Amaryllis offers no-fail winter color

By Dawn Pettinelli - UConn Home & Garden Education Center
Feature Article - posted Thu., Dec. 1, 2011
Contributed
- Contributed Photo

If you are looking for a no-fail, spectacular show of winter color, the amaryllis cannot be beat. Getting the dormant bulbs to bloom is a simple matter. Each bulb produces one to three 18-inch flower stalks holding giant lily-like blossoms, some up to 6 inches in diameter. Colors include red, white, pink and salmon. Some are two-toned and others, known as picotees, are edged in a contrasting color. A number of interesting, smaller species can also be found through mail order.

Amaryllis are tender, bulbous plants native to tropical America. Flower stalks are produced before the long, strap-like leaves. They have been in cultivation for several hundred years, with newer hybrids sporting larger and showier blossoms than the old-fashioned varieties.

Dormant bulbs can be purchased at local garden centers usually from September until January. As with other bulbs, earlier purchasing ensures fresher stock.

Bulbs should be potted up in a container only 2 to 3 inches larger than the diameter of the bulb. Good drainage is essential. I would recommend that the potting mix you use to pot up the amaryllis bulb contain soil. While the bulbs will grow fine in soilless mix, the large blossoms tend to make the plant top heavy, so the heft of the soil gives the potted plant a bit more stability. You might also want to use a heavier clay or ceramic pot. I generally add about 1 teaspoon of limestone and 1 teaspoon of 10-10-10 to each pot before setting the bulb in.

The bulb should be situated so that the top third remains above the potting mix. Water well and keep in a warm spot until the flower buds start to show. Once the buds appear, move to a sunny window and keep only slightly moist until the development of foliage. At this time, the plant can be kept moderately moist. The flowers will appear about 10 weeks after potting.

Some well-known varieties are “Apple Blossom,” with its white blossoms stroked by a blush of pink, snow white “Dazzler” and “Christmas Gift,” the lovely salmon “Bouquet,” “Orange Star” and red “Saint Nicholas” and “Red Lion.” Bicolors include “Piquante” and “Star of Holland.”

Often amaryllis bulbs are discarded after flowering, but with a little care, they can be brought into flowering for many years to come. The treatment the bulb receives after flowering will determine whether or not it will bloom the next year. Keep the plants in a sunny window and continue watering. Fertilize with a dilute liquid feed every two to three weeks.

Once the danger of frost is past, set the plants outside in a shady location. I like to set the bulbs directly in the ground, but they can be kept in pots. Water and fertilize regularly throughout the summer. When heavy frost threatens, bring the bulbs inside to a warm (60 degrees F), dry spot. I generally just leave them in flats. When the foliage dies, cut it off.

After about two months of this dry dormancy, the tips of new flower buds should be peaking out from the bulb and they can be potted up again and moved into bright light. Increase watering as foliage appears. This may take two or three weeks after potting.

Take good care of your amaryllis this coming year and you will be rewarded with large, exotic blooms that brighten the long, winter months. For questions about growing amaryllis or for any other horticultural questions or problems, contact the UConn Home & Garden Education Center, toll-free, at 877-486-6271, visit www.ladybug.uconn.edu or contact your local Cooperative Extension office.


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