Cultivate your garden: Amaryllis 101

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With December just around the corner, it’s time to start some amaryllis bulbs in time for the holidays. There are so many options available, including bare bulbs, bulb kits, pre-started potted bulbs, and cut flower amaryllis for arrangements.

Selection of bulbs

When purchasing amaryllis, carefully inspect the bulb – healthy bulbs are firm and dry and should be heavy in your hand. Avoid soft bulbs or those showing visible signs of rotting. The green tip of the flower spathe may appear above the bulb neck. This is a sign that the bulb has already broken its dormancy and needs to be potted quickly.

Amaryllis bulbs are worth growing over a longer season, not just for the holidays. Availability may be limited after the holidays, so I suggest purchasing additional bulbs now if you want to extend the flowering season. To have a continuous color show, stagger the planting of the bulbs. Store extra bulbs in a cool, dry, frost-free place, such as a closet or basement. Take the bulbs out of storage one or two at a time, planting them from November to February.

Planting

Repotting amaryllis is simple: I stick to basic terracotta pots with a saucer and use good quality potting soil. My reference suggests mixing potting soil, 2/3 potting soil, and 1/3 coarse sand, to help improve drainage. Amaryllis will not thrive in soggy soil.

Amaryllis likes to be tied to the pot; choose a pot about 2.5 centimeters wider than your bulb. I keep a supply of six-inch-wide clay pots on hand for my annual amaryllis harvest – the clay pots help stabilize the plants. To prepare the pots for planting, submerge them in a bucket of water until they stop whistling (about five to 10 minutes). Dry clay pots are porous and can drain water from the soil.

Cover the bottom of the pot with clay chips or a piece of plastic sieve to prevent the potting soil from blocking the hole.

Examine the bulb and cut off the shriveled roots. Place the bulb on a shallow glass filled with lukewarm water – just enough water to cover the roots – don’t let the bulb touch the water. Soak the roots for at least an hour, or several hours, if possible. This step revives the fleshy and dormant roots and makes them more flexible for planting.

A potted amaryllis 'Bolero', purchased with three emerging flower spathes visible, arrived to flower just 10 days after returning home.  It was repotted in a clay pot.  The stem of the first flower has been cut to allow more room for the second flower to open;  a third bud is just showing color and will open soon.

Mount the potting soil in the prepared pot and carefully arrange the roots on the mound. Add more soil, firming it up by gently covering the bottom 2/3 of the bulb with soil – the neck and shoulders of the bulb should be above the soil line. If desired, cover the ground with a decorative layer of pebbles or sphagnum moss. If you are planting more than one variety, place the plant tag under the clay saucer for quick reference.

Water the pot thoroughly after planting. Place the pot in a bright room, 18 C at night to 23 C during the day. Amaryllis love sunny windows while they are producing flowers, but once the flowers have opened, move them to a cooler place out of direct sunlight. This will help prolong flowering.

Amaryllis don’t like to be overwatered. They don’t need a lot of water until they start to actively grow. Keep the soil moist, but not wet, watering every three to five days or even weekly should be sufficient. Test the humidity by sticking your finger into the soil, if it is wet, do not add more water.

Amaryllis varieties that produce tall stems and large flowers will benefit from a little extra support. Bamboo stakes (or even sturdy garden twigs) tied with raffia look more natural than any type of metal stand.

I adopted a simpler solution. My current “Bolero” amaryllis has produced three flower spathes which will bloom quickly. Rather than stringing the plant to support the large flowers, I cut off the first flowering stem and put it in a sturdy vase. I can do the same with the second rod. Did you know that amaryllis makes long lasting cut flowers? I’ve left the stalk long for now, but the shorter stems work best in an arrangement.

This first stem of 'Bolero' amaryllis was cut and placed in a large, solid crystal vase to better enjoy the flowers.  Amaryllis makes long lasting cut flowers.

More Ways to Enjoy Amaryllis

If you don’t want to bother repotting amaryllis bulbs, you can buy them in pots and already sporting two or even three flower spathes at local flower shops. These plants come with a colorful plastic collar that helps protect the buds until you bring them home, remove the collar, give the plant to drink if it is dry, and place it in a decorative container. . The bulbs have been given a head start in local greenhouses and typically flower within 10 days of being introduced to a sunny room.

As mentioned earlier, amaryllis make beautiful, long-lasting cut flowers. Grown locally by Prins Grow Inc. in Jordan Station, cut amaryllis are shipped across North America. Prins Grow is not open to the public, but flowers are available from local florists. Pair amaryllis blossoms with seasonal greens, such as pine, cedar or boxwood, in arrangements for the holiday table.

I have pre-soaked the clay pots, brought a new bag of growing medium, and my next batch of amaryllis bulbs are ready to be planted. I’m planning a colorful season of amaryllis blossoms to savor during the holidays and beyond.

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