Amaryllis bulbs are often given as gifts for the holidays, later producing their large, spectacular flowers to brighten the recipient’s home or office. Potted amaryllis bulbs can be found in many stores in December, or in mail-order catalogs. Amaryllis bulbs are sometimes also sold without a pot so they can be planted in a pot of your choice.
Amaryllis flowers come in a variety of colors, all shades of red, pink, orange, white or bicolor. Some amaryllis bulbs produce single flowers while others produce fancier double blooms. Some of the more spectacular amaryllis blossoms can grow as large as 8-10 inches across.
When purchasing unpotted amaryllis bulbs, choose those that are large and feel solid. The largest bulbs will produce two or more flower stalks, and the size of the bulb is relative to the size of the blossoms it will produce.
Never purchase unpotted amaryllis bulbs that have already begun to sprout. The bulb will have used up much of its energy if it sprouts too soon.
Select a pot for the bulb that is an inch or two wider than the diameter of the bulb, and plant the bulb in well-draining potting soil that does not include pine bark. A mix of equal amounts of perlite and peat can also be used for potted amaryllis bulbs. The upper half to third of the bulb should always remain above the surface of the potting mixture.
Once planted, water the potted amaryllis well and place it in a location where the temperature is about 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit. Some sources say that the bulb should not be watered again until it begins to sprout. Once it sprouts, a potted amaryllis should be kept moist but not soggy. Soggy soil can suffocate the roots of a plant. Make sure that the pot your amaryllis is growing in has drainage holes, and if it doesn’t allow for drainage, shift the bulb into a pot that allows for drainage.
After the amaryllis bulb sprouts, move the plant to a sunny window and give it a half-strength dose of fertilizer every two to four weeks. A potted amaryllis will want to grow toward the sun. To avoid a lopsided plant and keep the blossoms facing indoors where they can be enjoyed, turn the pot each day to keep the flower stalk growing straight and tall. Amaryllis blooms are large and heavy, so the stalk may need to be staked if it tends to lean.
Once the large, exotic flowers appear on your potted amaryllis, move the plant to an area where it will receive indirect light and cooler temperatures. Cooler temperatures will prolong the life of the blossoms, while warm temperatures will cause the blossoms to wither sooner. Avoid keeping a potted amaryllis near a heat source.
When the flowers have faded, the flower stalks may be clipped off about an inch above the bulb. Any dead foliage should also be removed, but leave the green foliage on the plant. Your potted amaryllis still needs those leaves to help it store energy so it can bloom again.
Potted amaryllis bulbs will produce flowers year after year if they are treated correctly. After the plant has finished blooming, move it back to a sunny window and give it water when the soil surface is dry. Again, be careful to not overwater the plant. Continue fertilizing the amaryllis with a dose of half-strength fertilizer once or twice a month until the outdoor temperatures stay well above freezing, generally in May. Gradually expose the plant to outdoor temperatures and sunlight for several days, setting it outside for a longer time each day. Once the plant is accustomed to bright outdoor sunlight, you can plant your amaryllis, pot and all, in a spot where it will receive partial to full sun. Keeping the amaryllis in its pot will prevent it from growing into the soil outdoors and it will be so much easier to dig out the pot again when it’s time to bring the amaryllis indoors again.
During its time outdoors, the potted amaryllis will not bloom, but it will retain its long, blade-like foliage. Before the plant will flower again, it must be fooled into going dormant for awhile.
To make a potted amaryllis bloom again, bring the plant back indoors in mid-September. Keep it in a cool, somewhat dark location such as an unheated garage or basement to induce dormancy, and stop watering the plant. Ignore the plant for awhile. Remove the leaves as they become brown, and keep the bulb at a temperature of 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit for 8-10 weeks. It is not necessary to shift the amaryllis bulb up into a larger pot each year. Amaryllis bulbs will perform better if they are a bit crowded.
After 8-10 weeks of being ignored, the amaryllis will have had enough rest and will be ready to begin growing again. The amaryllis can be moved back to its sunny window and given a good drink. The amaryllis bulb will soon begin to sprout. Once it sprouts, begin giving it half-strength fertilizer again and your potted amaryllis will soon produce another lovely display of its extraordinary tropical blossoms.
Once a potted amaryllis has grown for at least two years, the bulb may begin to produce daughter bulbs. These bulblets can be carefully removed from the mother bulb and planted in separate pots. Or the bulblets can be left on the mother plant where they will bloom alongside the mother and create a more abundant display of flowers.
by Michael J. McGroarty
© Copyright 2011