Amaryllis

Dutch and African Hybrids Are Holiday Stars

Amaryllis

Amaryllis (Hippeastrum) is one of the showiest bulbs you can grow and is particularly popular forced for the December holiday season. There are both Dutch and African hybrids, which are available in a variety of colors from solid reds and whites to bi-colors, including some with picotee edging.

Indoors for the holidays

Bulbs can be ordered from catalogs, online, or purchased locally at nurseries. You may also be able to pick up bulb "kits" in October at local home improvement stores. Prices range from very low for the most popular and heavily marketed varieties like the Dutch hybrid 'Red Lion' to $10–15 or more for more unusual or rare varieties.

Line them up on the mantel or cluster them together on a buffet for spectacular, long lived arrangement.

Care and feeding

When you get your bulbs, plant each bulb in its own container. The bulbs are large but once the leaves and flowers form, they can become top heavy. Weight your planter down and stake your flowers. Plant your bulb half way in potting soil, then finish with an inch or so of clean pea gravel. As the flower stalk grows, tie the stalk to a bamboo stake.

The container should have good drainage and be about two inches larger than the diameter of the bulb. Amaryllis like to be slightly rootbound, so err on the smaller side if you have to choose between pots.

Condition the bulb by soaking the roots in tepid water for an hour or so. Plant so that the top 1/4–1/3 of the bulb is exposed.

The planting medium should be a relatively neutral pH of about 6–6.5, well draining mix of 50% peat or coir and 50% perlite. Water thoroughly after planting. Drain off all excess water. Hold off watering again until you see the shoot emerge from the bulb, then maintain an evenly moist condition. As with Christmas cactus, water when the soil surface feels dry to the touch.

Fertilize with something like Liquid Miracle-Gro for indoor plants. Any balanced fertilizer will do. Feed every two or three weeks.

Once planted, it should have at least several good hours of bright light a day. A southern exposure is ideal, but either an eastern or western exposure will work. While it's growing and budding a warmer temperature of 70 degrees is desirable. This encourages root growth and bloom development. If you tend to keep your home cooler, a warming mat can be used. Once the plant begins to bloom, prolong flowering by removing the mat or moving the plant to a location where the temperature is slightly cooler.

Amaryllis season after season

Once each flower fades, remove it from the stem. When all blossoms are spent, cut the stalk back to the top of the bulb. Leave the leaves intact so they can store energy for the next season. Move the bulb and leaves to a southern exposure.

During the spring and summer, if your climate supports it, you can move your amaryllis to a sun porch or patio. In some very temperate areas like San Diego and Florida, amaryllis grows and blooms year around. In others like Denver, it's strictly an indoor plant.

In the fall, usually around the middle of October, cut back all the foliage. For about a month to six weeks, put it in the dark and withhold water. On Thanksgiving, put it back in its southern exposure and water.

Then sit back and enjoy the show.


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