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Amaryllis - Splendid Blooms For Winter
by Yvonne Cunnington
by Yvonne Cunnington

I am a garden writer and photographer living near Hamilton, Ont. My articles have appeared in Chatelaine, Canadian Living, Canadian Gardening and Gardening Life magazines. My book for beginner gardeners, Clueless in the Garden: A Guide for the Horticulturally Helpless (Key Porter Books) was published in 2003.

My husband and I tend a large country garden, which has been featured on TV’s Gardeners Journal and in Gardening Life magazine. We have had numerous bus tours visit our garden.

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December 11, 2005

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Amaryllis, also known as Hippeastrum, is one of the most impressive flowering bulbs you can grow indoors. It's the perfect plant for bringing a welcome flush of bloom into the house during our long winters. The flowers are large, trumpet-shaped and come in lovely shades from white and apple blossom pink to scarlet. Some even have attention-getting stripes.

Amaryllis may look exotic - they are sometimes called naked ladies because they often bloom before the leaves appear - but the bulbs are easy to grow, and getting them to rebloom is worth a try. When you buy a bulb, look for large, plump one which some roots attached. Using a pot that's slightly larger in diameter than the bulb, plant it in potting soil, leaving the "shoulders" - the top third of the bulb - exposed. Keep the soil moist but not wet, and the temperatures above 18ºC; (optimal temperatures are between 20 to 25ºC).

Place the bulb in bright light and watch for growth to resume. You should see a flower bud appear after a couple of weeks. Turn the pot regularly so the flower stalk won't lean in one direction; sometimes you'll need to support the stalk with a bamboo stake and raffia ties.

Coaxing amaryllis to rebloom

The technique recommended for years has been growing the plants on through the summer outdoors - they have vigorous green leaves through the warmer months - and then inducing dormancy by stopping watering in the fall and placing them in a dry cool spot indoors for 10 to 12 weeks. The reason for this is to try force blooming for a specific period, usually Christmas.

However, for bigger, healthier plants, some experts recommend allowing the bulb to continue growing vigorously as long as possible, so it will reward you with better blooms in January or February. The amaryllis I've grown this way are just starting to bloom again. I've had some of them for three seasons now. Because my plants tend to bloom in January, I avoid the really Christmassy reds, going for the more muted pastels and white flowers cultivars instead.

To encourage reblooming this way, follow the six steps outlined below:

  1. Once the flower is finished, cut off the stem just above the bulb nose. Give amaryllis bright light on a sunny windowsill or under plant lights.

  2. Feed and water. Apply a standard water-soluble houseplant fertilizer at half the recommended strength every two weeks, (or use fertilizer pellets such as Smart Cote from Plant Prod that last the growing season and release a dose of nutrient with each watering).

  3. Keep bulb in a pot sized "just right". As the bulb grows and the pot fills with roots, move it up to a bigger pot that's just slightly larger than the bulb. I like to use tall, narrow clay pots.

  4. In summer, move the pot outdoors into a sunny spot and treat it like a container plant. Continue fertilizing until the middle of August. Don't allow the soil to dry out, but avoid keeping it soggy.

  5. In fall, before there's a chance of frost, bring the plant inside and place in a sunny window or under plant lights. The leaves may yellow and die off by late December. During this time, keep the plant moist, but don't overwater and don't let the pot dry out. You'll see the buds for the new flowers appear in late January.

  6. After flowering, resume feeding and keep the pot in a sunny window or under plant lights until it can go outdoors again. Big vigorously growing bulbs will produce offsets - little baby bulbs - which you can pot up to grow to flowering size in a couple of seasons.

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