Amaryllis for the Holidays and Beyond -
Amaryllis flower

Once an exotic treasure native to South America, the amaryllis bulb is now sold universally in box stores, garden centers, and online catalogs — especially around the winter holidays. Pots of blooming bulbs, box kits, individual bulbs, or single-waxed bulbs have become popular gifts because they are easy to grow and produce colorful flowers indoors. Amaryllis provide a dramatic flower show for years whether grown indoors or in the garden.

The lily-like amaryllis flowers range from 4- to 10-inches in size and can be either single or double in form. While the most available colors are red and white, amaryllis flowers may also be pink, salmon, apricot, rose, or deep burgundy. Some specialty bulbs are bicolor such as purple and green, or picotee (having petals with a different edge color). Typically, each foot-tall stem produces four blooms, which open within a few days of each other.

Buying instructions

When selecting any bulbs, size matters. The larger the bulb, the larger the bloom. Bulbs range from 2- to 4-inches in diameter. Select a bulb that looks clean and disease-free on the outside with no signs of rot, mold, or fungus. Also, choose a heavy and firm bulb with little leaf and stem growth. Once you get the bulbs home, store them in a cool place. Unlike some spring bulbs, though, these bulbs should not be stored in the refrigerator or freezer. For December blooms, plant the bulb by mid-November. Whether planted in the garden or a pot, amaryllis bulbs will bloom each spring for years, if planted, watered, and fertilized properly.

Amaryllis flowerGrowing amaryllis in containers for holiday color and drama

Growing amaryllis bulbs indoors is easy. However, like any living plant, it requires a container with drainage holes, appropriate soil, at least 4 hours of light per day, and regular water and fertilizer.

  • Select a pot that allows at least 1 inch around the sides and is twice as tall as the bulb. Plant one bulb per small pot or multiple bulbs in a large pot. The bulbs prefer to be a bit crowded and root bound. However, they cannot abide being too wet, so provide good drainage. A clay pot is a good choice for these bulbs, as it dries out more quickly and the weight of the pot helps stabilize the plants once the stalk of flowers becomes tall and heavy.
  • The bulbs may have been sitting in a warm store for some time before your purchase. Encourage them to form roots more quickly by placing the bottom of the bulb in a shallow bowl of water to soak for up to 12 hours before planting.
  • Choose quality potting soil that includes peat and perlite. Avoid wood and bark soils, which hold water and may encourage rot. After wetting the soil mixture, place about 2 inches of soil in the bottom of the pot.
  • Set the bulb in the pot. Add moist potting soil around the bulb, tamping down gently and leaving about a third of the bulb above the soil line. Without soaking the exposed crown of the bulb, water enough to moisten and settle the soil.
  • Move the pot to a sunny spot with a constant temperature of around 70 degrees. Bulbs will grow more quickly at temperatures between 75 to 80 degrees or more slowly at temperatures of 55 to 60 degrees.
  • Water sparingly until green leaves are visible. Then begin to water lightly when the soil is dry. Do not overwater. To promote blooming, water with a high phosphorus fertilizer at half the recommended strength when new growth is visible. When buds are forming and opening, increase the fertilizing routine to once a week to produce large blooms.
  • Turn the pot regularly to encourage the stalk to grow straight. The bulb should bloom within 6 to 8 weeks.
  • Once the bulb is flowering, move the plant out of direct sunlight to prolong the life of the blooms. Your bulb will produce several flowers on each stalk. Remove each flower as it fades.
  • When blooming is finished, cut the stalk to the base of the bulb and leave the foliage to continue growing. Treat the potted amaryllis as you would any green houseplant while it replenishes its bulb and goes through its growing cycle.

Growing amaryllis outdoors

In much of Southern New Mexico, we may choose to plant amaryllis bulbs, which are hardy to USDA Zone 7b, in the garden. These bulbs perform well in beds, borders, or containers outside. The flowers look exceptionally attractive when planted in a cluster. Theoretically, amaryllis bulbs are resistant to deer and many rodents. Select a warm flower bed in partial shade that gets regular water. The bulbs need improved garden soil with good drainage and nutrients for bulb development.

Amaryllis bulbs should be planted with other spring bloomers in the fall. However, those purchased or gifted to you during the holidays can be planted outside in spring after the threat of frost has passed and night temperatures reach 55 degrees. Before moving the plants outside, gradually acclimate them to their new sunny environment. Planting amaryllis outdoors is much the same as in containers — neck deep, keeping the top third of the bulb sticking up above soil level. Space plants about a foot apart.

Water well over the next few weeks until hey are established. Like all bulbs, amaryllis should be fertilized upon emergence in early spring. Additional fertilizer can be applied a couple more times throughout the growing season as needed using a balanced fertilizer at the recommended rates. Amaryllis also needs to be kept moist
throughout the growing season, though established plants are fairly tolerant of drought. I planted mine beneath a redbud tree on the north side of the house where the bed would be shaded part of the day.

This bed was watered three times per week. You can expect foliage to remain throughout much of summer before succumbing to fall frosts. Given adequate care, you can expect to see beautiful blooms each spring. These bulbs can survive some neglect once established. Should plants become overcrowded, divide the clumps and separate them as needed. Growing amaryllis in the garden is a great way to enjoy these plants year after year.



Story and photography by Jackye Meinecke | Additional photos courtesy

Originally published in Neighbors magazine.

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