Amaryllis are much more than just holiday decorations
Written by Lynette Walther
Amaryllis bulbs are showing up everywhere in fancy little gift boxes for holiday giving. It is certain that when it comes to color and shape, amaryllis are one of the most impressive flowers you will ever grow. These easy-to-grow subtropical bulbs produce huge, trumpet-shaped flowers that can be up to 8 inches across. Grow them for your own holiday decorations or give them as stunning flowering gifts. Or grow it in your garden for stunning flowers.
They come in stunning colors, from velvety red to pink, peach, white and even bright green in single and double flowers. Specialty varieties like Amaryllis Butterfly, Papilio produce stunning green flowers with burgundy stripes. Of interest to gardeners here is the amaryllis’ heirloom cousin, the Oxblood lily (Rhodophiala bifida), also called “school lilies.” This tough, nail-like blooming flower looks like a short, slender blood-red amaryllis.
I first encountered these amazing heirloom plants at Barberville Pioneer Settlement Village last spring. I noticed it growing among some rubble on the back side of a house undergoing renovation there. The beloved plants had clearly not been taken care of, but they were thriving there to outsmart the band. Not easy to find, Old House Gardens Heirloom Lights carry them.
For local gardeners, these lilies and all other types of amaryllis are garden staples, a true flowering bulb that blooms in the spring year after year. When planted in suitable locations, they will divide and provide more cheer and color each year.
Amaryllis are winter-hardy tropical plants in zones 9 to 12. For holiday blooms, plant the bulbs indoors, where they will flower between November and April. Planting one now will guarantee you holiday blooms. According to Longfield Gardens, when you purchase an amaryllis bulb, it already contains everything needed to produce a vivid bouquet of large, beautiful flowers. All you have to do is plant the bulb and water it moderately.
There are dozens of gorgeous amaryllis varieties, each with its own unique color and style. Planting a few different varieties is the best way to discover your favorite varieties. Since the bulbs are easy to grow, amaryllis also make thoughtful gifts for anyone who enjoys the beauty of flowers.
Plant amaryllis bulbs in individual pots, or group several bulbs together in a larger pot. The pot should have drainage holes in the bottom so excess water can drain and the roots are not waterlogged.
To plant a single bulb, choose a pot that is 7 to 8 inches deep and 5 to 6 inches wide. Place several inches of potting soil in the bottom of the pot. The bulb will eventually fill this space with its roots. Place the bulb on top of the soil and gently add more soil around the sides. The top third of the bulb should be exposed and sitting above the soil surface. Cover the soil surface with moss or ornamental stones if desired. Water the plant well after planting, then place the pot in a cool, sunny location. From then on, water sparingly, keeping the soil barely moist.
Amaryllis bulbs can also be grown without soil. Fill a vase or weatherproof container with about five inches of gravel or coarse stone. Add enough water to cover the stones. Place the lamp over the stones so that the water barely touches the bottom of the lamp. Add more gravel or stones around the bulb to help stabilize it, leaving the top third of the bulb exposed. Add more water, as the water evaporates or is absorbed by the growing roots, keeping the level just below the base of the bulb.
It may take a month or more for the amaryllis bulb to wake up and start growing. The timing depends on the variety and when the bulb was planted. Bulbs planted in the fall usually take longer to bloom than bulbs planted in the winter. When the first bud emerges from the top of the bulb, start watering frequently. In most cases, the stem will appear first, and the leaves will appear a few weeks later. Turn the pot occasionally to keep the stem growing upright.
Once the flowers begin to bloom, move the pot out of direct sunlight and keep the plant as cool as possible to prolong the display period. To display amaryllis in a vase, wait until the buds are fully formed and then cut the stems to the desired length.
When the flowers fade, use scissors to cut them. Once the entire stem has finished flowering, cut it back to just above the bulb. Most amaryllis bulbs will send up a second or even third stem with additional flowers. All the stems may emerge at about the same time, or the bulb may rest a week or two in between.
Aftercare for amaryllis
Once the flowers have faded, cut the stem(s) so they are about 1 inch above the top of the bulb. Continue watering as needed to keep the soil barely moist. The bulb will send up long, firm leaves that will grow for several months and produce the energy the bulb needs to make next year’s flowers. Fertilize monthly with a standard liquid household plant fertilizer.
After your amaryllis bulbs have finished flowering, simply plant them outside in soil amended with compost – again with the top third of the bulb exposed above the soil surface. Locate it where it receives morning sun, with some protection from the hot, harsh afternoon sun. The larger and fatter the bulb becomes, the more flowers it produces, and these bulbs often divide and produce more bulbs. During winter dormancy, water sparingly. Then spring comes, and get ready for the flower display.
Lynette L. Walther is the winner of the 2019 GardenComm Gold Award for Writing, a four-time recipient of the GardenComm Silver Achievement Award, and the National Park Bureau’s Exemplary Journalism Award. Its gardens are located on the banks of the St. Johns River.