Reprinted with permission of The National Gardening Bureau:
Amaryllis are tropical bulbs and in frost-free climates (zones 9-11) they can be grown outdoors year-round. In most of North America the bulbs are planted indoors for winter blooms.
What to Look for When Buying an Amaryllis
“As with most flower bulbs, the larger the bulb the better the results,” says Hans Langeveld, co-owner of bulb supplier Longfield Gardens in Lakewood, NJ. “With a jumbo, 34/36 cm amaryllis bulb you’ll get 3 stems with 4 to 5 flowers per stem. A 26/28 cm bulb is about half the size and will put out 1 or sometimes 2 stems with 3 to 4 flowers.”
For best selection, purchase amaryllis bulbs in early fall. Ordering a number of different varieties will give you staggered bloom times and flowers all winter long. When you receive the bulbs, they can be planted immediately or can be stored for several months in a cool (40-50°F) dark, dry place.
When Will the Bulbs Bloom?
Most amaryllis bulbs sold in the U.S. come from Holland, Brazil, Peru, South Africa or Israel. Bulbs that are grown in the southern hemisphere usually flower in early winter, between December and January. Bulbs grown in Holland flower a bit later, from January through March.
“Some amaryllis varieties have a shorter dormancy period than others,” adds Langeveld, “so this also has an effect on when the bulbs will bloom.” For early season flowers, he suggests growing Minerva, Sweet Nymph or Evergreen; for midseason, plant Apple Blossom, Double King and Exotica. Late season varieties include Red Pearl, Amorice, Red Lion and Lagoon.
Indoor Growing Instructions
“An amaryllis bulb needs very little moisture,” says Langeveld. “In fact, the bulbs can bloom with no water at all. Overwatering is one of the only ways you can go wrong with an amaryllis.” Growing the bulbs in pots (rather than in water) helps protect them from excess moisture and also encourages strong root growth.
Choose a pot that’s just big enough to accommodate the bulb. There should be at least 3” of space under the bulb for the roots, and 1 to 2” on the sides. When amaryllis bloom, the flowers are top heavy, so using a sturdy pot will help anchor the plant.
Fill the bottom of the pot with pre-moistened growing mix and settle the bulb on top. Tuck more growing mix around the sides, leaving the shoulders and neck of the bulb exposed. Water to settle the bulb in place and put the pot somewhere that’s cool (60-70°F) and bright (direct sunlight isn’t necessary). Water sparingly.
Bloom Time Tips
You can tell that the bulb is waking up, when you see a green tip emerging from the neck of the bulb. “The flower stalk usually comes out before the foliage,” says Langeveld, “but this varies. Sometimes the foliage comes first and sometimes it comes out at the same time as the flowers.” The timing of the flower stalks can be equally variable. Two stalks can come out at the same time or there may be several weeks in between.
As with all indoor flowers, the blossoms will last longer if you can keep them away from direct sunlight and heat. As the individual flowers fade, snip them off with scissors. Eventually the whole stalk can be cut back to about an inch above the bulb.
“Many people don’t realize that amaryllis are great cut flowers,” suggests Langeveld. “Though it’s daunting to cut that big stem, the blossoms will last just as long.” Langeveld recommends a tall, clear glass vase to accentuate the elegance of the stem and flowers. “Another option is to make a tabletop arrangement by cutting the stem to about 4” and displaying the flowers in a low vase – with or without greens.
Most people treat amaryllis bulbs as annuals, but with proper care you can get them to bloom again the next year. After flowering, cut off the stems and put the pot near a sunny window. Treat the bulb as a houseplant, watering lightly and fertilizing regularly so the leaves stay lush and healthy.
In summer, the potted bulb can be moved outdoors to a sunny, protected location. Continue watering and fertilizing. Bring the pot back indoors in late summer or early fall, moving it to a relatively cool (55-60°F) location with low light and no water. The leaves will dry up and the bulb will go dormant. After 2 to 3 months, you can repot the bulb and start over.