A December Delight

Photo: This amaryllis bloomed beautifully for our daughter one year. I put it into our greenhouse and it popped into bloom 15 months later in March. If we lived farther south (instead of the DFW area), we could plant it outdoors.

You’ve seen them stacked alongside checkout counters in nurseries, hardware stores and groceries the past month or two – tropical amaryllis bulbs ready to burst into bloom in your home.

Whether you give or receive an amaryllis bulb this December, you’ll need to know a little more about this beautiful bulb.

Photo: Purity of this white amaryllis is breath-taking. Picture this alongside a lovely poinsettia.

Choosing, caring for tropical amaryllis…
Here are your tips for handling Christmas amaryllis and growing them once they finish blooming.

Buy first-quality bulbs that have been cared for since they arrived (kept cool and dry). If the boxes are crumpled or if it looks like they’re been wet, move on. And just to have said it, yes they’re expensive. This is not the place to “go cheap.” Buy for quality and you’ll have far better results.

Most amaryllis come pre-potted with good potting soil. If yours isn’t potted, use a terra cotta pot (for ballast) and a loose, highly organic potting mix. One-third of the bulb should extend out of the soil. Water the soil thoroughly as soon as you take the pot out of the box or plant the bulb in its new pot.

Amaryllis flowers and foliage will develop most normally if they’re in cool, sunny locations. If you’re growing yours near a window, rotate it one-quarter turn every day to keep it from bending.

No fertilizer will be needed as it comes into bloom. Keep it uniformly moist (but not wet) and away from hot drafts.

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As it finishes blooming, trim the flower stalk off down into the foliage. The leaves will develop as winter turns into spring. They’re actually quite pretty, and they’re critical to its success and reblooming in following winters.

Use a high-nitrogen, water-soluble fertilizer to feed your amaryllis plant spring through late summer. It will be manufacturing sugars in its foliage, and they will be stored in its bulb as it forms next year’s flower buds in the fall.

Around the second half of August, lay the plant and its pot on its side and let it go dry for five or six weeks. That will simulate the dry spells it has in its native home.

By early October you can trim off the dead foliage. Lift the bulb out of its old pot and carefully repot it into fresh potting soil. Water it deeply, and start the whole process over again. Veteran growers tell me they are successful 75 or 80 percent of the time.

Photo: My Facebook friend Charlotte Hall posted this lovely photo of her amaryllis. It is a bulb that had been waxed, and she wondered how to care for it after it finished blooming. Unfortunately, while novel and great for keeping things clean, waxing the bulbs makes it impossible to plant and grow the bulb after it finishes blooming.



Tropical or “hardy” – which do you have?
There is confusion between the amaryllis you buy in a pot or a box this time of year and the one you’re given by your friend or neighbor out of their yard.

Photo: St. Joseph lily, also called “hardy amaryllis,” is the “hardy” cousin of Christmas amaryllis. You can see its more tubular form with narrow petals. We’ll have more details on growing it in the spring.

Christmas amaryllis are tropical out of the Caribbean countries and South America. Their flowers are broad trumpets whose petals and sepals overlap to form a solid vase. They’re winter-hardy in South Texas, but they’ll freeze farther north. Their colors range from white to pink, salmon, orange and red.

“Hardy” amaryllis are more properly called St. Joseph’s lilies. They bloom in the spring, and they can survive temperatures into the teens. Their flowers are also trumpet-shaped, but their petals and sepals are thinner and do not overlap, nor do they recurve. They are predominantly red.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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