Did you get an amaryllis bulb for Christmas? They are popular gifts for people who like gardening or houseplants. The bulbs you get are primed and ready to sprout and bloom with just a little care. You can discard them after blooming is finished. But if you give them some attention after they bloom you can successfully get them to bloom again for many years. Well cared for bulbs will get larger every year and produce even more flowers. And if no one gave you an amaryllis this winter you may want to buy your own.
Amaryllis (Hippeastrum hybrida) sold as flowering houseplants are actually hybrids of several species of the Hippeastrum family and come in a variety of bloom colors, petal shapes and plant sizes. The big trumpet shaped red or red and white blooms of the most commonly sold gift amaryllis are just the tip of the iceberg. There are flower colors from white to dark crimson,orange, yellows and lavenders. There are so many varieties that many people collect amaryllis.
Amaryllis flowers are produced on a green, hollow flower stalk with clusters of 2 or more buds. The stalks range from about 12 inches high in miniature varieties to 2 feet tall in large varieties. Large mature bulbs may put out several stalks at once. The flowers generally consist of a layer of 3 overlapping petals and then a second layer of 3 petals. There are some varieties that have narrow, separated petals, (Cybister amaryllis) with star-like blooms. There are also double flowered varieties.
Amaryllis flowers can be solid colored or streaked or with contrasting centers. Size of flowers ranges from about 2 inches across in miniature varieties to about 8 inches across in large ones. The flowers usually face outwards.
Amaryllis leaves are long and strap like. They may appear with the flower stalk or after. There are usually 4 leaves per bloom stalk. When the bulb goes dormant, (more about that later), the leaves will turn yellow and fall off.
Amaryllis bulbs are oval with an elongated top, called the neck. Bulb size ranges 6 to 13 inches or so in circumference. The bigger the bulb the more flower stalks it produces, although miniature and star flowered varieties have naturally smaller bulbs. The bulbs are covered with a papery covering like many other bulbs. Over years of good care the bulbs get larger and produce more bulbs, which can be separated for new plants.
Some common varieties
These are just a few of the hundreds of amaryllis varieties. There are many nurseries on line and in catalogs offering bulbs for sale. These will be dormant bulbs primed to bloom for you in a short time and are most often available in fall and winter.
Large single flowered varieties include ‘Ice Queen’, purest white, ‘Royal Velvet’ which is deep crimson, ‘Carmen’, rich red with an iridescent glow, ‘Hercules’, which is rosy pink, ‘Orange Sovereign’, a deep orange, ‘Rilona’, a peachy orange, ‘Minerva’, red and white, ‘Rebecca’, a rosy pink with white stripes that is said to be fragrant, ‘Estella’, a lavender pink with white stripe and light fragrance, ‘Lemon Star’, a pale yellow, ‘Daphne’, a cranberry red dappled with white, ‘Apricot Parfait’, a pale apricot with white edges
Double flowered varieties include white or red ‘Peacock,’ ‘Lady Jane’, which is a orangey streaked color, ‘Dancing Queen’ which is red and white, ‘Arctic Nymph’, which is a stocky short plant with beautiful white flowers, ‘Sweet Nymph’, which is rose pink with dark pink streaks and a pale pink edge and ‘Aphrodite’ which is white with pink highlights.
While dwarf varieties have smaller flowers the flowers are generally more numerous, appearing in clusters on the plant. Miniature amaryllis are about 18 inches high. Varieties include ‘Rapido’, a crimson red, ‘Santiago’, red with a white streak through each petal, ‘Picotee’, white with a fine red line outlining each petal, and ‘Pretty Nymph’ which has ruffled pink petals striped with white.
Star flowered varieties include ‘Cybister Emerald’, which is greenish white with red streaks, ‘Cybister Lapaz’ which has 3 maroon petals and 3 white, ‘Sumatra’ which is crimson red, ‘Chico’ which has an extreme spidery form of burgundy red and green, and ‘Rosado’, which is rosy pink with white markings.
Planting the bulb
If you were given a gift Amaryllis bulb or bulbs they probably came with instructions but if not, here’s how to plant them. Choose a good houseplant planting medium (soil) for potting. The pot for the bulb should be just an inch or so bigger than the bulb in diameter as amaryllis likes to be pot bound. It doesn’t have to be very deep- just a couple inches longer than the bulbs- but it must drain well. Several bulbs can be planted in one pot with just an inch between them.
Put a little planting medium on the bottom of the pot and then set the bulbs in it. The top of the bulb neck should be about at the level of the pot rim. Now fill in with potting soil leaving the neck of the bulb and about a third of the bulb itself exposed. If planted too deeply amaryllis won’t bloom. Do not completely cover the bulb.
