It’s no wonder the red-and-white-blooming, candy-cane-striped amaryllis are such a popular holiday plant. Wrapped in aluminum foil or presented in humble clay, a blooming amaryllis makes a beautiful gift and a refreshing change from another gift card.
But I prefer the gardener to buy the less showy bare-root bulbs and grow my own. Putting in a spiky bulb the size of a small grapefruit and bringing up a flower as dramatic as an amaryllis — in the middle of winter, no less — seems daunting. But it’s easy.
Here’s how to give the gift of growth:
Buy bulbs now for the best selection, choosing from pink, white, red, rose, peach or orange varieties in solids, stripes or mottled hues. Bigger is better. I recommend purchasing the largest bulb your budget allows; Larger bulbs will produce two flowering stems and sometimes three in a row. Deep, dark winter is not the time to economize on flower power.
Choose bulbs that are plump and firm, with no soft spots or signs of rot. If you are not going to put your lights on right away, or if you intend to give them as a gift, store them in a cool, dark place at a temperature of about 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Obviously, these are not the conditions found on most retail shelves – another good reason to buy bulbs sooner rather than later. Bulbs planted now will bloom in eight to 12 weeks, sometime between late January and March.
Amaryllis thrive best when their roots are slightly pot-bound. When you’re ready to plant your amaryllis, choose a container that’s only 1 inch larger than the bulb’s circumference, or about 6 to 8 inches in diameter. As always, holes are necessary to provide drainage. Plant the bulbs up to their necks, about three-quarters buried, in a good potting mix. Tap the container lightly on the work surface to settle, then water it well. Do not water again until you see signs of active growth.
Place your newly planted bulb in a warm location with good air circulation but away from cold drafts or heat blasts. At this point, light is not critical, but lower heat, such as placing the bowl on a ledge above a radiator or on top of a refrigerator, can encourage the bulb to break dormancy. If you have a heat mat for starting seeds, this would be ideal. Or you can just practice patience and wait. With all my gardening motivation focused on a few pots, I find the process very enjoyable. What can I say? it is winter.
I’m thrilled when a bright green bud finally shows its nose poking out of the bulb. Move the plant to where it receives bright light, and provide consistent water from now on. I like to cut a wooden log from the garden and insert it into the pot next to the flower stem to provide support for the huge blooms. Once the flowering display has ended, the narrow green leaves appear and hold up well among other houseplants.