Amaryllis for a Spectacular Holiday Display
By Neil Moran
There are many ways to make your home more inviting for the holidays, including the usual Christmas lights, trees, wreaths and ornaments. If you gardeners want to really dazzle your guests this year, show them a display of bold and beautiful amaryllis blooms.
Amaryllis is a plant that grows naturally in the tropical regions of Africa and South America. But you won’t have to tromp through the jungle to acquire bulbs for the occasion. Simply start watching for them now in department stores and garden centers. Local stores usually start stocking the bulbs in the fall. Pick them up right away and get planting, because they take six to seven weeks to push out their fabulous blooms.
The large blooms, which can reach eight inches wide, sit atop a tall leafless stem. The blooms will last throughout the holidays and may even re-bloom in years to come. They are available in a variety of colors including white, pink, a robust red and a combination thereof. You can plant a single amaryllis in a pot, but they will make a much bigger splash if planted in several pots and grouped on a table or stand.
Amaryllis is one of the easier bulbs to force into blooming. The bulbs arrive in the stores “pre-chilled,” which means they’ve received the cold period required to initiate stem growth. Most of these bulbs come in their own pot, ready to plant. If not, simply follow these steps:
- Place the bulb in a flower pot (with good drainage) that is one and one-half times larger than the bulb. Amaryllis like to be pot-bound, so don’t worry if it looks crowded. Pack potting mix around and up the sides of the bulb to within a couple of inches of the neck of the bulb.
- Water the bulb well initially, then let it dry out slightly. Water sparingly until you see stems appear. As the buds and leaves appear, increase your watering. After it starts to bloom, keep the medium relatively moist.
- Place the pot(s) in direct sunlight in a warm room and wait for them to bloom.
Like the proverbial tea pot, if you watch it, it will never boil, or in this case, bloom. Over the next few weeks your amaryllis will send up long, pointed leaves, but then you’ll wonder if it will ever flower. It will, just be patient and keep watering as suggested above. When it does bloom, it will do so with a bang, producing a large, beautiful bloom (or two or three) just in time for the holidays.
The nice thing about amaryllis is you can get a repeat bloom from them the following year. Unlike poinsettias, which quite frankly, can be kind of a pain to force the following year, amaryllis are fairly simple to get to re-bloom. After you’ve enjoyed your blooms and they’ve started to fade, usually shortly after the New Year, follow these steps to get it to re-bloom the next year:
- When you see the leaves start to sag and yellow, clip off the flower, flower stems and the long leaves, leaving about two inches of foliage above the neck of the bulb.
- Water and fertilize throughout the summer. The leaves will grow back, which in turn feeds the bulb. This can be done inside or outside. If planting outdoors, you can leave the bulb in the pot, which will discourage insects and critters. However, don’t place them out in the spring before the last frost date and make sure to get them inside before the first frost in the fall.
- By early fall the leaves will start to yellow. At this time, trim the leaves off the bulb, clean up the bulb and place it in the crisper of your refrigerator or a cool cellar. The bulb will have an extensive root system at this time. Leave in the fridge for at least six weeks. Don’t water during this time.
- When ready, replant the bulb following the instructions above and you should get another show for your guests.
Having spelled out the methods above to get them to re-bloom, I should add that some years they may fail. As long as the bulb is still firm, don’t give up on it. You may need to repeat steps 1-3 above. If the bulb gets mushy and you see the tiny fungus gnats hovering around it, it is time to toss it into the compost pile.
Amaryllis was originally discovered in South Africa and South America. The correct genus name is hippeastrum. They can grow for 75 years in the wild. The type we purchase in the stores are hybrids. Amaryllis have been around since ancient times. Reference to amaryllis is found in the writings of ancient Greeks alongside such heroic figures as Apollo and Hercules.
Neil Moran is a freelance writer and book author. Watch for his soon–to-be- released garden tips booklet, entitled: From Store to Garden: 101 Ways to Make the Most of Garden Store Purchases. Visit his Web site at www.neilmoran.com