Amaryllis for Christmas

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Did you receive an Amaryllis bulb for the holidays? The large bell-shaped or lily-like flowers of the amaryllis (Hippeastrum species) and its hybrids make excellent garden and potted plants and are often given as gifts during the holiday season. These bulbs are stunning and come in a variety of colors including red, pink, white, maroon, salmon or bicolored and typically have 2-6 flowers per stalk. Most of the bulbs sold are either Dutch or South African grown hybrids that will flower without special treatment when first purchased. When grown indoors the bulbs will bloom in about 8 weeks, then after they go dormant they can be brought out every winter to bloom again.

The planting and care is the same for amaryllis bulbs, whether you are repotting an old bulb that you’ve saved or a new one. However, with the bulbs that you have saved, cut off the old dried leaves before replanting the bulb. Plant the bulb in a container that is one to two inches larger in diameter than the base of the bulb. Potted bulbs thrive under conditions in which they are slightly root-bound. Containers can be either clay or plastic, and they must have drainage holes in the bottom.

Plant amaryllis with about 1/3 to 1/2 of the bulb above the potting soil surface. This keeps the bulb’s “nose” dry, which helps reduce red blotch infection, a fungal disease. Make sure your soil is well-drained, with a soil pH between 6.0 and 6.5. A mixture containing equal parts peat and perlite works well. Immediately after planting, thoroughly water the bulb. Keep the soil slightly moist until the bulb flowers, then water your plant when the soil surface feels dry to the touch. Once per week should do the trick.

Amaryllis grow best in a well-lighted area that receives at least 4 hours of direct sunlight each day. A southern window exposure is best, then an eastern-or western-facing window are the next best places.

This plant prefers warm temperatures (70 to 75 °F) until the roots form and the leaves and flower stalk begins to grow. Once the plant flowers, cooler temperatures (65 °F) will prolong the life of the flower, and save on your electric bill!

Skip the fertilizing if your bulb hasn’t developed leaves yet. Fertilizing in the bulb-only stage can kill the roots. After it begins to grow, fertilization is needed twice a month using a soluble fertilizer recommended for potted plants at full strength and frequency. Read and follow the label for the best success.

After they finish blooming the plant will want to set seed. Remove the blossoms as soon as they fade to prevent this -cut the stem off just above the bulb. Place the plant in a sunny window. During the next several months, growth is happening and should be encouraged for future bulb development. Keep the soil slightly moist and fertilize with a balanced houseplant fertilizer at regular intervals. You can continue to grow your amaryllis indoors all year, or outdoors as soon as the danger of frost has passed in the spring.

If you would like more gardening information delivered right to your computer, email me at minda_daughtry@ncsu.edu to be added to the Lee Home Hort list serve.

Minda Daughtry is Horticulture Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.