When gifting holiday plants, most people think of the ever popular poinsettia or Christmas cactus. Another choice that has been enjoying increasing popularity is the amaryllis. The big, showy flowers make a bold statement, are affordable, and can be brought back to bloom if treated properly.
Amaryllis plants are of the genus Hippeastrum and are native to tropical and subtropical areas of the Americas.
If you buy bulbs separately instead of pre-potted, place them in a container that is about an inch wider than the bulb. You can plant them individually or in multiples, say three to a pot. Amaryllis grow best in crowded conditions. Use a standard houseplant potting medium, something with a generous amount of peat moss. Plant the bulb so the top third of it is exposed. The potting mix should end up about an inch from the top of the pot.
Water the amaryllis by filling a pot saucer with warm water (remember these are tropical plants) and letting the potting mix soak it up. After about half an hour, discard any remaining water from the saucer. This is a good watering habit as it keeps you from overwatering the plant. The bulbs will rot if overwatered. Water sparingly after potting and up until the flowering stems are a couple of inches high.
Your amaryllis is going to like a warm location, preferable near a heat vent or a wood stove and where it will get about four hours of direct sun. When the flower bud stalk is 7-9 inches tall the plant can be placed in a cooler location. This will slow its growth and when in flower mode will also help to prolong the bloom time. They do not have a high need for fertilizer, but it can be applied lightly during bloom time.
The secret to get your amaryllis to rebloom lies in big part to its summer care after flowering. While it is blooming keep it in a cool location with diffused light and barely moist soil. Remove the faded flowers and stalks as soon as they are finished blooming but do not cut off the leaves. Set the pot in a sunny location and water as needed. Your amaryllis is now in its growth phase. When warm weather arrives and all danger of frost is past, set the bulb in the container in the flower garden or on your deck or patio. If setting in the ground keep the rim at ground level, somewhat protected from wind and place it so that it receives morning light. Water the plant as needed and feed it every two weeks with a soluble houseplant fertilizer. This will help to produce a nice, strong, healthy bulb.
If you want your amaryllis to bloom for the holidays, you will need to begin its dormant period in mid-August. Withhold water and relocate your plant to a cool (about 50 degrees), dry location. In the fall, as colder weather sets in, gradually withhold water. When the foliage has died back, trim it off and place the bulb, still in the pot, in a cool, dry area.
The bulb will need to rest for about six weeks before it will bloom again. Do not water the bulb during the resting period.
An amaryllis can be kept indefinitely and if provided with the proper care, the bulb will get larger and multiply over the years.
As always, Happy Gardening!
More information about gardening and related subjects is available online at www.hort. purdue.edu/ext/garden_pubs The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 In LaGrange County.