If you are a flower lover, you are starved for color right about now. I turn to the big box stores and nurseries to pick up my flower fixes. With grapefruit sized amaryllis bulbs available now, you can have bloom November through February if you start them at different times and use different species. Christmas indoor plants give us a breath of a living, blooming plant that we are missing at this time of year and I always buy several Amaryllis bulbs for starting and try to entice my old ones to burst forth with a flower stalk.
These bulbs are native to warm climates, so they don’t require a cooling period to trigger blooms. Amaryllis and paper white narcissus both belong in this category.
Of all flowering bulbs, Amaryllis is one of the easiest to force into bloom. Packaged in a single bulb, a flower embryo is waiting – ready to burst into bloom with a bit of encouragement. The Amaryllis, Hippeastrum, originated in South America’s tropical regions and comes in many beautiful varieties including reds, white, pink, salmon, and orange. There are also many striped and multicolored varieties, usually combining shades of pink or red with white. Doubles, miniatures, and some very exotic ones that look like butterflies are also available. The large flowers and ease with which bloom, make Amaryllis extremely popular. The blooms brighten a gloomy winter day and are a snap to grow.
Choosing the Best Bulb
Always pick out the largest plumpest bulb that you can find – the jumbo size. Bulbs are storage vessels and the more storage-think larger bulb!- more flowers. If you buy one at a big box store that is already planted in a pot, you usually get a plant with only 1 stem – a 26 to 30 cm bulb. You are paying a premium for the convenience of an already potted bulb, but with smaller and fewer flowers. Choosing larger single bulbs at a good nursery or ordering on-line will get you a better quality and a larger, older bulb. The larger bulbs, 34 cm + are a full year older than the smaller bulbs, so you are paying a bit more. I prefer paying extra to get a loose larger bulb with more flowers that last longer, than for a smaller potted up bulb.
In addition, look for an emerging flower bud coming out of the bulb. Choosing one with an existing flower bud means that the bulb is ready to go and can bloom within 5-7 weeks.
26/28 cm – 1 stem (occasionally 2) with 3 to 4 flowers
28/30 cm – 2 stems with 3-4 flowers per stem
30/32 cm – 2-3 stems with 3-4 flowers per stem
32/34 cm – 2-3 stems with 4-5 flowers per stem
34/36 cm – 3 stems with 4-5 flowers per stem
Quick Planting Tips:
- Planting Period: October to April
- Flowering Period: Late December until the end of May
- Flowering time: 7-10 weeks
- Larger bulbs: Produce more flowers
- Always store: Loose bulbs in a cool place between 40-50 degree F.
- Flower Production: 2 to 3 stems per bulb
- More Impact: Try planting 2 or 3 bulbs per pot
Preparation for Planting
Place the bulb into lukewarm water for a few hours to jump-start emergence. I received my bulbs from Longfield Gardens with a heat-pack giving off warmth so the bulbs wouldn’t freeze in transit.
If you cannot plant the bulbs immediately after receiving them, store them at a cool temperature between 40-50 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature keeps them from blooming before you are ready.
- Pick out a container that the bulb will fit into snugly, maybe an inch or two larger than the circumference of the bulb
- A ceramic container is preferable to a plastic one because the weight of a flower, stalk, and leaves in full flush, will topple over the whole plant
- Pot the bulb with good quality potting soil, leaving 1/3 of the top of the bulb or the ‘shoulders’ exposed; Water until you see moisture coming out of the bottom of the pot
- If you want to accelerate the growth of the flower stalk and flower, place the pot on a heating pad
- Keep in a sunny spot and keep moist and you will be surprised how fast the flower will appear
- Once flowers appear, if you want the flowers to last longer, keep in a cooler spot
- Each year that you keep your Amaryllis alive, it will get larger and produce offsets (tiny bulbs that will get larger)
From my experience with waxed bulbs, I won’t be buying these again!
Re-Blooming & After Bloom Care
- Cut-Back- After the Amaryllis has stopped flowering, Don’t throw it away (unless you have a waxed bulb)! Possible to force again, you need to follow a few simple directions. Cut the old flowers from the stem after flowering, and when the leaves start to sag and turn yellow, cut it back to the top of the bulb.
- Leaf Growth and development Continue to water and fertilize as normal all summer, or at least 5-6 months, allowing the leaves to fully develop and grow. I simply take all my pots outside and set them in an out-of-the-way place and never look at them all summer. Let the rain water them. When the leaves begin to yellow, which normally occurs in the early fall when the days get cooler, cut the leaves back to about 2 inches from the top of the bulb and remove the bulb from the soil.
- Bulb Storage- Clean the bulb, removing and rinsing off all soil, and place it in a cool (40-50 deg. F), dark place such as the crisper of your refrigerator for at least 6 weeks. Caution: Do not store Amaryllis bulbs in a refrigerator that contains apples – this will sterilize the bulbs. Store the bulbs for a minimum of 6 weeks. I usually place the bulbs in a dark cool corner of my basement as I don’t have room in my refrigerator. Alternatively, you can leave the bulbs in the pots in a cool dark space. After about 6 weeks, you can pot them up.Removal from Storage- Once your cooling period is up, replant your bulbs as if it was a newly purchased one. Be sure to fertilize the bulbs with dilute plant food as the original bulb has used up all the food stores. For more impact, I like to pot three bulbs to a container.
You can safely start Amaryllis until April, so there is no rush for these to bloom!