Why We Want Them-Flowers In The Snow Storm
To those of us who live in the northern hemisphere, the Amaryllis is truly nature’s gift! And here is what you need to know to collect and cultivate them. Who would not want a flowering bulb that blooms for us all in the dead of winter? (Native to places in the southern hemisphere, the flower thinks winter is the time to bloom.) And who are we to argue with that?
PS: to have an Amaryllis in bloom at Christmas, plant the bulb in early to mid-November. See Below.
But Have You Ever Done This?
Planted an Amaryllis bulb in October or November to bloom at Christmas, enjoyed it in the house, and then in the holiday cleanup-tossed the bulb! I won’t do that again; here is why you should not do it either!
The Amaryllis is a spectacular living collector’s Item that can repeat its blooms every year for as long as 75 years. (The average Amaryllis bulb lives 25 years, and many last beyond 50 years of beauty.) And better still, the bulb that encloses everything it needs for life will reproduce itself, creating new bulbs for you.
In addition, it is so much loved by people who often are not otherwise even gardeners that it is sold in over 500 different varieties, including solid colors, unique sizes and shapes, stripes and solids, and single and double blooms that can reach eight inches across. And they can be priced accordingly. Amaryllis are often passed down in families from one generation to another-a true collector’s item.
You can put your Amaryllis bulbs in your will!
I feel foolish having thrown out such a treasure with the wrapping paper, and I bet you do too!
Amaryllis: What It Does
Amaryllis grows from a bulb, a rounded, self-contained storage organ enclosing a stem and fleshy leaves.
- It will bloom brilliantly indoors, then produce the strap-like green leaves that create the energy to produce new flowers,
- then, it takes a long nap and blooms again, just as brilliantly, in the house or in the garden.
Then next year, your fat brown bulb will do the same thing for you all over again. Every few years, your bulb will produce new bulbs for you to grow and expand your collection.
When it comes to collecting-I like paintings, but they can’t do that!
The Amaryllis And How We Got It
The Amaryllis is a member of the family Amaryllidacaceae. Think of an onion, and you will understand them. In fact, if you cut your Amaryllis open, it will look a lot like an onion. Your bulb contains the whole plant, stems, blossoms, and leaves. A little warmth a little water, and it’s ready to go. The family includes daffodils, snowdrops, onions, leeks, and garlic.
Understanding The Genus
The Genus is a little more complicated.
(Remember, Binomial Nomenclature goes like this:)
- Family is the big group,
- Then Genus,
- And then all the species. (When you have identified everything, including the species (which may include variety or cultivar you have defined your plant- you know what you have.)
There are two Genera that include Amaryllis.
- What we normally call an Amaryllis and buy in decorated packages for Christmas are members of the genus Hippeastrum and are large, showy flowers popular as house plants. They are native to South America.
- The Genus Amaryllis is a small genus of only two species (Amaryllis belladonna and Amaryllis paradisicola) and is native to South Africa and blooms about March.
If you need a quick review of Latin for Gardeners read this.
Why We Call Them All Amaryllis
In 1753, in the early days of naming plants, the great Carl Linnaeus created the name Amaryllis belladonna, and both the South African and the South American plants were put in the same genus. Later knowledge caused people to separate the two genera. But names people use tend to stick with us. And even today, we call them all Amaryllis. But your Amaryllis is most likely not an Amaryllis; it’s a Hippeastrum!
How We Got The Names For Your Amaryllis Collection
In Virgil, Amaryllis was a young Arcadian shepherdess who wanted to get the attention of a disinterested young gardener. Amaryllis implies sparkling, and Carl Linnaeus(1707-1778) named the flower for her. Later, the forward-thinking botanist William Herbert (1778-1847) distinguished some plants as a new genus separate from the Amaryllis and called them Hippeastrum, and today we continue with two separate genera.
Science Vs. Habit
We see this conflict repeatedly in botany. As our knowledge of living things grows, we change the names of the plants we grow for more accuracy. But habit rules, and we have called all of these plants Amaryllis for a long time, and the name sticks. When you search online or in your garden center for beautiful flowers, you will be sold Amaryllis (and if you see the name Hippeastrum at all, it will be in parenthesis!)
