All About Amaryllis

A bold, flowering bulb, amaryllis is popular for its winter blooming habit and makes a colorful indoor plant as well as a great gift for anyone with a green thumb. But how much do you really know about these familiar flowers?

What Is Amaryllis?

These plants are part of the flowering bulb genus Hippeastrum, which is native to South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean in tropical and subtropical regions. It must be noted that the familiar amaryllis can easily be confused with the genus Amaryllis, which is actually native to southern Africa and is most successful only when grown outdoors. Hippeastrum flowers, on the other hand, thrive indoors and are widely sold as gifts and houseplants in the winter months.

Hippeastrum bulbs range from 2-5 inches in diameter and are relatively fleshy. Each bulb will produce several spear-like, stiff leaves that can reach 12-20 inches long. Along with the foliage, each bulb can produce 1-2 long stems that will yield 2-12 trumpet-shaped flowers with large, triangular petals. The bloom colors range from white, red, orange, salmon, pink and peach to deeper hues of burgundy and purple. Variegated and striped blooms are also popular.

Blooms may last for several weeks, and the foliage can persist long after the blooms die.

Potting and Caring for Amaryllis

Unpotted, dormant bulbs should be stored in a cool (55 degrees Fahrenheit), dark, dry location. Before planting, the bulbs should be brought to room temperature, and the roots can be lightly rehydrated in lukewarm water for an hour or two before planting, but the base of the bulb itself should be kept dry to minimize the risk of rot. While these bulbs will bloom in water – they’re often sold in clear, decorative vases with the roots reaching into water and pebbles used as a planting medium – they will do better when properly planted, which will also encourage reblooming.

The best pot for a single amaryllis bulb will be just an inch wider than the bulb’s diameter, or several bulbs can be planted together in a larger pot for a more dramatic display. Because these flowers grow so tall, however, the pot should be heavy enough to support their size. If necessary, adding several rocks or a layer of gravel to the bottom of the pot before planting will help balance the weight to keep the arrangement stable, and a deeper pot will also provide adequate room for root growth. It may also be necessary to add a stake to support the tall flower stems, but be sure not to damage the bulb when adding a stake to the pot.

Rich potting soil is essential for the best amaryllis blooms, as these bulbs grow vigorously and require adequate nutrition to reach their full potential. When planting a bulb, it should be submerged in the soil up to its neck, but leaving the top quarter of the bulb uncovered. The soil should be tamped firmly to support the bulb. Place the pot in a warm, sunny spot when foliage emerges, and rotate the pot daily as the plant grows taller to ensure straight, upright growth that will better support heavy flowers.

Gently water the bulb until the first stems appear, but take care not to overwater the pot or the bulb and roots may rot. As the plant grows taller and the blooms emerge, more watering will be needed to keep it adequately moisturized.

It may take 7-12 weeks for an amaryllis to bloom, depending on the type and size of bulb, its growing conditions and the care it receives. Larger bulbs that produce more flowers will generally take longer to bloom, while smaller bulbs will have shorter flowers but will bloom more quickly.

After the Bloom

Because these plants are popular every holiday season, many people discard amaryllis bulbs after they have stopped blooming. It is possible, however, to encourage reblooming with the proper care.

After the flowers have faded, deadhead the blooms but leave the foliage intact. Sharp flower-pruning shears are best to avoid tearing the stem or causing it to bend or break. Your Amaryllis should be placed in the sunniest spot available, continue to water as necessary and monthly feeding should ensue. This will encourage leaf production which with photosynthesize adding nourishment to the bulb enabling it to produce flowers again next winter. Move the plant outside once all danger of frost has passed to a sunny location. Continue to water and begin fertilizing every other week.

If you want to control when your amaryllis blooms again, you will need to encourage the bulb to go dormant. This is done by stopping fertilization, allowing the soil to gradually dry out, and reducing sunlight and temperature so leaf production slows and eventually stops. The dormant period will generally last 8-10 weeks, so, if you would like your Amaryllis to bloom for Christmas, mid-August is the time to begin this process. When leaves brown naturally, cut them back, remove the bulb from the dry soil, wrap it in newspaper and store it at around 55 degrees Fahrenheit for 8 to 10 weeks. After this dormant period, repot the bulb in fresh soil and begin watering again. The bulb will start to produce leaves and flowers won’t be far behind. With the proper conditions and care, you can keep your amaryllis blooming for years to come.

Amaryllis flowers are attractive and bold, perfect for brightening any indoor landscape during a cold and dreary winter. By understanding these flowers and their needs, you can provide them with proper care to ensure they always look their best.

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