Although there are many plants that are forced to bloom indoors during the winter holiday season, the popularity of the amaryllis (Hippeastrum) lies in its ease of care and its large, lily-like blooms that are so reminiscent of the flowers of summer. Flower colour ranges from red as the most popular, to pink, white, yellow and mixed. Dwarf varieties with smaller foliage and flowers are available but they tend to be more expensive and slightly harder to care for. The general rule is the smaller the bulb, the smaller the bloom.
Light: full sun
Temp: 65-75° F
Water: whenever surface soil dries out
Repot: every year or every two years
The holidays are probably the worst time financially to purchase this plant. Everyone wants one when they see the beautiful green foliage and bright flowers lining department shelves and corner market plant stands. As a result prices are inflated. They can be anywhere between 12-30 dollars Canadian minimum. If you purchase a dry bulb (no pot) in the fall and plant it up yourself you can save money (5-20 dollars Canadian), the selection of varieties is greater, and you can chose your own decorative pot instead of settling for the generic pots the full bloom plants come in.
If you’d like your bulb to bloom in time for Christmas, pot it up by mid-November. This plant can be grown outside anytime of the year in warmer, frost-free climates. Either way getting this bulb ready to grow is simple and will take only a few minutes and a bit of preparation.
Be sure to purchase a bulb that looks clean and disease free on the outside. Any indication of rot is a bad sign. It is best to choose a bulb with less leaf and stem growth. Don’t make the mistake of choosing a bulb that already has a stem on it. It is more important that a dry bulb put its first efforts into producing roots rather then producing a flower stalk. If you aren’t going to plant your bulb soon after purchase, store it in the crisper of fridge until you are ready to pot it.
The first step when planting an amaryllis bulb is to soak the roots in lukewarm water for a few hours. Although this isn’t necessary it will help to soften up dry roots and jump-start the growth process. Be careful not to over soak the bulb as you can cause mold to form and the roots to rot.
It is common to grow one amaryllis bulb per container, however you can grow several in a pot if it is large enough to house their large roots. The pot size for one amaryllis should be approximately seven inches deep one or two inches wider then the top of the bulb. This may seem small for such a large bulb, but amaryllis fair well when somewhat pot bound. Since amaryllis roots are susceptible to root rot under soggy conditions, a clay pot is preferred as it will ‘breathe’ and dry out faster. The weight will also help stabilize the plant once the flowers become large and heavy.
Fill the container half way with an all-purpose potting soil that drains well yet retains moisture. Set the bulb on top of the soil and fill around it pressing firmly. The top third of the bulb should be left showing above the soil line. Do not cover the top of the bulb with soil, as it will rot when watered.
Water the soil around the plant well and move the pot to a sunny spot (but not too direct) with a constant temperature around 70 degrees F. Do not water the plant again until the first signs of growth are apparent. This will take approximately three weeks. The amount of light will effect the size of the plant so be aware that too little light will cause a long, spindly flower stem and too much light will create a short stem.
As soon as growth becomes apparent begin watering the plant thoroughly whenever the surface soil dries out. Keeping the soil moist to promote growth is important at this time. Fertilize the plant every two weeks to aid in this growth spurt. Rotate the plant every once and a while so that the leaves and stem grow straight up instead of bent towards the light source. Once the flower stalk becomes heavy, you can stabilize it with a stake.
When the blooms are partially open, move the pot to a less sunny spot with to prolong flower life. Direct light and high temperatures will cause the flowers to fade and die back quicker. At this point it is advisable to step up the fertilizing routine to once a week as the plant is now working overtime to produce those large blooms. A weak solution of all-purpose flowering plant fertilizer or an organic alternative such as vermicompost [link to article] or kelp meal tea will do. As individual flowers die back cut them from the stalk. When the entire flower stalk has finished, remove the stalk at the base using a sharp pair of pruning shears and set the plant back into a sunny spot.
After Bloom Care
Now that your amaryllis flowers have come and gone you will need to change the care routine in order to ensure new blooms next year. This is an easy process so don’t send that plant directly to the compost heap. In fact if you save your plant it will be larger next year.
The first step after blooming is to provide the plant with a sunny spot (as outlined above), continue watering whenever the surface soil dries, and fertilize twice a month.
In spring, when temperatures rise and the danger of frost is past, place the pot outside in an area with partial shade. Full sun will kill the plant. If you live in a warm climate you will not need to wait until springtime to put the plant outside. Resume the previous care schedule but with the plant outdoors instead of in. By summer’s end the amaryllis leaves will begin to yellow and eventually die back. When this happens, remove the dead foliage with a pair of pruning shears and slowly reduce the amount of water by watering less often. This will prepare the plant for a rest period. If the foliage hasn’t begun to wilt by September begin reducing the amount of water and this will prompt it to die back.
As the cool weather of fall approaches bring the pot back inside, but this time place the pot in a dark location and discontinue the regular feeding and watering schedule for six to eight weeks. The temperature in this spot should be a cool 45 degrees F. Leave any green or yellowing foliage on the plant at this time. It shouldn’t be cut off until it dies back completely.
After the rest or dormancy period remove any remaining dead foliage. At this time either repot the plant or continue growth in the same soil. Your bulb may have tiny bulbs growing off the main bulb at this time. You can remove these tiny bulbs and pot them in a new pot to grow a new generation of amaryllis plants or you can also leave them to grow off of the mother bulb until they mature. Water the bulb (or new immature bulbs) once and place in a warm sunny location. Wait two or three weeks until growth sets in and continue the cycle again for another year. Don’t give up on your plant if it doesn’t bloom this year. Starting from a dry bulb is a rigorous process for a plant and it may need until next year to gain back its resources. However, as time goes on your amaryllis will not only continue to blossom year after year, but it will produce new amaryllis bulbs for you to do with as you please.