So it appears that in Virgil’s poem, the shepherdess was looking for attention, and it seems she still is!
Never overlook the contributions of these early botanists to the accomplishments we make today in the garden. Some were remarkable people. Herbert was a British churchman who, in his spare time, was a poet, scholar, Amaryllis breeder, and early evolutionist. The name he gave the plant, Hippeastrum, means ‘Knight’s star lily and consists of 14 species.
Don’t Forget The Hemisphere!
The plant you buy or acquire as a gift was raised either in the southern (South Africa and South America) or northern hemisphere (Holland is the biggest origin). Try to find the source of your bulb and read the instructions that come with it.
Here’s why! Bulbs raised in the southern hemisphere will bloom for you in about five weeks. (Most of those sold for Christmas consumption are of this origin.) Amaryllis raised in the northern hemisphere will require eight to ten weeks to bloom.
Combining the varieties will give you flowers to grow in succession indoors all winter long.
Amaryllis Collection And Cultivation
Amaryllis Varieties To Choose From
There are five main appearance groups of Amaryllis. You can make a good start by choosing one of these.
- A Single Bloom: Here, you will see a row of petals.
- Double Blooms: Look for the frilly appearance that comes from multiple layers of petals.
- Small Flowering: These are called miniature, although the blooms are 3-5 inches wide.
- Trumpet Shaped: These are the most lily-like flowers and offer scent and trumpet shape.
- Cybister and Exotic Varieties: These are Orchid-Like and exotic. The petals are long, narrow and ribbon-like.
How To Buy Amaryllis Bulbs: For Best Results
Size counts! Big is better! A large bulb will have more bloom stems and, therefore, more flowers. Remember, a bulb is a storage vessel. A bigger bulb will have more stored energy to fuel growing and flowering. You will see a short, flattened stem with roots on the bottom and fleshy leaves on the pointy top. When you buy your bulb and open the package, you will see a fat round bulb with a flattish bottom with some whitish roots below. The top may or may not have a green shoot showing, but it will be pointy.
When the bulbs are harvested and shipped, they will dry out. They will appear a little smaller than they will look when watered and may have a loose, brown, onion-like outer covering. You can remove this if you like.
You will pay more for a Jumbo bulb than for a smaller one. What do you get for that?
- A Jumbo Bulb of 36-38 centimeters will produce 2-3 flower stalks; each stalk will have at least four blossoms.
- A 26-28 cm bulb will have one (possibly two) flower stalks, and each should produce 3-4 flowers. You will see this size in the gift-boxed bulbs you buy for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Amaryllis bulbs are sold by size, measured in centimeters around the widest diameter of the bulb. Some varieties have bulbs of different sizes; select the bulb variety that suits your needs.
Price also reflects the availability of the bulb. Some newer varieties are in short supply and are priced accordingly. So expect the bigger bulbs to cost the most, and rare varieties will impact the price too.
How To Choose An Amaryllis Bulb
When the grower harvests bulbs, they will wash them. A healthy bulb may have a papery outer skin after being washed. It should be firm to the touch and whitish in color with brown outer skin. Reject any soft bulbs or brown spots at the top of the neck. Avoid any mold. A healthy bulb has a clean and earthy smell.
How We Got The Amaryllis Bulb
Native to tropical South and Central America, we owe our pleasure in the Amaryllis to Eduard Friedrich Poeppig (1798-1868). His expertise included medicine, botany, and zoology, and he was a highly productive explorer. He spent many years in Chile, discovered the Amaryllis growing in the Andes mountains, and brought back a large collection to Germany that included 17,000 dried flowers.
Then the Amaryllis was first commercially bred by Dutch plantsmen who imported the first species and developed their own cultivars. By the 19th century, the plants reached North American buyers, and in the mid-20th century, Dutch breeders were raising plants in South Africa.
Today most of the bulbs we buy originate. from Dutch and South African sources, but you will also notice that new products come from the US, India, Israel, Japan, Brazil, Peru, and Australia.
