by Patty King – Halton Master Gardener
When the garden is quieting down and you are already beginning to think of next spring, there is a wonderful moment in-between to satisfy your plant cravings with holiday themed plants such as the Amaryllis. Along with the red Poinsettia and Christmas cactus, the Amaryllis or Hippeastrum will fill the darker days with large, red, trumpet-shaped blooms atop a two foot stem. The leaves are wide and can easily reach a foot in length. Quite a sight to behold!
Confusion over whether these plants are named Amaryllis or Hippeastrum has been debated for two hundred years. Nonetheless, Amaryllis is the most used common name for the plants we buy today for the holidays.
Amaryllis are a tropical/sub-tropical plant, native to the Americas with an epicenter in Brazil. These large bulbs with trumpet blooms, first made their way to Europe in the 17thcentury to adorn the glasshouses of botanists, plant collectors and wealthy patrons. Since then technological advances in refrigeration and transportation, and initiatives in plant breeding have created new varieties with taller stems, larger blooms, bigger bulbs and more colours.
Most of today’s varieties are bred in the Netherlands, South Africa and South America, but also the U.S., Japan and Israel. Breeding has been taking place for about 200 years and there are now hundreds of varieties. The number that are sold commercially is much smaller and have names such as: Apple Blossom, Picotee, Magnum and Double Delicious.
Growing an amaryllis is not difficult. Most garden centers will sell you a package which includes the bulb, potting medium, and a container along with planting instructions. You can also buy the bulbs separately.
To successfully flower an amaryllis:
- Get a large enough pot. These are big bulbs. A pot of 7 or 8 inches across is a good size. Clay or ceramic pots will add weight and balance for this tall plant, and is a better choice than plastic.
- Average potting soil is fine.
- Leave the top third of the bulb exposed.
- Water well at planting. After that, let the soil dry out between watering. Once a stem starts to appear, water regularly.
- Amaryllis like sunlight and warmth. Room temperature is good and a window with bright, indirect light is ideal.
- To prevent the plant from leaning too much, rotate the pot regularly.
The bulbs you purchase from garden centers at this time of year are ready to grow and bloom once you pot them up. Amaryllis bulbs can give you many years of pleasure.
To grow them from year to year just takes some preparation. Once the flowers have faded, cut the flower stalk to about an inch above the bulb. Continue to water the bulb and the leaves will continue to grow throughout the summer. Once the leaves start to decline and turn yellow, cut back the water and allow the foliage to die back. Watering can be stopped at this point to allow the bulb to go dormant. Place the bulb in a cool, dark and dry place for eight weeks. After this time has passed bring your Amaryllis back to a bright and warm place in your home, water it well, and wait for the cycle to begin again.
(Header Photo ‘Apple Blossom’ from Wikipedia Commons)