Winter Wonders

Garden Scene
Photos courtesy of Colorblends

Photos courtesy of Colorblends

You don’t need a green thumb to successfully grow exquisite amaryllis.

Winter is not the season most often associated with growing flamboyant flowers — unless the subject happens to be amaryllis. With large tropical flowers that rival anything the summer garden can boast, amaryllis are grown indoors in pots to brighten the dark days of winter. And while it might seem daunting to grow, it’s actually so easy that even a child can do it.

Typically, amaryllis are potted up late fall through January to grow and bloom from after Christmas until the end of winter. The large, unassuming bulbs — many larger than a softball or a grown man’s fist — are easy to plant, nearly foolproof to grow and provide weeks — sometimes even months — of indoor blooms. 

Amaryllis varieties offer a riot of flower colors that range from subtle shades to screaming brights of red, magenta, pink, fuchsia, white, salmon, orange, bi-colors and more. A few are even green. Flower sizes and shapes range from enormous single blooms to multi-petaled doubles to miniatures. Petals can be rounded, pointed, spidery, reflexed or slightly cupped. 

Amaryllis-'Red-RIval'Each bulb produces multiple flowers that can bloom successively for weeks, adding color, vibrancy and cheer wherever placed. It takes only a single bulb to make an excellent display. Those in the know also consider amaryllis bulbs unbeatable holiday gifts — the gifts can be as simple as a bare bulb wrapped in tissue paper or presented ready-to-grow in a pot with soil. 

Potting in Soil
All that’s needed to grow amaryllis is a bulb, potting soil and a six- to seven-inch pot with a drainage hole (amaryllis bulbs are normally planted in pots that are only slightly larger around than the bulb). Layer the bottom of the pot with heavy potting soil (soil/sand mixes are ideal), pop in the bulb and add soil up to where the bulb’s “shoulders” taper inward. Leave the upper shoulders and neck of the bulb exposed.

After potting, water well and then water only when the soil is dry to the touch. After a green shoot appears, water regularly to keep soil moist but not soggy, and move the pot to a sunny spot. Access to good sunlight during the growing phase is important to keep the plant from stretching in search of light.

Allow eight to 12 weeks from potting to bloom. Be forewarned: growth starts slowly. Usually, nothing much happens for a month or so. Then one or two stems emerge and grow very tall. Each stem is topped by four to six flashy flowers. The show continues, when multiple stems bloom in sequence.

Growing in Water
Amaryllis can also be grown without soil. Like most bulbs, all of the food the plant needs is in the starchy material inside the bulb — it’s what makes the bulb so fat. To grow bulbs in small water gardens, use a shallow container and substitute pebbles or stones for soil. Make sure to add enough stones around the sides to give the bulb upright support.

Add just enough water so it nearly reaches, but doesn’t touch, the bottom of the bulb — as the Dutch like to say, “close enough so the roots can smell the water.” Position the bulb in the pebbles or in sand poised above the water level so the roots will grow down to meet the water. Once growth begins, be sure to place the plant where it receives some sun.

Amaryllis-'Faro'Stagger Your Plantings
Amaryllis bulbs are generally available fall through April. Pot some every few weeks to have fresh blooms all season. For the December holidays, choose “Christmas Flowering Amaryllis,” which hails from the southern hemisphere (generally South Africa) and is predisposed to an earlier bloom season. For winter bloom (including some in December), try the Dutch Amaryllis in single, miniature, double and specialty categories.

More is More
If one bulb results in an excellent display, grouping several bulbs together is downright spectacular. Try planting two, three, even five or more amaryllis bulbs shoulder-to-shoulder in a broader (not deeper) decorative container.

The effect works best when all of the bulbs planted together are of the same variety. Each bulb will send up one stem, then another (sometimes more), and will be topped by four to six colorful florets. A bonus: since amaryllis tend to be top-heavy, planting multiple bulbs can also make the arrangement less likely to tip over since the container will have a broader base.

Bring ’em Back
Amaryllis bulbs are among top choices for holiday hostess gifts and always make a thoughtful present. But many recipients are clueless about how to keep plants “happy” once the holidays are past. Unlike most forced bulbs, amaryllis can be brought back to bloom for years and years — even decades. Some people have 40-year-old bulbs handed down from their grandmothers.

If you want an amaryllis to bloom again for years to come, grow it in soil, not water. When the bloom is spent, remove the wilted flowers and then treat it as a green houseplant. Water as needed, and add a dose of houseplant food once a month until August. Then stop watering and give the bulb a rest — no water, no light.

Double-Amaryllis-'Dancing-Queen'Leave the pot in a dry, dormant state for at least two months. When you’re ready to start the flowering process again, spread some fresh potting soil on the top of the pot and water well, letting water drain out the bottom. Move the pot to a warm area, but not in direct sunlight. Water sparingly until you see signs of growth, then move the pot into bright light and start regular watering as needed.

As with most bulb flowers, amaryllis will grow toward sources of light, so turn the pot regularly to keep the flower growing upright. Once the blooms open, move the pot away from direct sunlight and sources of heat, including televisions. This will ensure that your blooms last as long as possible.