Fall is the  time of year when  those nursery catalogs arrive in our mailboxes,  and we are
confronted with all of those gorgeous pictures of flowering bulbs. One of the most  spectacular
is amaryllis also know as
Hippeastrum. These large, showy (sometimes fragrant) flowers come
in a myriad of colours including deep reds, bright pink and whites, double oranges, and
miniatures with green stripes.

A certain  amount  of confusion  exists surrounding  '
Hippeastrum',  the plant's scientific name,
and '
Amaryllis', its common name. First Hippeastrum is a bulbous plant that originated in South
America, has four to six large flowers on a hollow stem, and has foliage when in  bloom. This
genus is composed of several species while the genus
Amaryllis has only one - Amaryllis
belladonna
.

What distinguishes
A. belladonna from true Hippeas is the plant has six to ten smaller flowers
borne on a solid flower stem, and has no foliage at  blooming time. Since both are quite similar
in many respects
Hippeastrum  are know the world over as simply amaryllis.  It doesn't  really
matter what you call it as long as you can grow it, right?

Planting Your Bulb:

Generally the larger the bulb the more flowers it will produce. The first step when planting a
dry 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. You need a
container with drainage holes sized just slightly larger than the bulb. It is common to grow one
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 6" deep, and 1-2" wider
then the top of the bulb.

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.

Food, Water and Light:

Water thoroughly and move the container to a bright, sunny window (south or west exposure)
with a constant temperature between 65 and 70 degrees F. Do not water the  plant again until
the first signs of growth are apparent. This will take about two to three weeks. Sunlight is
important because too little light will result in a long, spindly flower stem. Keep in mind with
cooler night temperatures it will take longer for the bulb to start growing
.

As soon as growth starts water thoroughly when  the soil surface feels try to the touch.  
Fertilize the bulb every two to three weeks with a balanced water soluble fertilizer. Rotate the
plant every few days so that the leaves and stem will grow straight. Once the flower stalk
becomes heavy, you can support it with a stake. When the  nightly temperatures stay above
55 degrees F you can leave your planted bulb outdoors in a bright, partially sunny location. A
few hours of early morning sun is ideal. Amaryllis does need shade in the hottest part of the
day such as mid to late afternoon.

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. As
individual flowers die back cut them from  the stalk, and when the entire flower stalk has
finished, cut back the stalk to about 1" of the bulb.

Care After Blooming:

Continue to water and feed your bulb after it has finished flowering.  When summer arrives
take your plant  outside to a partial shady location. For those winter hardy  varieties plant them
in an outdoor flowerbed. Ones like 'Ackermanii' and 'Voodoo' are hardy to zone 7. Most others
are hardy in zones 8 and 9. For bulbs to be planted outside wait until after all danger of  frost
has passed then plant the hardy varieties in a partial shady location. Once the frosty temps  
have killed back the foliage completely, cover the bulbs with a layer of leaves 2 or 3" thick. A
southern exposure near a building or wall will provide extra protection in winter.

For bulbs grown in containers, withhold water starting in October. Let the leaves turn yellow
and die back naturally. This can take a long time depending on weather conditions. When the
leaves do fade and cut them off, put the amaryllis in a dark, cool spot (45 to 55 degrees F) ,
and forget it. I mean really forget it. The plant at this point is dormant, and just wants to be
left alone. Don't even water it.

Blooming Again:

If you were good about watering and feeding  your plant during the spring and summer, you
will be delighted to see after a few weeks a little flower tip will appear despite all the neglect.
Now the whole cycle starts again. Water the plant lightly at first until signs of growth are
present. In general, it takes an amaryllis about eight to ten weeks from the time it  breaks
dormancy until it flowers. If you want flowers for Christmas or other special occasions, plan
accordingly.

Amaryllis is easy to grow and bloom year after year with only minimum care. These plants like
to be pot bound so repot only when the bulbs have completely outgrown their containers.
They make great cut flowers, and provide a lovely centerpiece to brighten those dark, gloomy
winter days.

Below is a short list of the many cultivars available. To see photos of the ones I grow
click here.

'Apple Blossom': deep pink and white
'Ackermanii':red with green center
Double 'Red Peacock': reddish orange double flowered
'Merry Christmas': deep red
'White Christmas': white with green throat
'Mont Blanc': pure white
'Red Lion': scarlet red
'Voodoo' (Naughty Lady): red and white striped
'Piquant': orange with a white stripe
'Hercules': magenta
'Rilona': salmon pink
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HOME
The Garden Guide Series
Tips on how to make your garden grow!
Growing Your Own Amaryllis
by Kelvin Taylor
October 12, 2005