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Gardening 101: Amaryllis

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Gardening 101: Amaryllis

December 4, 2018

Amaryllis, Hippeastrum

Do you throw away your amaryllis bulbs after they finish flowering? If so, repent. There is no reason for Amaryllis to be pigeonholed as a disposable Christmastime novelty in the US (or other regions colder than the flower’s native South America).

“It is almost criminal…to discard the bulb once the magnificent flowers are past,” wrote the newspaper columnist Henry Mitchell. “Any simpleton can grow the bulbs year after year with scarcely any bother, once he gets the procedure in his head.”

With theatrical trumpets of flowers—red or white or candy-cane stripes are the most common colors sold in the buildup to the holiday season—amaryllis bulbs can bring you pleasure for years to come. They are a lovely alternative for people averse to the scent of paperwhites. And with an extended season of bloom (my amaryllis bulbs stay in flower for weeks at a time), they last far longer than other forced bulbs such as tulips, hyacinths, or Muscari.

Read on for tips to grow and care for amaryllis:

Photograph by Cristina Sanvito via Flickr.
Above: Photograph by Cristina Sanvito via Flickr.

Technically, the tropical amaryllis bulbs that bloom in northern climates in pots or vases during winter are not actually amaryllis. They are hybrid varieties of Hippeastrum. But we commonly call them amaryllis and in truth the trumpet flowers are very similar to those of Amaryllis belladonna, which you may have in warm climates blooming on leafless stems (its common name is naked lady lily).

A glass Amaryllis Bulb Vase available in two sizes and in three colors including clear as shown is from \$\28 to \$34 depending on size at Terrain.
Above: A glass Amaryllis Bulb Vase available in two sizes and in three colors including clear as shown is from $28 to $34 depending on size at Terrain.

There are hundreds of Hippeastrum hybrids, with new ones being introduced every year. Among our favorites are miniature ‘Baby Star’ (with red and white stripes), ‘Alfresco’ with tight clusters of white blooms, and the delicately pink-veined ‘Striped Amadeus’.

Above: See more of these spectacular striped amaryllis flowers at DIY: A Wild and Foraged Christmas Bouquet. Photograph by Sophia Moreno-Bunge.

If you want to keep an amaryllis alive after it finishes flowering, gardening columnist Henry Mitchell offers two techniques (one is for people who have gardens and the other for apartment dwellers with no outdoor space).

If you have a garden, the goal is to plant the amaryllis—in its pot—outdoors in late spring. Until then, keep the soil moist (but not too wet—you don’t want to rot the bulb—and offer the amaryllis bright, indirect sunlight. After you “plant” it outdoors, fertilizer it every couple of months until late autumn. Then dig up the pot and bring the plant back indoors, where it will flower again in winter.

In an apartment, “simply keep the plants growing indoors,” Mitchell recommends. Make sure the soil in the bulb’s pot is moist before giving it fertilizer: “The whole idea is to grow the leaves as large and as plentifully as possible during the summer.”

Above: A Waxed Amaryllis Bulb available in five colors including white as shown is $36 at Terrain.

Cheat Sheet

  • If you buy an amaryllis bulb (or someone gives you one as a holiday gift), it will be primed to bloom on its own. All the nutrition and water it needs is stored already in its bulb—no need to put it in water or soil unless you are doing so for aesthetic reasons.
  • Although red, white, and red-and-white-striped flowers are the most common, you can find amaryllis bulbs that bloom in a striking range of colors including white, chartreuse, orange, yellow, and pink.
  • A single bulb will make a theatrical, sculptural display with a cluster of long-lived flowers; give it pride of place on a coffee table or mantel and you really won’t need any other holiday decorations.
Above: For step-by-step instructions to make this holiday floral arrangement, see DIY: A Wild and Foraged Christmas Bouquet. Photograph by Sophia Moreno-Bunge.

Keep It Alive

  • Hippeastrum will grow as a perennial in warm climates (USDA growing zones 8 to 10). Elsewhere, treat it like an annual (see above for instructions if you want to grow an amaryllis bulb in a garden bed).
  • Indoors, cut off the spent blooms after the plant stops flowering but leave 2 inches of stalk until it yellows to help the bulb produce food.
  • Give an amaryllis at least four hours a day of bright, indirect light. Feed it with a general purpose fertilizer (24-8-16) to encourage new growth.
Above: An amaryllis bulb makes a lovely last-minute holiday gift. See more in DIY Gift: Potted Amaryllis Bulb. Photograph by Erin Boyle..

You can fine a large selection of amaryllis bulbs online (seasonally) at shops including White Flower Farm, Terrain, and Gardener’s Supply.

Photograph by Alejandro Bayer Tamayo via Flickr.
Above: Photograph by Alejandro Bayer Tamayo via Flickr.

See more growing tips at Amaryllis: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design in our curated Garden Design 101 guides to Bulbs & Tubers. Read more about forcing bulbs to flower:

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