If you’re looking for live color to light up your life over Christmas and in the New Year and Poinsettias aren’t quite your cup of tea, consider growing Amaryllis. Discovered in the Andes Mountains by a German physician in the early1800’s, these gorgeous tropical bulbs are a snap to grow.
The bodacious flowers can last ten days or more when blooming indoors in mid winter. Research shows the blossoms may last even longer when used as cut flowers –a good solution should the blossoms become so top heavy they flop over. For the longest enjoyment in a vase, re trim the stem ends every couple of days and use fresh water. Weather Channel gardener, P. Allen Smith says removing the anthers from Amaryllis flowers also extends their bloom time. The anthers are the yellow pollen sacs that emerge from the center of the blossoms.
According to the Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center, there are more than 50 varieties of amaryllis currently available. The plants are often sold as kits, which include a pot and potting soil as well as the bulb, making potting up easy. Garden centers often have the loose bulbs for sale.
Amaryllis bulbs are real no-brainers to grow. All one need do is pot them up, water regularly, keep them at room temperature and place them in an area where they will get bright light. Depending in the size of the bulb it will take about eight weeks for the plant to blossom once the green tips begin to emerge.
The flowers come in shades of red, pink, peach along with white. White flower Farm www.whiteflowerfarm.com (800) 503-9624 now specializes in Amaryllis and currently carries 30 varieties. Rare forms, now available on the Internet, come in chartreuse, yellow and even cream and green petals with burgundy stripes. For sources go to www.google.com and type in “Amaryllis bulb” in the search box.
When purchasing Amaryllis bulbs size counts. The larger the bulb the more it will bloom. Palm size bulbs usually produce three to four flowers per scape and may produce as many as three flower stalks. Smaller bulbs are younger and produce but a single stalk with flowers. Small every young bulbs may not bloom at all the first year.
Once the flowers are passed their prime, cut the stalks off about two inches above its base if you choose to keep the bulb and have it reflower next year. Leave the leaves in tact. Just like other bulbs, the plant needs them to renourish itself so it can bloom again.
One year I went on vacation and left the flowers on my Red Lion amaryllis even though they were past their prime. To my surprise the flowers dried beautifully and I was able to use them in a dried flower arrangement.
Sally Ferguson, spokesperson for the Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center says she’s read about families who collect and save their amaryllis bulbs, passing them on from one generation to the next. Ferguson says with reasonable care they can last 50 years or more.
If you purchase multiple bulbs and wish to stagger their bloom time, plan on a two-week interval between plantings. Unplanted bulbs may be stored in a cool dark area in the basement or in the vegetable crisper of the refrigerator. However, do not store them with apples that give off ethylene gas that will damage the bulbs.
Choose a pot that is no more then an inch larger then the diameter of the bulb. set the bulb in the pot and set the plant to a depth leaving the shoulders of the bulb where it tapers inward exposed. Some folks prefer to hide the bulbs by top dressing the surface of the soil with Spanish moss. Water to keep the soil moderately moist
Giving the bulb a quarter turn daily will keep the flower stem straight up and prevent it from reaching for the light.
Amaryllis can also be grown in pots filled water covered stones or large forcing jars. Just be sure to keep the water level just below the bottom of the bulb to prevent rotting. However, it should be noted, bulbs forced in water deplete their energy and cannot be saved to bloom another season.
Growing the bulbs after blooming is just a matter of placing them in a sunny location, watering them to keep the soil moist. Monthly fertilizing with a liquid houseplant fertilizer according to package directions helps rejuvenate the bulb. In spring, when all chance of frost is past, the bulbs can go outdoors to live in a part-sun space in the garden.
In September stop watering and feeding the bulbs in order to force them to go dormant for a minimum of 10 weeks. They can then be stored in cool corner of the basement.
In November or December, it’s time to repot the bulbs and place them in a warm spot in the house. When the green tips appear place the bulb in a cool sunny location and expect to wait about 8 weeks for another big show. For more information and step-by-step directions on growing and reblooming Amaryllis visit the Netherland Flower Bulb Information Center web site at www.bulb.com.
Quick Tip: Amaryllis bulbs make great hostess gifts. During the holiday season they come gift packaged and often include a vase. Just add water and watch them grow.