Although we are having a mild winter and the grass is still green outside if you are like me you need more than green houseplants to satisfy your obsession for something in bloom. Amaryllis (Hippeastrum), the most spectacular of all the bulbs does that for me.
Though amaryllis are native to more moderate climates, Dutch hybridizers have made it possible for us to enjoy them indoors. In Canada we buy them as bulbs ready to take home and grow in pots. These bulbs, imported from Holland, have been kept at a temperature of 13°C (55°F) for several weeks. This process “tricks” the amaryllis into thinking that it is time to bloom. Buy the biggest bulbs you can find. Big is better when it comes to Amaryllis bulbs because the bigger the bulb the larger and more numerous the flowers will be.
Nothing can be simpler than growing an amaryllis. Choose a pot about 2.5 cm (1 inch) bigger than the bulb’s circumference. You can buy bulbs in kits that include a pot and some lightweight potting mixture. But, in most of these kits the potting mix is too lightweight to handle the weight and size of the bulb. As soon the bulb starts to grow the plant starts to topple over. I prefer to use a tropical potting soil mixture that has more substance. If the roots appear very dry, give them a soak in lukewarm water for a half an hour before planting. Fill the pot about ½ full of moistened soil and place the bulb in the centre, spreading the roots out over the soil. Then, fill in around the bulb and tamp the soil firmly. The bulb should be one third above the soil line. I recommend watering with a transplant fertilizer solution (10-52-10) to get the roots off to a good start. After this, further fertilizing is not necessary until after all blooming has finished. Once planted, the bulb does not have to be placed in bright light, but it does require a warm location to start growing. Usually the flower bud appears first followed by the leaves. Once the flowers are in bloom cooler temperatures will slow down growth and help your blooms will last longer.
Amaryllis blooms look best in combination with a leafy houseplant or two. Placing them near a dieffenbachia or philodendron can add a nice touch to a dark corner. Imagine some white amaryllis arranged together with green and white spider plants in a big jardinière. They can make an impressive statement. Each bulb is good for about a month of bloom so grow them in succession for winter-long interest.
When the blooms have faded, if you want to bring amaryllis into bloom again, cut the flower stalks off. Do not cut the leaves off. The leaves are the plant’s “food” factory and this is how the bulb gets the necessary nutrients to produce new blooms. Move the plant to a bright south or west window and grow on for the rest of the winter. I water with a mild solution of all-purpose fertilizer (20-20-20) when the soil surface appears dry. Around mid-June they can go outdoors on the deck or patio. I continue to water and fertilize all summer long. Before frost hits I bring my amaryllis inside, put them in the basement and forget about them—no water, no light, no attention at all. After 8 to 12 weeks of rest, out they come and the whole process starts over.
Most of the time, my efforts are rewarded with more blooms. Occasionally, I haven’t been successful, but all in all it’s definitely worth trying.