Amaryllis Around Us

You can go into just about any store right now and find amaryllis bulbs in boxes ready to take home and bring into flower. You’ll certainly see them in nurseries, but also in hardware stores, groceries and gift shops all across Texas.

Christmas amaryllis are tropical bulbs 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.

I “forced” this tropical amaryllis into flower for Christmas one year, but the following year, it came into bloom in my greenhouse in March.

Tips to success with potted amaryllis…
Buy first-quality bulbs that have been cared for since they arrived (kept cool and dry).

This is not the place to “go cheap.” Buy for quality and you’ll have far better results. If a box is crumpled or looks like it’s gotten wet, leave it there.

Most amaryllis bulbs come pre-potted with good potting soil. If yours isn’t already in a container, 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 develop in cool, sunny locations. If you’re growing yours near a window, turn 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.

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.

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To get a potted amaryllis to flower again…
Here are guidelines that come on very good authority.
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.

St. Joseph lily, also called “hardy amaryllis,” is the “hardy” cousin of Christmas amaryllis. You can see its more tubular form with narrow petals.

The other plant we call “amaryllis…”
“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.

We’ll save discussions of this long-popular pass-along Texas garden plant for next spring just before its blooming season. But I couldn’t cover the topic without mentioning it now.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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