How To Grow Your Amaryllis Indoors
Grow the bulb in containers that set off its beauty as you choose. Grow it in clear glass with decorative stones, plastic, ceramic, or clay containers. If growing the plant indoors in the winter, you can move them outside during warm weather. To begin another bloom cycle, you will place the bulb into dormancy.
How To Choose The Best Container
When choosing containers to plant Amaryllis in size is important. Select a container that is 1-2″ wider than the bulb. (Like many bulbs, this one performs best in tight spaces.) Use a container twice as deep as the bulb to ensure growing space for the roots. The Amaryllis has a tall growing stem; choose a heavy container for stability.
In style, color, and material, use what suits you. Consider covering the top of the soil with decorative material, especially when using the plant for Christmas or other holidays.
These are often tall plants and can be top-heavy. Do this to keep them beautiful and stable:
- Choose a heavy container.
- Plant the bulb firmly in its material.
- Try stakes for tall plants, metal and bamboo are readily available.
When To Buy Amaryllis Bulbs
Expect to find Amaryllis bulbs for sale, ready to plant in October and November. You can plant the bulbs from October through April for blooms from December until the end of June indoors. Amaryllis is hardy in zones 9-11, with some exceptions.
Everybody likes to be given flowers, but delivering fresh flowers is not always practical. Amaryllis bulbs are a more permanent gift than fresh flowers, which may explain their growth. Amaryllis are available as growing plants, individual bulbs ready to plant, and kits ready to go. Just add water.
Your local garden center will have seasonal offerings, and the widest varieties are available from large dealers and breeders.
Why Are Amaryllis Expensive?
Amaryllis are more expensive than many other bulbs. Why, you ask? First is time to produce a saleable bulb. Three to five years is not unusual. International transport costs are an issue with large tropical bulbs. In addition, the dormancy requirement adds time and labor. The long bloom life is a plus over holiday times; you can see seven weeks of color from a bulb (depending on size) and three weeks for the cut flower alternative.
We gardeners benefit from taking care of our collectibles.
Planting Amaryllis For Christmas Blooms
Amaryllis is a spring-blooming bulb, and those raised in the Southern Hemisphere will bloom the earliest. Look for bulbs labeled early blooming or with southern hemisphere origins. Sold primarily in the fall, plant for Christmas in early November. You can improve your chances of success by planting two bulbs a few days apart.
You can have Amaryllis blooming in the house all winter long despite the weather by choosing varieties for succession planting.
Varieties For Christmas Blooming
- Early Blooming varieties include Minerva, Cherry Nymph, Magic Green, Magical Touch, and Evergreen.
- Getting blooms in time for Thanksgiving is a little harder, but a great idea. For early blooming, try Minerva and Red Lion. Keeping the bulbs in a warm place will shorten the bloom time.
Midwinter Blooming Varieties
- Appleblossom, Splash, Double King, Exotica, and White Nymph.
Varieties for Late Winter Blooms
Red Pearl, Red Lion, Spartacus, Nymph, Christmas Gift, and Lagoon.
These are samples; there are many choices. Read the offerings from large online dealers. They will offer you search features that allow you to find bulbs by color, size, and bloom time.
A list of varied Amaryllis for winter blooming: this list, with photos, prices, and sources, is from Better Homes and Gardens. It has some surprising varieties. (And they are not all red.)
How To Plant And Prepare The Amaryllis For Its First Blooms- In Seven Steps
Why Are We Advised To Soak The Bulbs Prior To Planting?
Cornell University and Kansas State University did a study to improve the success rate of forced Amaryllis bulbs. The goal was to improve both uniformity and quality of the plants produced. The study concluded that soaking the bulbs for 12-24 hours in lukewarm water improved both the speed of growth and the overall performance of plants.
This will take you to the study summary. Read about the study and decide if you would like to add this step.
Seven Steps To Plant The Amaryllis Bulb
- Soak the roots of the Amaryllis bulb in lukewarm water for 12-24 hours. This will soften the roots, and the study indicates it will improve the growth of the plant. Soak only the roots, not the bulb. You can do this by perching the bulb on top of a glass of water so that only the long white roots are in the water.
