Hippeastrum spp. better known as Amaryllis is a native plant of South America. This bulb produces a spectacular cluster of flowers accompanied by long strap like leaves.
Even though amaryllis are generally grown during the winter months for the Holiday season, they also do well in the garden if you live in frost-free zones 9 and 10. Outdoors, they can be planted in the fall in full sun and well drained soil. Plant 1 ” or 1/3 of the bulb above the soil line and mulch during the winter. It should rebloom year after year in late spring or early summer.
Amaryllis forced for indoor winter blooming.
Many bulbs kits are available starting in the fall that have all the necessary items needed. It usually includes pot, potting soil mix and the bulb along with planting instructions or you can purchase bulbs online from several sources. Upon inspecting your bulb make sure that it is free of soft spots and blemishes and at least 2 1/2 inches in diameter. The bigger the bulbs size the better the flower or flowers will be.
Plant the bulb in a pot 1-2 inches larger than the diameter of the bulb. Use a well drained soil mix and place 1/3 to 1/2 of the bulb above the soil line-if planted too deep you will get leaves and no flowers. Water with lukewarm water and keep the soil moist but not saturated. Water when the top inch layer of soil is dry; too much water can cause the bulb to rot. Make sure the pot is well drained. Keep the bulb in a warm room with temperatures of above 60 degrees (70-80 is ideal during root development). If it is too cool in the house, try the top of the refrigerator for additional heat source. Once the bulb begins to sprout, place it in a sunny, warm location.
When flowers appear (3-8 weeks after planting) move the plant out of direct sunlight. Be sure to rotate the pot to keep the flower stalk from leaning toward the light. Stake the stalk when necessary. To extend the life of the flower maintain the temperature around 65 degrees, remove the pollen-bearing stamens inside the flower and cut away off faded blooms.
When your amaryllis is done blooming you must allow the exhausted bulb to rebuild itself. Cut the finished blooms right below the pod. After all flowers are gone, cut off the cylindrical stalk down to several inches above the bulb. Do not cut the large strap leaves, let them continue to grow on a sunny windowsill and feed monthly with a balanced 10-10-10 houseplant fertilizer. Once the weather warms up, place the plant outside in afternoon shade for the summer. In early fall bring the pot indoors, gradually reduce watering, allowing it to dry out. Once the foliage is yellow cut it off and place the pot undisturbed in a cool (55-60) room away from any ethylene gas exposure (eg. apples). Allow the amaryllis to go dormant for 8-10 wks. After dormancy, repot the bulb in light well drained soil such as a mix of peat and perlite, water and bring back into a heated, bright room.
There are many Amaryllis cultivars available from single large to double large and small single flowers as well as assorted colors. It is definitely worth the effort.
Amaryllis is also used as a cut flower in holiday floral arrangements. Cut the stem when the first set of plump buds show color and are starting to open. Put the stem in tepid water with floral preservative added. If the stem ends split or curl cut them off. Flowers should last 7-10 days at temperatures of 60-70F. Too warm will reduce life span. To prolong bloom time remove the anthers from the flowers and keep flowers away from the sun.
*Plant Tip: Insert a dowel or drinking straw inside the hollow stem and plug it up with a cotton ball. This will support the stem and keep it moist.
For Christmas bloom plant the bulb in early/mid-November.