Amaryllis bulbs are a popular holiday gift because they result in a gorgeous bloom which is much appreciated in the dead of winter.
You can purchase them in a variety of ways and price points. They can be preplanted in pots or unpotted.
The newest rage are the waxed bulbs — no soil necessary.
Amaryllis are a wonderful gift for experienced and novice gardeners alike.
Native to the tropical regions of Mexico and South America, amaryllis belongs to the genus Hippeastrum, which includes about 90 species and more than 600 hybrids and cultivars.
There are five flower types: single, double, miniature, cybister and trumpet.
Cybisters are spider-like with extremely thin petals. Trumpets have flared tube-shaped flowers.
Blooms are in various shades of red, white, pink, salmon and orange.
Yellow is an unusual color in the amaryllis clan. ‘Lemon Star’ has soft creamy yellow flowers with a chartreuse throat, and ‘Yellow Star’ is a bright yellow.
There are also striped and multicolored varieties.
Depending on the species, the plant has two to 15 flowers, each 5 to 8 inches across. The two to seven strap-like leaves are 12 to 36 inches long and 1 to 2 inches wide.
When purchasing amaryllis, look for large, healthy bulbs. The bulbs should be firm and dry with no signs of decay, mold or injury.
The largest bulbs will produce more stalks and flowers.
Check the bulb to see if you can see a flower bud starting to emerge to ensure success. If you buy a potted amaryllis, make sure the container has drainage holes or plan to substitute.
To plant your amaryllis, pick a container that is about an inch wider than the diameter of the bulb. The pot should be deep enough to allow for good root development.
Containers can be clay, ceramic or plastic with drainage holes. Select a good potting medium that will drain well to lessen the chances of it developing bulb or root rot.
Pot the bulb so that half of it is above the soil surface. Firm the potting soil around the bulb, thoroughly water it and then put it in a warm, sunny spot.
Do not overwater the bulb, as it could rot.
When the plant starts to grow, start using a water-soluble fertilizer every two to four weeks. Apply the fertilizer according to the directions on the label.
The flower stalk will grow towards the light, so turn the container every couple of days to keep the stalk growing straight or it may need staking when it blooms.
Your amaryllis should start to bloom six to eight weeks after potting. The blooms will last longer if they are not in direct sun.
Make it the centerpiece of your table or put it somewhere you can enjoy the spectacular blooms.
What should you do with your amaryllis after it is done flowering? It has exhausted itself so you can do one of two things; either toss it in the compost pile or keep it growing to encourage it to bloom next year.
If you want your amaryllis to flower next year you must allow it to re-energize itself.
Put it in a sunny window for the rest of the winter and let the leaves grow. Do not cut the leaves off, as they produce the food that will be stored in the bulb.
Cut the flowers off after they have faded. Don’t cut the flower stalk until it has started to yellow.
Water when the top inch of the potting mix is dry to the touch and fertilize with a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer once a month.
When the danger of frost has passed in spring, you can put the pot outdoors in full sun or plant the amaryllis in the garden in a sunny spot. Continue to fertilize it every two weeks.
To bloom, amaryllis bulbs need to be exposed to temperatures of 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit for eight to 12 weeks. This makes it difficult for us to get them to bloom again at Christmas as we would have to start this process in August. You can also get them to rebloom by inducing dormancy.
In September, bring the bulb indoors, cut the foliage off just above the bulb and store it dry in a cool (55 degrees), dark place for eight to 10 weeks.
After the cooling requirement has been met, start watering and put it in a sunny warm window.
Amaryllis plants bloom best when they are pot-bound, but they may benefit from fresh potting soil. A bigger container may be needed if the bulb has grown or offshoots have developed.
If your amaryllis only produces leaves and no flower stalk next year, then it was not able to store enough nutrients to produce a bloom.
It is also possible to grow amaryllis in pebbles and water.
Place glass gemstones or decorative pebbles about 4 inches deep in a clear glass container. It needs to be large enough to accommodate the bulb and heavy enough to support the flowers.
Trim the bulb of any dried brown roots and leave the white fleshy ones. Position the bulb on top of the pebbles and place the more pebbles around the bulb.
Make sure to leave the top third to half of the bulb exposed. Add water until it reaches about 1 inch below the base of the bulb.
If the bulb sits directly in the water, it will likely rot.
After planting, set the container on a sunny windowsill in a room where the temperature stays above 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
The warmer the temperature, the faster the bulb will sprout and grow; 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit — night and day — is ideal. Check the water level daily and add water when needed.
A shoot will emerge from the top of the bulb in two to eight weeks. You may see thick white roots pushing between the stones before then.
To keep the flower stalk straight, turn the pot on a regular basis or it will grow toward the light. Amaryllis grown in water may not perform well in subsequent years so dispose of the bulb after flowering.
What about those waxed bulbs?
The ones I have seen have a wire coiled at the base which helps the bulb stand up. The wax may be a festive color or decorated with glitter or fake snow.
The bulb will bloom without being planted or watered, but this is a one-and-done deal. Since the plant can’t re-energize for next year add it to the compost pile when it has finished flowering.
If you can’t bear to throw out a plant, you could try to remove the wax and plant it after it flowers.
The roots and basal plate may have been removed before it was dipped in wax, which makes it unlikely it will send out roots. But check for roots, there may be some trying to push through the wax.
Try to remove the wax without injuring the bulb.
You can then remove the wire coil and carefully remove any moldy areas. As long as the bulb isn’t soft, plant it like normal and see what happens.
What have you got to lose?
By itself or mixed with other holiday decorations a blooming amaryllis makes a spectacular addition to your decor.
Have a gardening question? The Master Gardener office is open.
Please wear a mask when visiting the Cornell Cooperative Extension office and check in at the reception window.
Master Gardener volunteers are normally in the office Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. until noon. You can stop in at the CCE office at 420 East Main St. in Batavia, call (585) 343-3040, ext. 127, or e-mail them at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please note that the Master Gardener Helpline will be closed until Jan. 8.