Early in my career as a grounds manager at Seattle University, I saved a plant that was about to be culled by our office manager. I inherited the plant when I started working there 10 years ago and was very frustrated because all it did was produce narrow, unattractive green leaves at the top of a large, fat bulb. I offered to take it, and I will never forget the look of stunned shock on her face when I brought it back a year later, exquisitely decorated with 12 gorgeous dark red dinner plate-sized flowers.
The plant I rescued is known as Holiday Amaryllis. Although they are closely related Amaryllisa hardy South African bulb, the ones we are offering as holiday gift plants belong to the genus Hippestrum They are tender bulbs that come from the tropical regions of South America. They usually come in decorative pots and are among the showiest of gift plants, characterized by two or three fast-growing stems, each crowned with several magnificent, huge trumpet-shaped flowers in red, pink, orange or white, as well as striped. Or with multi-colored markings.
The colorful flowers can last for several weeks, but once the display is over, most of us move the plant to the compost bin. However, if you’re up for the challenge and don’t mind growing an ordinary houseplant for a while, with a little special care, you may be able to get your holiday amaryllis to reproduce its magnificent display every spring for years to come.
The first step is to cut the spent flowers from the top of the stem once they fade. This will prevent the plant from converting energy into forming seeds. Wait to cut the flower stem until it has completely yellowed, to allow it to transfer its energy to the bulb.
By late winter, the plant will begin to develop leaves. The goal now is to encourage vigorous leaf growth to produce as much energy as possible in order to increase the size of the bulb. Place the plant next to your sunny window, water whenever the soil surface is dry and fertilize every two weeks with a soluble household plant fertilizer.
Although these plants love full sun, don’t make the mistake I did of putting your holiday amaryllis outside for the summer. They are highly vulnerable to nasturtium bulb flies, which burrow into the bulbs and destroy them. I lost almost my entire collection in less than a month!
In order to thrive, amaryllis must undergo a dormant period of eight to 10 weeks. Stop watering in mid-August, then place the pot in a cool, dark, dry area, such as an unheated basement or garage. Eventually, the leaves will dry out and wilt, but don’t panic (you haven’t killed your plant)! After the dormancy period, replant the bulb in new soil, making sure the top third is above the soil surface. Cut off any small bulbs that have formed, as they can steal energy from the mother bulb.
The bulbs can be replanted separately, but when I tried it, it took seven years before they finally produced flowers. Place the potted bulb in a bright, warm place, then water it gently. Before long, growth should appear at the top of the bulb.
Now comes the exciting part: If the cards just show up, it’s back to the drawing board. Your bulb does not store enough energy to produce flowers. You will have to go through the whole process again and hope for better luck. On the other hand, if a bud appears, start screaming, “Oh, no, no!” Call all your friends to show your green thumb. You are about to enjoy a stunning flower display!