Amaryllis bulbs are easy to grow and make beautiful holiday gifts and decorations. They perform admirably in containers and can be coaxed to re-bloom year after year if you follow these simple steps.
Planting and care
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Start by choosing top-size bulbs. When it comes to bulbs, size really does matter. Smaller amaryllis bulbs may cost less, but the larger the bulb the more flowers are contained within. Make sure the bulb is firm and has roots attached.
Plant the bulb in a pot just slightly larger than the bulb -- a couple of inches larger in diameter. Pots 5 to 7-inches across are usually an appropriate size. Partially fill the pot with a light potting mix, set the bulb in place, and add more potting mix. Gently press the soil down around the bulb so that the shoulders and neck of the bulb are visible.
Now is the best time to place a stake alongside the bulb. Amaryllis flowers are large and can be top heavy. Positioning the stake at the time of planting reduces the risk of damaging the bulb later. You can always remove the stake if it's not needed.
Water lightly. Place the pot in a sunny window and wait. When growth begins, water often enough to keep the soil barely moist. About eight weeks after you plant the bulb, the ample bud that has been rising on a straight, sturdy stem above strappy foliage will explode into huge, exotic lily-like flowers. For continuous bloom all winter long, plant bulbs at two-week intervals.
Once the flowers open, move the pot away from the sunny window into a spot with indirect light to keep blooms from fading.
When the last flower has faded on a stem, cut it near the top of the bulb. When all stems have been cut back, move the container to the sunniest spot available to encourage as much leaf growth as possible. Fertilize once a month and never let the soil dry out completely.
After the danger of frost has passed in spring, move your amaryllis outside.
The foliage will keep on growing all summer. You can plant your amaryllis in the ground or leave it in its pot -- just give it a spot in part shade. Continue to fertilize until August.
When leaves begin to yellow in fall, cut back foliage to about two inches from the top of the bulb. Be sure to bring it back inside before the first frost.
Remove soil from the bulb, stop watering, and let it 'rest' in a cool, dark place for two months. Then, repot the bulb into a larger pot and get ready for a repeat performance.
If you want your Amaryllis to bloom in time for Christmas, count back at least 10 weeks to determine when to stop watering.
As your Amaryllis bulb get bigger, it will begin producing side bulbs. Remove these carefully and pot them up. They will begin producing flowers in a few years.
Amaryllis are available in a wide array of colors from deep velvety red to satiny pink and orange to pure white. Bi-colors are also available.
The glistening, pure white flowers of Mont Blanc are a holiday classic. Christmas Gift is another gorgeous white variety. Plant either in a bright red pot.
The blooms of Pink Impression are bright pink giving way to white toward their throats. Apple Blossom has softer pink petals.
If you want a bicolor flower, choose Amorice with white petals subtly striped with red. Or if you want something even flashier, try Dancing Queen.
Queen of the Night has deep, dark velvety red blooms; Red Lion is bright red; and the flowers of Double Dragon are deep red with an extra layer of petals. Plant any of these in a black glazed pot -- so glamorous!
Amaryllis bulbs make great gifts. While you are at your local garden center choosing one for a friend, choose one for yourself, too -- you deserve it!
• Diana Stoll is a horticulturist and the garden center manager at The Planter's Palette, 28W571 Roosevelt Road, Winfield. Call (630) 293-1040, ext. 2, or visit planterspalette.com.