt it into something you don’t mind ruining, and I find that plastic deli containers are the perfect size—large enough to hold a light bulb. Convenient, so you don’t waste wax by melting too much. You probably have a few, and they’re microwaveable. Otherwise, getting wax out of a container that you intend to use for something else will be miserable. Because you want to dip the bulb, you must melt enough so that the bulb is mostly submerged. Fill the can with soy wax flakes and let them melt; Continue adding wax until the can is two-thirds of the way full. The best way to thaw them in the microwave is to fill the container with foil, then microwave them in thirty-second bursts, opening the microwave and checking between each batch. When the wax melts, you will need to add more. In all, it took about six minutes of microwave to completely melt the wax; It does not require any stirring.

Before you start dipping, you will also need a similar sized bowl filled with cold water.

Dip the bulb

Hold the bulb by the shoot at the top and slowly dip it into the wax. You will stop about an inch and a half from shooting at the top. Count to five and then slowly pull the bulb out, letting it drip over the wax bowl. Once it stops dripping, move to the water can and quickly submerge the bulb. Move quickly or you will get streaks in the wax. This should harden the wax. Use a kitchen towel to dry it gently. Water on the bulb will not allow the new wax to stick to it.

Dip the bulb about an inch below the stem and after a few dips, let it drip onto the foil, forming a puddle in which the bulb can sit.

Dip the bulb about an inch below the stem and after a few dips, let it drip onto the foil, forming a puddle in which the bulb can sit.
Credit: Amanda Bloom

In total, you will need to immerse each bulb three or four times. The last time, the bulb will pop out and instead of letting it fall, quickly transfer the bulb to the foil, setting the size flat on the foil. The wax will pool slightly at the base. Keep it there until the wax hardens enough for the bulb to stand on its own and then let the wax cool completely before peeling it from the foil.

Now, place the bulb near the window and watch it grow. You will see sprouting occur within 10 days or so.

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