- How to plant the Amaryllis bulb. This works for bulbs started in water or in potting soil. Choose a container about 1-2″ wider than your bulb. Like many other bulbs, they perform best in tight quarters. Choose a heavy container with drainage holes and cover about 1/3 of the container with soil. Set your bulb on top of that medium and carefully begin to fill, leaving the top 1/3 of the bulb exposed.
- Water until the potting mix is moist throughout but do not wet the exposed part of the bulb. Bulbs can rot from excess water.
4. Water and Fertilizer: Do not water again until the bulb begins to show green growth. Place the plant in a warm place with plenty of indirect but bright light. Fertilize after the plant shows signs of growth. You can use 1/2 strength fertilizer each time you water. Most recommendations are for 10-10-10 listing on the package. Other recommendations are for 10-20-15, which increases the phosphorous content. (You will find that in houseplant and tomato fertilizers.)
5. Increasing or decreasing the temperature can speed up or slow the plant’s growth.
6. To ensure healthy, beautiful, straight stems, turn the plant on a regular basis, and you can add a small stake in the soil to keep the flower stem straight.
7. When planting in stones, marbles, seashells, or other decorative media, simply follow the same formula for protecting the bulb. If you have decorative containers that do not have drainage, simply set your plant pot on a shallow tray that will prevent the bulb from sitting in standing water.
Amaryllis Encased In Wax-What to Do
This product is sold as a gift item. The bright globe of wax looks like a Christmas Tree ornament. It requires no work at all. No water, no soil, no feeding. The individual bulb is encased in brightly-covered wax with a small wire stand embedded in the bottom of the bulb.
I have never used this product; it makes a very compact gift. You can put it in a stocking or a gift basket. Without a heavy pot to keep the plant anchored, it should be important to rotate the bulb regularly to ensure a stable straight stem. They are designed to be a single-use product, but I know people who peel away the wax and replant it in a pot. (Follow the instructions for replanting.)
After The Amaryllis Finishes Blooming
As each flower finishes its bloom period, you can cut it off. This improves the appearance of the plant and saves energy. When all of the blooms are finished, you can cut the flower stalk off near the base of the plant. RESIST the temptation to remove the leaves. They are next year’s blooms at work. It takes about four leaves to produce one stem of blossoms.
How To Cut The Spent Flower Stock
After each flower stalk completes its blooms cut it about one inch above the base of the plant. Cut with a sharp blade and you will notice that the stalk is hollow. Push that last inch of stalk closed and it will prevent water from entering the bulb.
At this point, treat your post-bloom Amaryllis as a green foliage house plant. Keep the plant in a container of potting soil and provide water when the soil is dry and bright light. Keep the plant indoors until your last spring frost date has passed.
Now you can acclimate any of your houseplants to a life outdoors.
How To Use The Amaryllis In The Garden
How To Rebloom The Amaryllis In The Garden
Keep the plant in a place with dappled sunlight in its pot or in the ground. Fertilize the plant every two to four weeks. This will build up nutrients in the bulb to produce next year’s flowers. Water only when the top two inches of soil are dry. If your summer rains are heavy, like mine are, you may want to move the pots under cover.
Back Indoors To Start Again
Fertilize the plant until about mid-July and bring it indoors before the first frost in your area. In order to rebloom, the bulb must enter dormancy and be exposed to cool temperatures for eight to ten weeks.
Prepare The Plant For Dormancy
You can remove the plant from the soil or its pot and clean the bulbs. Wipe them, keeping any baby bulbs attached to the plant. Trim the roots and any loose material. If you have several amaryllis, the colors, and varieties will be difficult to identify when you replant. Tie the label to the plant, or you can group or box your bulbs together by variety. It is important to keep all of the leaves on the bulb. They are creating next year’s flowers.
Place the plant in a cool, reasonably dark spot without water to induce dormancy. When the foliage dries, cut it back to just above the top of the bulb. At this point, place the bulb in a spot with a temperature of about 50-55 degrees for eight to ten weeks.
The Dormancy Resting Location: How Cool, How Dark?
