When the ornamental garden lies silent and dormant in winter, we gardeners turn to our house plants for horticultural distraction. Few house plants inspire a jaw-dropping “OH WOW!!” reaction as much as an amaryllis in full bloom. That’s because the large, richly colored, trumpet-shaped blossoms provide some seriously needed eye candy on gloomy winter days when our psyches are badly in need of a color pick-me-up. If a giant red, in-your-face, no-prisoners-taken amaryllis in full bloom can’t lift one’s spirits, then nothing can.
If you have never seen an amaryllis bulb up close and personal, prepare to be amazed! They are HUGE – about the size of a baseball! In fact, the larger they are, the better. Larger bulbs produce more stalks and blossoms than smaller bulbs.
In the past, amaryllis came in a few basic colors – white, pink, and red. Nowadays, hybridizers have outdone themselves and created dozens of variations. In addition to several shades of red, color choices now include white, white with a green throat, orange, orangey-red, coral red, deep pink, pale pink, salmon pink, peach, red with white edging, white with red edging, and so on. In addition to solid colors or contrasting colors on the same bloom, your choices include stripes, stippling, or colors overlaid with streaks and splashes of other colors. Blossoms may be single, semi-double, or double. Moreover, the blossoms may have smooth or seersucker textures and ruffled or smooth edges. And it just keeps getting better. Many of the old-fashioned varieties developed one or possibly two stalks that had a tendency to flop over if they weren’t staked. At best, you might have gotten three or possibly four blooms from them. Newer varieties are built on sturdier stems. Others are bred to have shorter stalks. Meanwhile, most newer hybrids develop multiple stalks.
HOW TO PLANT AN AMARYLLIS BULB
Growing an amaryllis is EASY!
- First of all, select the largest bulb possible. The larger the bulb, the greater your chances of getting multiple flower stalks and blooms the first year.
- Make sure the bulb is firm, dry, and free of mold or signs of decay.
- Select a pot that is about three inches wider than the bulb and that has a hole for drainage. Amaryllis bulbs perform best when pot bound, so the size of the pot matters.
- Place the bulb in the pot and add potting soil to about ½ inch from the top of the pot. Amaryllis bulbs don’t like to be covered, so leave the top one third of the bulb exposed.
- Firm the soil around the bulb and then water thoroughly to settle the soil.
- You can, if you wish, place sheet moss or Spanish moss over the potting soil, but this isn’t necessary.
- Place the pot in a window where it will receive bright light. The bulb will generally begin to sprout foliage within two or three weeks.
- Keep the soil just barely moist. Don’t allow the soil to dry out but don’t let it get soggy either.
- As the foliage starts to emerge, turn the pot a quarter turn every few days so that the plant will be symmetrical. Otherwise, it will lean toward the light.
- As the flowers start to open, move the plant out of direct sunlight and keep it in a cooler location to prolong the flowering period.
HOW TO CARE FOR AN AMARYLLIS AFTER IT HAS FINISHED BLOOMING
Don’t lose interest in your amaryllis after it stops blooming. In fact, the trick to getting your amaryllis to re-bloom is to continue caring for it and nurture it as you would any other house plant. After the plant finishes blooming, snip off the spent blooms but don’t remove the flower stalk until it turns yellow. Place it in a bright, sunny spot indoors where it can get at least 6 hours of bright light daily. Water the plant when the top inch or two of soil feels dry. Make sure any excess water drains from the pot. Then, after all danger of frost is past in the spring, gradually acclimate your amaryllis to the outdoors by moving it into a shady or protected spot. Gradually give it more light until you can safely move it into full sun for at least six hours a day with a nighttime temperature above 60°F. Sink the pot into the soil and fertilize the plant over the summer months with a balanced fertilizer monthly.
HOW TO GET AN AMARYLLIS BULB TO RE-BLOOM
After spending the summer outdoors absorbing nutrients in the bulb, the potted plant should be moved indoors before the first frost. Here’s where you have to make a choice. Do you want the plant to produce flowers right away or do you want to postpone the blooming time? A well-cared for amaryllis bulb doesn’t require a resting time before it will re-bloom and will proceed to develop flower stalks as long as the foliage is kept evergreen. If you want to postpone the blossoming time, allow the bulb to go through a resting period. According to Virginia Tech Publication No. 426-101, Care of Specialty Potted Plants, http://www.pubs.ext.vt.edu, withhold water to allow old growth to die back and store the plant in a dark place. A closet, basement or a garage is fine as long as the temperatures are above freezing. Allow the foliage to shrivel and dry up before you remove it. Check the bulbs periodically. If they start to produce new foliage or flower stalks, move the plant into bright light and water the soil thoroughly. This generally occurs within about 8 to 12 weeks. Flowers normally develop within a month or so from dormant bulbs, which means you can time the plant to bloom at Christmas, New Year’s, Valentine’s Day or other special occasion.
If your amaryllis fails to bloom, the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension Publication #Cir-1243, http://edis.ifsa.ufl.edu/ep060, suggests that the reasons may include keeping the plant in too much shade, giving it too rich a soil, too much nitrogen fertilizer, or too much water.
Amaryllis bulbs generally perform best when pot bound. This means you only need to re-pot them about every 3 to 4 years, preferably after they have gone through a dormant period and are ready to re-flower.
HOW TO PROPAGATE AMARYLLIS
Amaryllis may be propagated using the following four techniques:
- Bulb offsets – A mature, healthy amaryllis bulb may produce an offset bulb, which can be gently separated from the “mother” bulb and replanted. Choose large bulblets to plant. The larger the bulblet, the greater your chances of success. Plant bulblets in pots that are a couple of inches larger than the bulb’s diameter. Use a potting mix that drains well and leave the top half of the bulb halfway out of the soil. Water lightly and give the bulb indirect light or light shade until it begins to show growth. Be patient. This will take several weeks or possibly more.
- Bulb Sectioning (Cuttage) – Select a good size (large) bulb and cut it vertically into several large pieces. Make sure each piece has at least two scales. Apply a fungicide to each piece. Plant each piece in potting soil that drains well. Water lightly and place in light shade or indirect light until it begins to show growth.
- Seeds – This method of propagation is for the patient gardener who is willing to invest several years of time coaxing a mature, blooming plant from seed. Also, be aware that amaryllis bulbs are generally hybridized, meaning that you are unlikely to get an exact duplicate of the parent plant. However, if you’re game to try this method just for the fun of it, a good tutorial on the subject can be found on the Galveston County (Texas) Master Gardeners website, http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/galveston/weedkly-q&a/f&b-15-amaryllis-propagation.
- Tissue Culture – This method is best left to commercial growers who are equipped and skilled in this method of propagation.