Few plants can liven up a winter day like the amaryllis. The large pink, white, red, orange and variegated flowers are truly spectacular. You may purchase them as bare or planted bulbs.
A member of the lily family, the amaryllis rises from a large bulb. Today, most amaryllis are hybrids but are still classified in the genus Hippeastrum. The growth habit makes it well suited for blooming during the colder months of the year.
Knowing about its natural habitat in Central and South America will help you successfully grow and flower an amaryllis at home. The plants are adapted to ecosystems with a long, moist growing season, followed by a shorter dry season. At the beginning of the rainy season, the bulb sends forth foliage and flowers. Although the flowers last only for two to three weeks, the foliage grows throughout the moist season during which time new flower buds form within the bulb. It goes dormant during the dry season, but resumes growth and flowers when the rainy season begins.
When you buy an amaryllis, it likely will be a dormant bulb. If so, pot the bulb about six to 12 weeks before you want the plant to bloom. Use a container with a diameter just slightly larger than the bulb and a potting mix that promotes good drainage. One-third to one-half the pointed end of the bulb should remain above the soil (see photo). Thoroughly water and put the pot in a bright, warm window.
Water when the soil becomes dry to the touch, but do not give it too much water because this will cause the bulb to rot. Never allow water to accumulate in the saucer beneath the pot.
In a few weeks, a flower stalk should emerge, usually before the foliage develops. Rotate the container every few days to keep the flower and foliage from leaning too much toward the light. You may need to stake the flower stalk to keep it upright in a low-light situation.
When the bloom is spent, remove the wilted flowers and cut the flower stalk back to the top of the bulb. Do not remove any foliage because the leaves continue to provide energy for the next season's flowers. Fertilize it every couple of weeks to promote healthy foliage.
If you want to keep the amaryllis and get it to bloom again next year, give the plant as much light as possible after it flowers. It will help to move the plant outdoors when the danger of frost is over, generally around mid-May. Gradually acclimate the plant to brighter light by first putting it under a tree or awning; then moving it to brighter light every few days until the plant is in full sun.
When summer is over, keep the plant in a sunny location, but withhold water. As the foliage begins to die, move the pot to a cool, dry location such as a basement or closet. In the winter, repot the bulb to a new container, again only a few inches larger than the bulb's diameter. As an amaryllis bulb becomes larger, it may produce two or even three flower spikes during the blooming period.
For more information, call the Pulaski County Extension office at 679-6361. Become a fan of Pulaski County Horticulture on Facebook, follow @hortagentbeth on Twitter, or kyplants on Instagram.
Come join us for a 2-part webinar on growing tomatoes. The first will be held on November 7 from 6:30 to 8pm at the Pulaski County Extension office. The second webinar will be on November 21 from 6:30 to 8pm.
The Pulaski County Extension office will be closed November 28 and 29, 2019 for the Thanksgiving holiday. We will reopen on December 2, 2019.
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