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GROWING AMARYLLIS FOR WINTERTIME COLOR
Right around the Holiday Season, we long for something that still has a bit of enthusiasm for blooming. The roses are fast asleep, as are the daylilies. This is the perfect time of year to invest in house plants that will tide you over until Spring. One of my favorites is the Amaryllis for wintertime color. And growing a Christmas Amaryllis is a fun family project.
BUYING AMARYLLIS BULBS
The stores offer Amaryllis bulbs, also known as “Hippeastrum,” in individual bags, or you can buy boxed kits with a large bulb, a pot, and potting soil. They make nice Christmas gifts for the gardening enthusiast.
When you buy a bare bulb, you can easily see its condition. Buy only heavy, firm bulbs – – – not mushy or moldy. Fairly long, fleshy roots should be attached. Larger bulbs produce more flowers. Each bulb usually produces 2 or 3 flower spikes, and each spike produces 2 to 4 large blooms.
In their native South America, the Amaryllis normally blooms in the Spring. Those that are grown in greenhouses have their bloom time controlled so they will flower at Christmas.
The color selection is vast: Vivid red, bright pink, white, salmon, orange, rose, even pale lemon or greenish-white. Some are candy striped, multicolored, or have a picotee edge. The blooms can be single or double flowered.
One year, I went on a real houseplant binge and bought five in different colors. Since I had no clue what to do with them, I lost every last one. “Power Shopping” is never a good idea when it comes to Amaryllis. Do your homework before you invest in these little treats, and you can still have them with you for years to come.
NOTE: Always read the label when you purchase an Amaryllis bulb. “Waxed” bulbs won’t rebloom.
Word To The Wise: Bundle it up when you take it home from the store. These plants are from the tropical regions of South America, and do not react well to wintertime chill.
HOW TO PLANT AN AMARYLLIS BULB
Advertisements usually say the Amaryllis is an “easy care” plant. That is only true if you already know what you’re doing, or if you plan to discard them after flowering.
If you’re a “first timer” and want to get the bulb to rebloom next year, they seem more like a “high maintenance woman.” Let’s get started:
Store your new bulb in a cool, dry, dark place such as a basement or refrigerator if you can’t plant it immediately. A temperature of about 50 degrees is idea. Do not store the bulb in a refrigerator containing fruit, especially apples, or the bulb will become sterile!
The long roots and base of the bulb should be soaked in lukewarm water for a few hours before planting.
These plants like to be slightly potbound. The pot should be only 2 inches wider than the bulb leaving 1 inch of space on each side of the bulb. The pot must have a drainage hole.
The Amaryllis bulb should be planted so there’s only an inch of soil between the bulb and the edge of the pot, and with a layer of soil at the bottom of the pot.
Leave the top 1/3 of the bulb exposed. Do not cover it with soil! It should stick out above the rim of the pot. Carefully press the soil around the bulb so you don’t damage the roots.
These plants remind me of onions. When you plant a row of onion sets, they often mature with their tops sticking out of the ground. You might worry that they’ll dry out or get sunburned, but they won’t. In fact, if you try to cover the onion with soil, it will rot!
Remember this when you are planting an Amaryllis bulb. Deep planting will cause the whole thing to rot. Water sparingly, and allow the soil to dry out thoroughly between waterings.
You might want to put a stake or two in the pot at the time of planting “just in case.” The long flower stem can be tied to the stakes as it matures.
GETTING YOUR AMARYLLIS TO BLOOM
Place the Amaryllis in a warm spot till the first green shoot appears. Heat is necessary for the development of the stems. The ideal temperature is 70 to 75 degrees.
Moving the plant into a warmer location will encourage growth, though too much warmth may cause weak or floppy stem growth. The flip side is that cooler temperatures may prevent or slow growth.
NOTE: When an Amaryllis does not want to break dormancy, providing bottom heat by setting the pot on a propagation mat or on top of a refrigerator may help stimulate growth.
Placing the plant in a well-lighted, 70 to 75 degree location will cause the bulb to sprout and grow faster. Move the plant to a windowsill with bright indirect sunlight to let it adjust to increased sunlight. Pick a spot that receives lots of sunlight, but not by direct exposure.
Water sparingly at first. If you water too much before the foliage appears, your bulb will rot. Once the bud and leaves appear, keep the soil moist, but not soggy. Always water Amaryllis with lukewarm water – – – not with water out of the refrigerator!
At this point, the growth will be rapid. Once it starts blooming, move it to a cooler location out of direct sunlight. This will make the blooms last longer.
The bulbs will flower in 8 to 10 weeks as a general rule. Some varieties might bloom in as little as 4 to 5 weeks.
Rotate the pot as necessary to keep the flower spike from leaning toward the window light. Staking the Amaryllis helps to prevent this, and can keep the stem from snapping.
Hybrid Amaryllis blooms are so large they get top heavy. It is tragic to find your beautiful Amaryllis toppled onto the floor the next morning due to the weight of it. It’s a good idea to put the pot into a larger, heavier pot to keep it stable. It will also make the plant look better.
When you get your plant to bloom in winter, the flowering time will be longer than if you make it bloom in the spring. The bloom time for all the flowers on a single plant usually lasts 2 to 3 weeks. The flowers open at different times, which will extend your bloom season.
SHOWCASE YOUR AMARYLLIS
Display Amaryllis away from drafts in a bright room, but not in direct sunlight. Beware of setting them too close to cold window glass in the wintertime. Always feel around nearby windows and doors for drafts.
These flamboyant beauties can produce flowers that are big as your hand. It is interesting to show your Amaryllis off in front of a mirror so you can enjoy twice as many blossoms (in the reflection.)
The Amaryllis is becoming increasingly popular as a cut flower. And the work involved in bringing a plant into bloom makes the bouquets seem even more lavish.
The best time to cut the flower stems is when the first bud has colored and is just ready to open. This will ensure that the rest of the buds on the same stem have formed sufficiently and will open fully.
Remove individual flowers as they fade.
Make a straight cut across the bottom of the stem, so the stem will rest evenly inside the vase.
Because the stems are hollow, the bottom may split and curl up, but this will not affect the blooms. Changing the water regularly will help prevent stem rolling.
I would change the water after a day (just as I do for daffodils). Both Amaryllis and daffodils have hollow stems, and they are filled with a bitter liquid. Changing the water after much of this has drained out will help them last longer in the vase, as will adding a bit of sugar to the water.
Amaryllis bouquets seem to last longer than flowers that are left on the plant. If kept at temperatures of 60 to 70 degrees, your cut flowers should last for 10 to 14 days.
WHAT TO DO WHEN YOUR AMARYLLIS STOPS BLOOMING
Many people treat Amaryllis bulbs like an annual flower, and throw them out after they finish blooming. If you want to try to get it to rebloom, your work begins as soon as the flowering ends.
Remove the flowers one at a time as they fade. If they try to form a seed pod, trim that off as well, or it will deplete the strength of the bulb.
Cut off the flower stalk with a sharp knife when it begins to wither and sag. Make the cut 1 to 2 inches above the bulb.
Don’t cut the foliage! The bulb draws its food source from the leaves until they die naturally. Tulips and Daffodils behave the same way.
Amaryllis bulbs will often shrink from the stress of blooming. In order to bloom again next season, the plant must replenish its depleted food reserves. Over the next several months, next year’s flower buds are formed within the bulb. It takes at least 4 leaves to produce one flower stalk, because the buds form in the axils of every fourth bulb scale.
Place the plant in a warm, sunny window (preferably one that faces south) and water it whenever the soil surface is nearly dry.
Fertilize every 2 weeks with a liquid houseplant fertilizer.