With giant, trumpet-shaped flowers facing outward around a central stalk, a blooming amaryllis makes an eye-catching houseplant. Colors range from white through pink to red (and even almost black), as well as salmon-orange. Stripes or contracting edges are common. “African” amaryllis have more compact forms suited to indoor cultivation. Dwarf amaryllis are smaller in size but can produce more blooms.
Not surprisingly, these striking, easy-to-grow bulbs are popular holiday gifts; perhaps you received one this year. There’s even a bright red variety named “Merry Christmas”!
Most people have little problem growing an amaryllis bulb and getting it to bloom, at least the first year. Their tropical origin gives a clue to their needs. Pot the bulb up to the “neck” in a fairly snug container. Keep the potting mix barely damp. Relatively cool temperatures (in the 60s) and bright, indirect light will keep the plants blooming for weeks.
Eventually, however, the flowers fade, and then a decision must be made. Many people just throw away the bulb and start over with a new one. That’s surely the easiest solution. However, at well over $10 per bulb, it’s worth investing some effort in getting your amaryllis to bloom again next year. Besides, it isn’t difficult.
The National Arboretum website has excellent directions for re-blooming an amaryllis, so I won’t repeat them here. Just remember that they are writing to a general audience. Those of us who garden in more challenging conditions need to take extra precautions.
For example, if you decide to let your amaryllis spend the summer outdoors, wait until after the last frost date (sometime around May 15) before leaving it outside unattended. Similarly, keep an eye on the weather as fall approaches. A sudden cold snap can spell doom for these non-hardy flowers.
Also, most of our hybrids come from species acclimated to warm and humid conditions. Our dry Colorado homes are less than hospitable. Humidity around the plant can be increased by placing its pot on a tray of pebbles and adding enough water to come just below the top of the rocks (you don’t want the pot sitting in a puddle).
Since the plants need at least six weeks of cold treatment to induce flowering, it’s critical to find the perfect spot to chill them. One good option is the refrigerator crisper. To save space, remove the bulb from the pot, wash off the potting mix, and loosely wrap it (for protection) in wax paper or newsprint. Don’t store it in the same bin as apples—they give off bulb-damaging ethylene gas.
With a little attention and loving care, you can enjoy your amaryllis for years to come.
Article and photo by Leslie Holzmann, Colorado Master Gardener.