How to Plant and Care for Amaryllis Bulbs
Poinsettias, with their signature Santa-red petals, are America's go-to holiday plant—more than 80 million are sold each year. But what if we told you that there's a better flower out there, one that's more vibrant, easier to grow, and even re-blooms after the holiday season? We're talking about amaryllis. Like the Christmas cactus, another favorite, this tropical beauty thrives indoors with minimal care and flaunts spectacular, long-lasting winter flowers. As a potted bulb and a source for cut flowers, the amaryllis is a versatile choice for sprucing up your home year-round. And it's a perfect flower to give on Christmas to relatives or your boss. Ready to upgrade your windowsill? Here's what you need to know about amaryllis.
Amaryllis Planting and Care
Want to start your amaryllis plant from scratch? For a successful first season, buy top-quality bulbs from a trusted supplier. They should be firm and dry, with no dark spots. When you are ready to plant, first remove any dead, dried-out roots, then soak the fleshy ends for one hour. Choose a container with a drainage hole and a diameter about two inches wider than one amaryllis bulb. For groups of two or more bulbs, select a wider pot that provides an equally snug fit.
As for planting medium? Use a fast-draining soil with enough sand to provide a weighty anchor for the tall mature plant. Or try a soilless mix of peat, coarse sand, vermiculite, and charcoal in a ratio of 3:3:2:1. Make sure to place pottery shards over the drainage hole, and fill your container with potting mix up to the bulbs' "shoulders" (the point where a bulb tapers toward its top, or "nose"). At least one-third of each bulb should project above the mix. Arrange multiple bulbs with shoulders touching. Water thoroughly.
Set the pot in a bright place that stays warm (65 to 70 degrees). Then, water sparingly until new growth emerges. Once you see signs of life, water regularly and fertilize monthly with liquid houseplant food, or apply a balanced time-release fertilizer according to label directions. To prolong the amaryllis's bloom time, as soon as the flowers start to open, move the pot to a cooler (about 60 degrees) area, out of direct sunlight.
How to Get Your Amaryllis to Flower
After your amaryllis has bloomed, it may seem past its prime—but don't throw it away. These bulbs have been known to flower annually for up to 40 years. To get an even larger bounty next season, after all flowers have faded, cut stems to one to two inches above the bulb, leaving foliage in place. Keep your plant in bright light and water it regularly; your soil mix should be moist, not soggy. Come summer, stop watering and fertilizing; if the plant has been outdoors, bring it back inside. Set the pot in a cool, dry, and dark place, like a closet, for eight to 10 weeks. After dormancy, a small amount of fresh mix may be added to the pot just below bulb-shoulder level, or the bulb may be repotted as if new. To start the next growth cycle, move the amaryllis to a warm spot and water it. Cut off wilted leaves flush with the bulb. Water the bulb, set it in a sunny window, and don't hydrate it again until it shows signs of awakening. Your budding amaryllis bulb will grow into a tall, elegant flower, which, if you time it right, will bloom just as Christmas rolls around. Dutch hybrid amaryllis will re-bloom in eight to 12 weeks; African hybrids will re-bloom in four to six.
In lieu of soil, you may choose to "water plant" your amaryllis. This hydroponic method makes for a beautiful display and is much simpler than you think. To get started, fill a clear vessel with a 3-inch layer of stones or pebbles. Add the amaryllis bulb, then add more stones around it for stability; add water just below the bulb, but quite not touching it—the roots should reach the water, but the bulb should not be submerged (this will cause rot). Place your jar on a sunny windowsill and monitor the water level to make sure it remains consistent. After your water-planted amaryllis blooms, it's time to move it into a pot with soil. The plant will not last more than one flowering in water.
How to Cut Amaryllis Flowers
Amaryllis make for stunning cut flowers. However, once removed from the plant, they require significant care to look their best in a vase. Begin with a clean vessel; partially fill it with water (amaryllis stay fresh longer in shallow levels) and add one pack of cut-flower food. Using a sharp knife, cut the stem at a 45-degree angle. Immediately turn the flower upside down and pour fresh water into the stem (the hollow stems must stay full of water). Plug cut the opening with a cotton ball, and transfer the amaryllis to the vase. Repeat these steps two or three times per week and remove spent blooms as new ones open. With proper care, cut amaryllis flowers last up to two weeks.
Different Types of Amaryllis
The amaryllis is far from a one-note flower. New varieties are constantly being developed, with growers hybridizing to create extraordinary colors, shapes, and markings. The following are just a few of the many options available.
- Santos: A candy-striped showstopper with orange-red markings
- Minerva: A white, star-shaped center that creates a big visual impact
- Benfica: Complete with huge, deep red flowers that resemble luxe velvet
- Temptation: Intricate white and red blooms with artful brushstroke patterns
- Red Nymph: Oversize, rose-like blooms imbued with a deep scarlet hue
- Monaco: Featuring fire engine-red blossoms for a not-so-subtle statement
- Samba: This newcomer boasts striped red-and-white blossoms
- Emerald: Smaller, more refined blossoms with a sophisticated mix of green, white, and burgundy
- Jungle Star: Exotic, spidery green petals streaked with burgundy
- Le Paz: Tentacle-like coral petals detailed with green-white accents
- Dancing Queen: Full, flouncy blooms with candy cane striping
- Pink Floyd: Neon pink blossoms with a lily-like presentation
While beautiful to look at, amaryllis can be toxic to pets. If ingested by cats or dogs, the plant can cause vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, abdominal pain, drooling, loss of appetite, and tremors. If you suspect your pet has snacked on your amaryllis, contact your veterinarian. To prevent potential problems, make sure your plants are out of reach of all pets, even the most ambitious felines. If you have trouble keeping your cats away from your plants, reconsider keeping amaryllis in your home.