Dear Aggie: I admire the amaryllis plants that are commonly grown during the holiday season. Are they difficult to grow?
Dear Amaryllis Admirer,
Amaryllis plants are truly impressive with their trumpet-shaped flowers up to 10-inches wide. The flowers are borne on stalks that are one to two feet tall. Common colors are red and white, but cultivars are available in shades from pink to burgundy in addition to bi-colored options. And yes, they are easy to grow and a great plant for beginners.
My grandfather grew an amaryllis every holiday season. They offer almost instant gratification which makes them good for kids and novice gardeners. Once they begin growing, they can increase their height as much as one inch per day. In fact, my grandfather would measure the growth of his plants each day and report on their gains.
The amaryllis grown as a houseplant is a bulb that is native to Central and South America. Amaryllis bulbs are available from local nurseries, through catalogs, and are common in big box stores around the December holidays. If you are selecting a bulb, make sure it is firm and has no signs of damage, decay, or mold. The larger the bulb, the more flowers it will produce.
The pot for your bulb should have holes in the bottom so water can drain freely. The pot diameter should be about one-inch wider than the widest part of the bulb and the pot height should be twice as tall as the bulb. You don’t want the plant to be cramped, but it doesn’t need a vast amount of space either.
Your bulb will come with instructions as per planting and care. In general, the bulb should be planted so that 1/3 to ½ of the bulb is visible above the soil. The bulb should not sit above the edge of the container. Water until the soil is thoroughly moist, allowing the water to drain freely from the pot. Place the pot on a saucer in a sunny window. Water when the top of the soil feels dry and pour off any water that accumulates in the saucer. When growth begins, fertilize with a water-soluble fertilizer at half of the rate that is recommended on the label. Once the flower buds begin to open, move the plant out of direct sunlight.
After the flowers fade, they should be cut off. Once the flower stalk turns yellow, it too should be removed. If you want blooms again next year, you must leave the long, strappy leaves which will feed the bulb. Grow your bulb through the spring and summer as a foliage plant. Keep the plant watered as above and place it in a bright location. After the risk of frost has passed, you can also place the potted bulb outdoors in a partly sunny location. Like any houseplant, you’ll need to gradually acclimate it to the outside environment. Be careful as direct sunlight can burn the leaves.
Most people allow their amaryllis to go dormant in the fall. Place the pot in a cool (50 to 60 degrees F), dark location like a basement or closet. Once the leaves have turned brown and dried out, cut them off. Leave the pot in the dark location for 8 to 12 weeks and do not water. After the rest period, the pot can be placed in a sunny window for more blooms. Flowering will occur in 4 to 6 weeks. Using this method, you can time flowering to coincide with holidays and gatherings.
Written by Sue Gwise, CCE consumer horticulture educator.