Winter's Flowering Diva - The Amaryllis
Photo Credit Michele MacKinnon
If you’ve never grown an amaryllis prepare for one of winter’s best horticultural shows. Dramatic trumpet shaped flowers punctuate towering stalks and captivate even those who claim they have no interest in plants. Their fascination is complete by the time the luxurious flowers emerge in shades of scarlet, orange, pink, apple red, snow white and candy cane combinations.
Choose a Type of Bulb
Two kinds of bulbs are sold based on when they flower. Amaryllis bulbs grown in South Africa are intended for the holiday season. This type is often sold in supermarkets. Garden clubs and serious plant enthusiasts may opt for winter blooms, which require bulbs grown in the Netherlands. These bulbs are sold at garden centers as well as through mail order sources. This type needs a slightly longer growing period, but the wait is worth it.
Care for your Amaryllis
Follow a few steps to improve success rates. Plant the bulb using the soil media provided, or use a soilless potting mix, leaving the top 1/4 to 1/2 inch of bulb showing. This, plus watering around the edges of the pot while avoiding the growing tips, will prevent the bulb rotting. These top heavy plants may take a swan dive off a shelf or counter unless you plan wisely.
Either plant them in a heavy weight pot or in a plastic pot which can be placed inside a sturdier container. Ensure the pot used has a drainage hole. Another option is adding a stake at planting time, such as those used for orchid plants. Topping off the soil with decorative pebbles or glass chips also helps balance the plant’s weight.
Cut flower stalks off close to soil level once blooms fade. Keep the green strappy leaves to produce energy the bulb needs to flower next season. Bulbs may be planted outdoors, with or without their pots, when temperatures are consistently above 60℉. I never fertilize my plants, but you will often find advice to do so.
Forcing Back into Bloom
This requires a two-stage process totaling about 16 weeks, or a little longer for late winter flowering types. Healthy bulbs will bloom for years if you force them into dormancy, a plant’s resting period. Bring the bulb indoors, cut off any leaves and stop watering it. Keep it in a dark location with a temperature around 55℉ for eight to ten weeks. Then, repot the bulb or scrape away old potting soil and add an inch or so of fresh growing media. Place the pot in a bright location and water once, then water regularly when green growth appears.
Click here for a guide on amaryllis growing for multiple seasons. You’ll soon join the ranks of other fans who enjoy an encore amaryllis performance yearly.
Michele MacKinnon, is a UCONN Certified Advanced Master Gardener, garden educator and speaker. To contact MacKinnon to ask gardening questions, email firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll publish answers in the next edition of the newsletter.