This depends on where you live. Many gardeners use basements and garages to store bulbs. This is the preferred choice of many gardeners in cool climates.
In my subtropical climate, these options are not available. Some growers report success with refrigerator crispers at 50-55 degrees F. (Bulbs in storage will not be watered or fed.) The gardeners simply pack the bulbs in paper bags and avoid putting apples in the refrigerator simultaneously. (The apple’s ethylene gas will kill the bulb’s embryonic flower.)
Start A New Growth Cycle
Start the next growth cycle by returning the plant to a brightly lit area and water once. Water again after the plant shows signs of new green growth. The temperature at this point should be from 70-75 degrees, and the soil should be maintained at a moist but never wet level.
Repeat the initial planting procedure.
Why Did My Amaryllis Not Bloom?
In order to produce flowers, the Amaryllis needs to have created food reserves to feed the flowers. Healthy leaves create food reserves. We reasonably expect to need four leaves to produce a stalk of flowers.
Reasons for failure to bloom or rebloom are these:
- The bulb did not have its required rest period during the year.
- Only well-nourished bulbs will bloom. Fertilize the plant after flowering and throughout the growing season. (From spring to July.)
- The bulb failed to produce nutrients in a sunny place after it completes a bloom period.
- Too much or little water or water at the wrong time.
- The plant must have a warm location with sunlight to bloom.
- Amaryllis must have a firm, healthy bulb that is at least 8″ or 20cm wide.
How To Grow Amaryllis In Your Garden
Depending on your garden’s location and the varieties of your bulbs, this may be a desirable option for you.
Amaryllis are especially attractive when planted in small groups in the garden. Use them in Beds, borders, containers, and in naturalized areas.
Here are the zones in which you can plant Amaryllis outdoors all year. Here is how to find your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone.
- Plant Hardiness Zones 8-10. Plant the bulb with the neck at or slightly above ground level.
- In Zone 7 (and sometimes in Zone 6), plant only cold-tolerant species 5-6″ below the surface and cover with 4-5″ of fine mulch. Add more winter mulch.
- Once your bulb shows growth, restrict the water to when the top two inches of soil are dry.
- Excess water is a major risk to these bulbs—plant only in well-drained soil. Once leaves appear, add a monthly application of balanced fertilizer. (A balanced fertilizer has three numbers about the same such as 10-10-10.)
- Deadhead spent flowers and remove spent flower stalks. Leave the foliage until completely yellow.
Summary-Amaryllis Collection and Cultivation,
The Amaryllis strikes me as a perfect (but rare) example of getting more than you paid for; it exceeds our expectations.
The gift box offered us a little bloom for a snowy day. Instead, we find that we can expect years of pleasure.
Below you will find a quick review of Amaryllis care tips and a list of online dealers who have significant offerings.
How To Care For Amaryllis-A Quick Review
More Information On Amaryllis Collection and Cultivation
Amaryllis are less richly endowed with societies, books, and other publications than some other plants, but here are some of the sources I found.
Amaryllis, Starr Orkenga, an Exploration of the Plant.
Amaryllis Cultivation, Mason Beverly
Growing Amaryllis Bulbs, the Gardeners Guide, Lucky James
Hippeastrum: The Gardener’s Amaryllis, Royal Horticultural Society
Floralia is an organization in the Netherlands that represents Amaryllis growers. They have some information aimed at consumers.
Amaryllis Dealers With Search Features For Collectors
- Longfield Gardens, NJ, this site offers 72 plants with a four-item search feature.
- https://www.dutchbulbs.com/search?keyword=amaryllis three pages of Amaryllis
- https://www.whiteflowerfarm.com/search/amaryllis/results/2.html-5 pages of Amaryllis
- Amaryllis and Caladium Bulb Company, Lakeland, Florida, will provide a paper catalog or online.
- The Garden Supply Company posts interviews with their growers.
Let Me Know How You Do Collecting and Cultivating Amaryllis
If you follow this plan and raise some Amaryllis, let me know how you do.
- What resources help you?
- What experience are you having?
- What would you do differently next time you plant?