During the drab days of winter, there is a plant that is sure to please flower lovers everywhere, even those without a green thumb! Blooming in colors of the most delicate pink, to bold reds, salmons, and pure white, some with exotic stripes or multi-colored, single or double, dainty to dinner plate-sized blooms, the never-fail amaryllis is sure to impress. Each bulb produces one or more stems topped with bouquet-sized clusters of flowers. Of all the flowering bulbs, amaryllis are the easiest to bring to bloom.
Amaryllis originated in South America’s tropical regions, so it can be planted outside only in subtropical and warmer areas. However, they are popular indoor blooming plants worldwide today, especially for the holidays of Christmas and Valentine’s Day. They are readily available at big box stores, garden centers, and online, already potted or as bare bulbs. With just a little care after blooming, they can be enjoyed every winter for many years to come, even growing in size and number.
If you receive or buy a bare bulb, which looks like an oversized daffodil bulb, it may already be showing a bud emerging from the top. Planted in regular potting mix, watered, and placed in a warm, sunny window, it will bloom with no care at all other than watering. When the first buds open, the whole stem can be cut and placed in a vase for days of colorful display. Meanwhile, leaves will start to grow out of the bulb. They will develop into long strapping leaves, usually two feet in length. It’s not the most attractive houseplant, but this is the time to begin care if you would like to keep the bulb for future winter bloom.
Until all danger of frost is past, keep your leafed-out bulb in the sunniest window available. Water when dry, and start fertilizing the bulb immediately with any houseplant fertilizer, especially one formulated for blooming houseplants. It’s usually safe to place your amaryllis outdoors at the end of April in our area, where it should stay until late fall. Place the pot where it will receive at least a half day of sun, more if possible, and don't be surprised if some of the leaves turn reddish adjusting to the summer sun. More leaves will grow. The leaves and fertilizer will enable the bulb to form next winter’s flower buds. You can even remove the bulb from the pot and plant it directly in your flower or vegetable garden, at the same depth, with about the top third of the bulb exposed.
Continue to water and fertilize as normal all summer into fall. (Hint: Using a time-release fertilizer such as Osmocote will make this care easier.) In early fall, the leaves will begin to yellow. Cut them back to about 2 inches from the top of the bulb and remove the bulb from the soil. Clean any soil off the bulb’s roots and place it in a cool, dark place such as the crisper of your refrigerator for a minimum of 6 weeks. (Caution: Don't store amaryllis bulbs near apples as this will adversely affect the bulb.)
Anytime after six weeks (7 to 8 weeks before you would like them to bloom) repot the bulb in any pot that is just a little larger than the bulb. Soak with very warm water just once. IF the bulb has received enough sunlight and fertilizer to form a new flower bud, it will soon appear at the top of the bulb, and that’s your cue to begin watering when dry. If only leaves appear, perhaps a bud will soon follow. If not, you can care for the plant as before and try again next summer, with more sunlight and fertilizer. It’s worth a try to enjoy these beautiful flowers again and again, for years to come.