Now water the bulb and set it in a brightly lit, warm place. It should begin to show a green bud at the bud neck, sometimes more than one, in one to two weeks. In fact some gift bulbs you receive may already be sprouting. Sometimes the flower stalk develops first and the leaves later, other times leaves may begin emerging with the flower stalk. Every few days rotate the pot so the flower stalk doesn’t lean toward the light source.
Just a note on those bulbs that come pre-planted in a decorative pot. If your amaryllis bulb came with its own pot make sure the pot has drainage or that the drainage holes aren’t covered by decorative foil. If the “pot” is a cardboard one you’ll probably want to put your bulb in a nicer, longer lasting pot. When these plants finish blooming it’s probably best to repot the plant in fresh, quality potting medium.
Amaryllis will bloom in a container with rocks and an inch or so of water like narcissus bulbs. However when they bloom like this they are very hard to get to re-bloom in the future, even if they are potted after blooming. These bulbs are generally discarded after blooming. If you want to keep your amaryllis bulb for future blooming pot it in a good potting medium when you receive it.
Care during bloom and after
The flower stalks grow rapidly and bloom may begin in just 5 weeks from bud emergence. Keep the pot moist but not too wet as the flower stalks develop. Don’t fertilize at this time. Amaryllis likes temperatures of 65-75 degrees F for blooming. If the plant gets too cold it may drop the buds. Bright light but not direct sunlight is needed at this time. If the plant gets too warm – such as by a heat vent- it may also drop its buds. Don’t touch the buds and be careful not to bruise them or knock them off when moving the plant. Buds will open in succession and each flower may last several days. A pot with several bloom stalks may be in bloom for weeks.
Cut off the flower stalks when blooming has finished. The leaves must remain in strong light and the pot kept watered for a few months so the plant can store nutrients to make new flower buds. Generally a plant blooming at Christmas or shortly after needs to be in a sunny window or under grow lights until you can put it outside. You should fertilize at this time with a blooming plant, water soluble fertilizer every other week to encourage the plant to produce more flowers. Several new leaves may be produced.
After the last frost in your area you can move the plant outside. This is one of the best ways to get the plant to re-bloom. Put the plant in a shady location, letting it acclimate and move it gradually into full sun over two weeks. Most people sink the pot into the ground but some plant the bulb directly into the ground. Keep it watered through the summer. Make sure you mark the pot or location so that you’ll know where the bulb is when the plant goes dormant.
Amaryllis needs temperatures of about 55 degrees or slightly less for about 8 weeks to induce bud formation. If the plant summered outside it will probably begin natural dormancy in the fall. Let the bulbs stay outside through early cool weather, even light frost. When temperatures fall below 45 regularly bring it inside. It may have lost its leaves or most of them at this point. If the plant hasn’t been outside you may want to move it to a cool dimly lit place such as a basement and stop watering it to induce dormancy.
When all the leaves have fallen the amaryllis has gone dormant. Stop watering the plant. The plants need a dormant period to rest before blooming again. It doesn’t need light at this time.
After a few months (10-12 weeks minimum) of storage the amaryllis bulb can be brought into bloom again by watering the pot lightly and putting it into bright light and warm conditions. Be careful and don’t overwater the amaryllis when it’s just coming out of dormancy. If you want to re-pot the bulb at this time you can do so. Remember that for best bloom the pot shouldn’t be much bigger than the bulbs.
If you discover small bulblets when repotting you can move them to separate pots. It takes a couple years before they will bloom but they need the same period of growth and rest that blooming size bulbs get. Many people leave the small bulbs to form large clumps in a pot with many flowering stalks.
The bulbs should begin showing green buds within a couple of weeks after their rest. It will take 5-8 weeks from coming out of dormancy to bloom. Many people try to re-bloom the amaryllis near the Christmas holidays although they will bloom at other times. You’ll need to get the bulbs in a dormant stage by early September for a chance at Christmas bloom. The blooms will still be welcome later in the winter and it’s easier to aim for a January- February bloom time.
Amaryllis seldom have disease or insect problems in homes. The biggest problem is overwatering, letting the bulbs rot. Failure to bloom again is generally caused by improper management of the dormant period and not enough light during the spring and summer months. Caution- amaryllis bulbs and all plant parts are poisonous. Keep them away from pets and children.
Amaryllis can brighten the winter and could become a plant collectors dream with the many varieties to explore. Why not plant one this winter?
Here are some additional articles you may want to read.
How to make Houseplants interesting
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