Garden Views: Amaryllis – a perfect holiday plant

Amaryllis (Hippaestrum) is a popular indoor plant for winter and spring flowering. It has large lily-like flowers that dance on top of tall stems or scapes growing from a large bulb. The flowers bloom once a year. Typically, the stem has two to four flowers that are single or double. Sometimes the bulb may produce two stems with flowers. Colors include: red, white, salmon, pink, apricot, bicolor or picotee (petals with a different color on the edge.)

Amaryllis is a tropical plant and will not survive outdoors in Minnesota winters. It takes from six to eight weeks from potting for the amaryllis to flower. It is fun to watch the bulbs grow. Now, in November, is the perfect time to start an amaryllis if you want it to flower for Christmas.

When purchasing amaryllis bulbs, look for large (the larger the better) firm bulbs with no signs of mold or decay. Before potting the bulb, the base and roots may be soaked in lukewarm water up to an hour. This will help moisturize the dry roots. Do not cover the bulb with water or allow water to get into the neck of the bulb.

Pot the bulb in sterile potting soil so that the neck of the bulb is above the soil. A third of the bulb may also be exposed. The purpose of planting this way is to prevent water from getting into the neck of the bulb. The size of the pot can be up to two inches from the sides of the bulb to the edge of the pot.

The pot must have a drainage hole. For decorative purposes, this pot can be placed in a cache pot that has no drainage holes. It is not necessary to add fertilizer when planting. However, you may fertilize with a balanced fertilizer throughout the growing season.

Once planted, water thoroughly then withhold further watering until the bulb starts to send up a shoot or leaves. After growth has started, water sparingly when soil is dry.

Overwatering is a common cause for causing the bulb to rot. As the plants grow the flower stems may need support. When inserting the support into the soil, be careful not to damage the bulb. Supports should not be tightly tied to the stem.

At some point in the growing process, the bulb will begin to grow long slender leaves as well as the flower stocks. When the flower buds begin to show some color, move the plant out of any sunlight and enjoy the large beautiful flowers.

Heat and light will cause the flowers to fade. After each flower withers, cut it off at the thin stem connecting it to the main stem. Do not cut the main stem off until it also withers. The plant can be placed back in the sunlight where it will continue to produce more leaves. The leaves will feed the bulb for next year’s flowers.

In spring place the plant, pot and all, outside where it will get at least six hours of sunshine daily. Amaryllis does not like to be transplanted from the pot to the garden for the summer. In the fall, before the first frost, bring the plant indoors. Trim off any dead leaves.

Amaryllis does not require a resting period to bloom again. However, if you wish to control the bloom time, give the plant eight to 12 weeks resting time in a cool, dry and dark place such as a basement or closet. Check on the plants periodically and continue to remove dried up leaves. After resting, move the plant into the light and water thoroughly to begin the flowering process anew. Amaryllis like to be pot bound. Repotting may be needed every three or four years and should be done after the dormant period. An amaryllis makes a stunningly beautiful gift – to others and to you.

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Mary Heie is an Anoka County Master Gardener.

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