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AMARYLLIS

Chase the winter blues away!

By Bill Goff  ©2014
Penn State Master Gardener

  
Dramatic amaryllis (Hippeastrum species) was one of the flowers painted in their outsized glory by Georgia O’Keeffe. Home gardeners can enjoy the live version of this South African native bulb at home for a few dollars and a bit of care.


It is fascinating to observe amaryllis as they transform from baseball-sized bulbs into spectacular floral specimens. Newly harvested bulbs, once planted, begin to grow within a matter of weeks. The flowers buds are pushed along by inch-thick tubular stems, which can reach over 2 feet tall. Eventually the stems are topped by a cluster of buds, initially tightly bound but ultimately expanding into a spray of flowers 8-10 inches across.
 

Amaryllis blooms

The flowers come in myriad colors, most commonly red or scarlet. They can also be found in salmon, rose, pink, apricot, white and cream. Flowers may be bicolored, striped or double. The petals can be ruffled or spider-like. Strap-like foliage complements the enormous blooms.

 


Selecting Amaryllis Bulbs

When selecting bulbs, it is best to choose the largest size available. Stick to offerings from reliable bulb vendors. Top quality bulbs will produce multiple stems and have a high bud count, resulting in a long flowering period. Amaryllis typically bloom in seven to 10 weeks, although you can purchase varieties that will flower within four to six weeks for faster gratification.

Upon arrival or purchase, be certain that the bulb is firm and dry and has no signs of mold. Amaryllis prefer a pot that is deep enough for adequate root development but bloom best in a somewhat crowded container. The diameter of the pot should be no wider than 1 inch greater than the diameter of the bulb.

Planting Amaryllis Bulbs

Place it in the planting medium with the bulb one-third to one-half exposed. Water thoroughly, along the sides of the bulb, and place in a sunny spot warmer than 60 degrees. Re-water your plant when the planting medium is dry to the touch. If placed in front of a window, it is best to turn the plant from time to time to allow it to grow straight rather than lean into the bright light. Once flower buds begin to show color, be sure to keep the pot well watered. Keep the opened flowers out of direct sunlight to prolong the life of the bloom.

pinwheel red and white amaryllis

One of the challenges in growing amaryllis is supporting the enormous flowers perched atop the long stems. If necessary, tie a string lightly around the plant at several places.

After the Amaryllis Blooms

After flowering bulbs have exhausted all of their energy. many gardeners treat them as annuals and discard them into the compost pile. However, you can continue to allow the plant to grow and prepare the bulb for blooms the following year. Cut the flower stalks to about one-third their original height, but be sure to retain all of the strap–like leaves. As with all bulbs, the foliage will be the food source for next year’s flowers. Keep the plant indoors in bright sunlight and continue to water when the top of the soil becomes dry to the touch. A diluted liquid fertilizer should be used once a month at this time.

When all danger of frost is past, place the bulb outdoors in a partially shaded area. Gradually acclimate it to a sunny part of the garden and bury the pot in the soil. Another option is to remove the bulb from its pot and plant it directly in the ground. Keep the plant growing by watering and fertilizing it. The idea is to encourage as much green growth as possible, allowing the plant to store enough food for adequate flowering next year.

Restarting the Amaryllis Flowering Cycle

Just before the first frost, bring the plant indoors and store it for eight to 10 weeks in a cool, semi-dark and dry place at a temperature of 50-55 degrees. Because amaryllis require a dry, dormant period, do not water at all. To begin the flowering cycle again, remove the dried foliage, re-pot the bulb, water and place in a warm bright window for another round of magnificent flowers.

white amaryllis in bloom

Many gardeners keep their amaryllis growing for years by following the above cultural directions. Over time, these bulbs can become quite large and will become more floriferous. As the bulbs increase in girth, they may need to be re-potted. Amaryllis’ amazing blooms can chase the blues from any cold, dark winter day.

MORE

Amaryllis Care

Starting Amaryllis from seed

Perennials grown in Containers

 

     


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