Amaryllis: Enjoy This Favorite Festive Flower from Year To Year

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Amaryllis (Photo by Allie Pesch)

By Fern Campbell
Piedmont Master Gardener 

If you were the happy recipient of an amaryllis bulb during the holidays, its large, showy flowers will brighten your home with a taste of the tropics during the cold winter months. What is there not to love about this must-own showstopper? Its spectacular trumpet-shaped blooms can be 10 inches across, atop an 18- to 30-inch-tall flower stalk. Typically, four flowers are produced on each stalk, with each bloom often lasting several weeks. 

Whether you received the rich deep-red or the pure snow-white amaryllis, the flower will stand out from the rest of your indoor plants. The good news is that amaryllis are fairly easy to grow, will flower the first year and, with a little effort, can reward you year after year with a striking display of flower power.

The amaryllis belongs to the Amaryllidaceae family. Its genus is Hippeastrum. Amaryllis is native to tropical and subtropical areas of the Americas and will not survive outdoors in our colder months. Both the bulb and the plant are poisonous. 

The amaryllis can be bought as plants when in bud or in full bloom or as waxed bulbs, but they are also sold pre-planted in a gift box with the bulb, soil media, container, and growing directions. It is much more rewarding to plant the bulb and watch it grow and flower. The amaryllis, like all bulbs, has one characteristic that separates it from other flowering annual and perennial plants: an extraordinary self-contained food storage tissue that nourishes the plant and gives it everything it needs to bloom successfully.

Amaryllis (Photo by Fern Campbell)

Amaryllis bulbs sold in late fall or early winter should be planted when you receive them, as they have already gone through a dormancy period in which they have been exposed to a certain amount of dry, cool conditions to trick or force the bulb into blooming during this time of year. They are ready to grow. Of note, waxed amaryllis bulbs do not need soil or even water to produce the fabulous flowers because the bulbs contain all the food and moisture needed to bloom. After blooming, you may remove the wax coating and follow the instructions for planting the bulbs.

Selecting, Planting and Forcing Bulbs

When purchasing amaryllis bulbs, select large, solid, firm bulbs that show no signs of shriveling, mold or decay. The plant’s performance is influenced by both the size and the condition of the bulb.

Select a pot that is approximately 1-2 inches wider than the diameter of the bulb and has provisions for drainage. An amaryllis will bloom better when slightly pot-bound. Select good, well-draining potting soil. 

Add a small amount of potting soil in the bottom of the pot and center the pointy side of bulb atop the soil in the middle of the pot, positioned so that at least one-half to one-third of the bulb is above the surface of the potting soil. Tap additional soil firmly around the bulb, water it thoroughly, and place it in a warm, sunny spot.

After the initial watering, allow the soil to dry somewhat before watering again. Don’t overwater as the bulb does not like to remain in wet soils; only water when the soil surface feels dry to the touch. Watering once every seven to ten days is usually enough. 

Growth usually appears within two weeks. During flower stalk elongation, turn the pot each day to keep the flower stalk growing straight. Some may need staking. 

Flowering usually occurs within four to eight weeks after potting and can last for several weeks. Move the plant out of direct sunlight and to a slightly cooler location when the flower buds begin to show color. This cooler temperature will help sustain a longer bloom time. 

Care After Flowering

After the flowers fade, cut the spent flowers from the stem and eventually cut off the flower stalks one to two inches above the bulb, being careful not to damage the foliage. Flowering takes a considerable amount of the bulb’s stored energy. For the bulb to bloom again next season, the plant must replenish its food reserves. The strap-like leaves manufacture food for the plant. Place the plant in a sunny window and water when the soil surface is dry to the touch. 

The amaryllis can be moved and acclimated to the outside after the danger of frost, preferably in a place that receives morning sun. Feed monthly with a houseplant fertilizer through July. Bring the plant indoors in early September. 

Reflowering of Amaryllis

To rebloom, amaryllis need to be exposed to 45–55-degree temperatures for approximately eight to ten weeks. This can be done starting in early September, inducing a dormancy period by withholding light and water and storing the plant in a cool, dark basement for the eight-to-ten-week period. Cut off the foliage when the leaves turn brown. After the cooling requirement has been met, start the growth cycle again by repotting the bulb in fresh potting soil, watering, and placing in a well-lit, warm room. If it fails to rebloom, the bulb may not have been able to store adequate food reserves during spring and summer or may not have had an adequate cool, dormancy period.

Growing amaryllis bulbs indoors is a fun and easy way to have beautiful flowers inside during the winter months. Given proper care and attention, the bulbs will last a lifetime. To learn more about bulb forcing, look online for this publication from Virginia Cooperative Extension: “Fooling Mother Nature: Forcing Flower Bulbs for Indoor Bloom” (Hort-76NP, https://www.pubs.ext.vt.edu). For more information on amaryllis care after blooming, watch the YouTube video “Amaryllis Done Blooming? Here’s What to Do”. 

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