Q: I received an Amaryllis bulb as a gift, but I don’t know how to care for it or get it to bloom.
A: You are fortunate as amaryllis is one of the most popular winter or spring indoor plants. With proper care you can enjoy its large lily-like flowers for many years.
Amaryllis plants are from the tropics and do not require a cold period to bloom. In fact, freezing and over watering are the two most common causes of bulb death.
To establish your amaryllis plant, select a pot having a diameter about 2 inches greater than the bulb. Most bulbs fit nicely into 6 to 8 inch pots which have drainage holes in their base. For some reason, amaryllis plants do better when they are pot bound.
Place good quality, sterile planting medium into the selected pot. At least one-third of the bulb should be above the soil surface. All of the nutrients necessary to support the bloom are already stored in the bulb, so it is not necessary to add fertilizer to the soil or during the bloom period. Add water until the planting medium feels moist (not wet or soggy) and water infrequently to maintain some soil moisture. Increase the watering frequency once leaves and flower buds appear.
The potted bulb should be placed in a warm area (70o – 80o F) and in indirect sunlight. When the plant has started to bloom, move the plant to a cooler spot at night (55o – 65o F) to have the blooms last longer. The flower stalk will bend towards the light source, so it will be necessary to turn the pot to keep the flower stalk straight. A blooming amaryllis does not need to be in a bright room or sunlight.
An amaryllis stalk or stem will usually have 4 blooms which open within 2 to 3 days of each other. Each bloom will last about a week. When a bloom begins to wither, remove it from the stalk by cutting the thin stem connecting the bloom to the flower stem. When all the blossoms are spent, remove the main stem by cutting it about 2 inches above the bulb.
The plant may be placed in a sunny location. If it does not have many leaves, it will produce additional ones. Water the plant as needed and occasionally apply fertilizer. In early June the amaryllis may be planted outside. Experts indicate that you may plant the entire pot as the pot will protect the bulb from damage and the plants prefer to be pot bound. The plant should be placed in a sunny location to maximize photosynthetic activity. Potted bulbs may also be placed on a porch or patio for the summer.
By late September the leaves should be turning yellow or withering. Even if they aren’t, bring the plant indoors. It is important to not let the plant be exposed to the first killing frost. Remove any dead leaves but let the living ones remain. If you planted the entire pot, clean off the exterior of the pot. If you planted only the bulb outside, re-pot it to prevent the roots from drying out.
In order to bloom again, the bulb must go through a dormant period for it to bloom again. Place the potted amaryllis in a cool (45o – 55o F), dark location for 6 to 8 weeks. There is no need to water the bulb during this period. Remove the remaining amaryllis leaves as they wither and dry up.
End the dormant period approximately six weeks before blooms are desired. Return your potted amaryllis to room temperature and water sparingly, as you did when you first received the bulb as a gift. This cycle can be repeated for five or six years. Small bulbs will be produced by the mother bulb. In the spring, the plant could be shaken from its pot, and the small bulbs removed. New soil could be added when the mother bulb is replanted. The young bulbs could be potted and receive the same treatment as the original bulb, but it may take three years before they bloom.
Contributed by Ed Carley, Certified Colorado Gardener. Photo courtesy of Mary E. Carley.