The dramatic blooms of amaryllis (Hippeastrum) add even more beauty to the holiday season, or any time of year. While we traditionally think of amaryllis as a holiday flower, they are really just tropical bulbs that can bloom at any time of year, after a period of dormancy followed by plenty of light and warmth (more on that later). You can find amaryllis in just about any color, from pure white, to dramatic red, and even lime green, depending on your tastes.
Amaryllis are quite easy to grow, and not even all that difficult to get to re-bloom. Amaryllis bulbs grown in containers and maintained properly can live as long as fifteen years.
The first thing you need to do is purchase some good-quality bulbs.
Starting in November, you’ll start seeing amaryllis bulbs and kits in nurseries and home centers, and they are very common impulse purchases, providing the opportunity to grow flowers even when the outside world is covered in snow. Usually, you won’t find a ton of variety in your local nursery or big box, so if you want something beyond the typical red or white, you’ll probably want to see what is available through catalogs or online.
The amaryllis kits sold in nurseries and home centers usually come with a plastic pot, a bulb, and a disk of compressed coir, all packaged in a box. You’ll want to try to inspect the bulb before you buy. The bulb should be heavy for its size, firm, and not shriveled. Sometimes the bulbs in the kits are already growing leaves and/or a flower stalk, and that’s fine as long as they look healthy and the bulb feels firm and heavy.
Once you have your amaryllis bulbs, it’s time to pot them up. There are two options here.
The first method you may want to try is to simply fill a pot or other dish with pebbles and set the amaryllis bulb on top. You’d then fill the container with water, to about an inch below the bulb. The roots will make their way down into the water, but you do not want the bulb itself to sit in water as it will rot.
The other method uses soil or the coir disks that come with amaryllis kits. Moisten you soil (or hydrate the coir disk by pouring warm water over it and letting it sit for at least twenty minutes) and fill the pot about half full with soil. Then place your amaryllis bulb, root end down, onto the soil and fill with more soil, but do NOT bury the bulb. You want at least 1/3 of the bulb, including the “shoulders” and the stem, above the soil. Once the bulb is planted, water it in and let any excess water drain.
Amaryllis bulbs can be planted in groups in larger containers, or one bulb to a 6 to 7 inch pot.
Caring for Amaryllis
Whether you use the pebbles and water method or soil method, once your bulb is potted up, you’ll want to place it in a warm, bright place. Ideally, your bulb should get at least eight hours of light per day, and should be kept around seventy degrees Fahrenheit. Water it when the soil dries out a bit, and be sure to let any excess drain to prevent rotting. The bulb will shoot up leaves and a flower stalk in two to eight weeks after planting, Once it has started blooming, you can move it to any location; it does not need to stay in bright light, and, in fact, the blooms may last longer out of strong light. So if you want to move your amaryllis around for the holidays, that’s perfectly fine. You do not need to do any fertilizing during its bloom period.
Supporting Amaryllis Stems
The easiest way to support a tall, top-heavy amaryllis stem is to place a thin bamboo or coated metal stake deep into the soil, next to the bulb. Be careful when installing the stake; you don’t want to stab into the bulb. Once the stake is installed you can secure the stem to it with a bit of cotton twine or raffia. You don’t need to tie it tightly. A loose loop around both the stem and the stake will keep the stem supported well.
Caring for Amaryllis After Blooming
(Note: if you are not interested in saving the bulb, and plan on purchasing bulbs new every year, you can just compost your bulb after it is done blooming.)
Once your amaryllis finishes blooming, cut the flower stalk off, about two inches above the top of the bulb. Do NOT cut off the leaves, since the leaves will store food so the bulb can bloom again next year. If you grew your amaryllis bulb in water, you’ll now want to go ahead and pot it up in soil or coir, following the planting instructions above. Place the pot in a warm, bright location, and water when the top inch of soil is dry. Fertilize your amaryllis bulb monthly with a balanced fertilizer, compost tea, or fish emulsion. Once it is warm (consistently above sixty degrees) you can move your amaryllis outdoors for the summer. You can simply grow them in the pots, or plant them, pot and all, in your garden in a sunny area. Amaryllis sort of prefer being a bit pot-bound, so it’s better to leave them in their pots rather than transplanting them. Then, when it’s time to bring them back into the house, simply lift them, pot and all, out of the garden and bring them indoors.
Getting Your Amaryllis to Bloom Again
The whole point of keeping your amaryllis bulb was to get it to bloom again. Decide when you’d like it to bloom again. For example, for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or another holiday. You’ll need to do some planning if you have a particular bloom time in mind. You’ll want to bring the amaryllis indoors, cut the foliage off just above the bulb, and store the bulb in a cool dark place (no cooler than 55 degrees) for eight to ten weeks, without watering. This is dormancy, and is necessary for the bulb to bloom again. After the eight to ten weeks are up, you can give it a good watering, allowing excess water to drain, and move the bulb to a warm, bright location. Do not water the bulb at this point, unless the soil becomes very dry. When new green growth emerges, you can begin watering again when the top inch or so of soil is dry to the touch, and the cycle begins all over again.
In general, amaryllis are not very demanding. Plenty of light, warmth, and attention to watering, and you’ll be able to grow gorgeous blooms indoors. While keeping them and making them rebloom year after year is a bit more work, it can definitely be worth it for those who are collecting amaryllis or who want to eventually fill their home with these beautiful flowers.