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With its soaring stems and showy, exotic flowers, amaryllis (Hippeastrum) is reputed to be the queen of the winter bulbs. And with a few basic techniques, you can coax these regal botanicals into a glorious off-season bloom. Further, you can simply pot up an amaryllis for an impressive and long-lasting New Year’s Eve hostess gift. Today, Starr Ockenga, author and photographer of the comprehensive and inspiring guide “Amaryllis,” discusses the history and cultivation of these majestic plants, from bulb to bloom to rebloom.

Tender tropical natives of South America and the West Indies, amaryllis are available in several colors and patterns, as well as shapes, including single, double, miniature, and trumpet. As Starr points out, the number of flowers borne on each stem and the bloom time will depend largely on the variety, but generally all amaryllis grow at the speedy rate of about 1 inch per day.

When selecting bulbs, you may want to consider mail-order catalogs, which usually offer more varieties than garden centers. In either case, make sure the bulbs you receive are firm and dry, with no dark spots. To plant, first remove any dead, dried-out roots, then soak the fleshy roots for 1 hour. Choose a pot that’s about 1 inch larger all around than the bulb, and to avoid wicking, Starr recommends soaking your pots in water first. Use a light, well-draining potting mix (Starr uses 3 parts mix to 1 part coarse soil), treat your amaryllis to regular fertilizer, and water it sparingly until growth appears, after which point you should keep the soil moist but not soggy. Provide the bulb with bright light until it flowers, then transfer it to a cool spot, away from the sun.

To encourage a rebloom for next year, transfer the pot outside, and feed it with a 20-20-20 fertilizer throughout the summer. When the foliage dies down, cut it back, and allow the bulb to rest, keeping it in a cool, dry, dark place such as a closet or cabinet. After 6 to 8 weeks of dormancy, remove all foliage, and repot with fresh soil.

Starr Ockenga

Author, photographer, lecturer, designer, and gardener

For Starr Ockenga inquiries, please contact Missy in the publicity department at Clarkson Potter Publishers.

Guy Wolff pots

Guy Wolff Pottery Studio

305 Litchfield Turnpike (Route 202 near the intersection of Route 341)

Woodville, CT 06777



Available from Smith & Hawken

Potted amaryllis

The Netherlands Flower Bulb Growers

Amaryllis bulbs

John Scheepers, Inc.

Martha Stewart Everyday Amaryllis Bulbs

Starr Ockenga

“Amaryllis” (Clarkson Potter, 2002)

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