A Great and Quick Gift

One flowering holiday plant couldn’t be much more spectacular!

If you’ve been in a nursery or garden shop – or a flower shop or even a grocery – these past 4 to 6 weeks, you’ve seen tropical amaryllis of the genus Hippeastrum stacked up in boxes or maybe potted and growing, ready to take home and enjoy. This is obviously their season of stardom!

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 these bulbs are expensive. This is not the place to “go cheap.” Buy for quality and you’ll get more and larger flowers, often of exotic colors and forms.

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.

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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.

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.

Friend Jane H. sent this photo of a beautiful double-flowering tropical amaryllis to me. Breeders have been busy turning out spectacular hybrids.

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. Those dry spells are why nature provided it with the bulb – the means of surviving the “down” time.

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.

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.

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. The good news is that it (my plants, at least) seemed to survive the cold of February 2021.

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 single digits. 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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