Amaryllis just showed up a couple of weeks ago and I’m already getting a lot of questions on how to grow these beautiful giants. The good news is they’re a whole lot easier than you might think. There are just a few things to keep in mind.
In every grocery store these days, you can find amaryllis in boxes—a red, a white, a pink, and a red-and-white stripe. If you need a grab-and-go quick gift, they’re great. But if you are growing something for yourself or family or friends, look for just the bulb and plant it yourself.
With amaryllis, the bigger the bulb for the variety, the more flowers you get—hands down. The amaryllis’ in the gift boxes are about as big around as a small apple. In a garden center, you can find individual bulbs of the same variety as big as a grapefruit—or even a little bigger. The small bulb in the box will give you one to two flower stems with three to four flowers on a stem. The bigger bulb can give you two to three stems with four to six flowers each.
Amaryllis come in so many fun varieties—double-flowered amaryllis like bright red Double Dragon is gorgeous and showy; minis like Scarlet Baby and Baby Star which are short and sturdy; odd ones like Chico and Cyberster Emerald which look like a spider; dramatic ones like Black Pearl whose flowers look like burgundy satin or Minerva with bright red flowers with white stripes. And, of course, there are always the traditional reds, whites, and pinks.
Amaryllis are easy to grow and bloom—and re-bloom. When you buy the bulb, plant it in a pot about one to one and a half inches bigger around, leaving the top third of the bulb above the soil level. Water lightly, but keep on the dry side until growth appears. It can take two to three weeks before the tip of a bloom spike shows. Keep in a sunny window. The flower stalks are like “light meters” and will grow pointing to the light, so turn the pot a quarter turn every time you water. More sun will keep the stalk shorter and sturdier.
After the bulb blooms, it will begin to grow leaves. When you cut the spent flowers off, be sure not to disturb the foliage. This would be the time to begin feeding your amaryllis–I use Neptune’s Harvest fish emulsion/seaweed blend, but any good houseplant food is fine. I keep the pot in a sunny window until the end of April and then move it outside for the summer. Over the summer, I feed them and keep them watered. If you know you’re going to forget to feed once they are outside, then use a slow-release fertilizer and that’ll take care of them most of the summer.
The middle or end of October, I bring my amaryllis in and dry them out. I cut the leaves off, leaving a one-inch stubble and store the dry bulb in the pot in the back of a closet–any place cool, dark and dry will work. At the end of eight weeks, I check on them and if I see any fat stiff little bloom shoots showing I bring them out, otherwise I leave them another two weeks. When I bring them out, I water and keep in a sunny window. They should bloom in five to eight weeks. The secret is to feed over the summer and give them an eight to ten-week dormancy. If you do that, they’ll bloom for you year after year.
I deliberately time my amaryllis to bloom AFTER Christmas. At Christmas, there’s already so much going on—a beautiful tree (and trying to keep five cats out of it), poinsettias, holiday cactus (not to mention that I’m on the go so much). If my amaryllis bloomed them, I might notice it out of the corner of my eye as I’m heading out the door. In January/February, however, the tree has come down and I’m so sick of cold gray winter days I could scream—that’s when I really appreciate these gorgeous flowers. If you simply have to have one around Christmas, then put yours into dormancy the middle of August.
Whenever you bloom them, however, they are dramatic and fun and beautiful. Get yours here! And remember, they make great gifts, too.