Caring for amaryllis

Editor’s note: This article is from the archives of the MSU Crop Advisory Team Alerts. Check the label of any pesticide referenced to ensure your use is included.

Few holiday gifts can brighten a bleak winter windowsill or counter top like a magnificent amaryllis. This “true” bulb is native to tropical areas in South America and is currently produced and marketed in the U.S. from countries such as South Africa, Israel, or the Netherlands. The showy flowers range from the deepest crimson, effervescent pinks and even a clear white. Perusing the local garden center or researching bulb catalogs will reveal dozens of variations in color bloom size, height and quantity of petals.

Depending on bulb size and cultivar, the flower stalk can range from 18 inches to a stately 2 feet. Each stalk will have between two and eight blooms and the extra large sized bulbs may each produce two stalks. Amaryllis bulbs are very large compared to others you may be familiar with like the tulip. A healthy bulb can range from the size of a tennis ball to a soft ball and should be quite firm. As a rule of thumb, the bigger amaryllis bulb you buy, the greater number and showier the blooms will be.

Easy Bulb Care

Amaryllis bulbs make the perfect holiday gift for gardeners or non-gardeners because they require minimal care. Loose bulbs or boxed bulb “kits” can be purchased from most garden centers and placed into potting soil in a container of your choosing. Bulbs should be potted with fresh potting medium and placed in containers that are only a little larger in diameter than the bulbs themselves. Leave the upper portion of the bulb exposed. Like with other indoor plants, your container should provide the bulb with excellent drainage, allowing excess water to escape. After planting, water thoroughly and keep them moist but not soggy. Under normal home conditions, watering your bulb once a week should be adequate. Experts suggest that you try not to water over the bulb “nose” as it may create some rotting.

Worth the Wait

The Amaryllis makes a great gift for kids too. I remember growing Amaryllis as a kid and marveling at the leaf size and incredible blooms that appear in a relatively short period of time. After the flower fades, cut the stalk off and keep it in a sunny window until spring. If you wish to keep your bulb for many years, plan on treating it like a house plant once it is established. Fertilize with a liquid house plant every couple of weeks to keep the foliage deep green. You may be surprised at how abundant the foliage will get before summer.

Because this plant is native to a tropical climate, it makes a good companion plant to an outdoor, mixed annual, container during the summer. By autumn the robust leaves may start to whither but my experience is that they continue growing, even when you bring them back inside for winter. I usually allow the container to dry down significantly and cut off the foliage. This will aid the bulb to go into a brief dormant period but is not critical to the life of your plant. When growth resumes, place it back in bright sunlight and watch it bloom again! I have one that has multiplied to about eight bulbs now. Sporting ten or more stalks, the mid-February show is quite spectacular and newly emerging bulb stalks give me color for two months!

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