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The Homeowners Column
Caring for Your Amaryllis
Extension Educator, Horticulture
Amaryllis add a tropical look to your home and provide some much needed winter color besides gray and dirty snow white. In addition, few indoor plants are as long lasting and easy care as amaryllis. Amaryllis are popular gifts and have huge flowers (up to six inches across) in winter. There are normally two to four or more flowers on a twelve to twenty-four inch stalk. Some larger bulbs will even have two stalks of flowers. The range of dramatic colors are brilliant red, orange, salmon, pink, white, striped or variegated.
When we get amaryllis bulbs as gifts it seems so easy -- just add water and sunlight and watch them grow. The bulbs have already gone through a rest period. The challenge comes after we enjoy the beautiful flowers and then wonder what to do with this huge bulb and its long floppy leaves.
Once the flowers fade, remove the flower stalks but leave the leaves. The leaves will help to replenish the food storage in the bulb. Amaryllis should be grown as a houseplant by watering and fertilizing regularly with a houseplant fertilizer such as 5-10-5 or 5-10-10. In early summer once the danger of frost has passed, I usually put mine outside under a shady tree.
Continue to grow the bulb for 5-6 months after flowering. In order to get amaryllis to bloom in winter they must go through a rest period. It seems amaryllis bulbs have a sleeping beauty complex -- they sleep a long time before they reveal their beauty. Luckily they don't require a kiss from a handsome prince to awaken.
In August, it is time to stop fertilizing and time to gradually reduce watering. After about three weeks, stop watering completely. Let the leaves yellow and die down naturally. Cut the yellow leaves off to a couple of inches above the bulb.
In September or early October, set the bulb, pot and all, in a cool (50–60°F), dark, dry place for at least six to eight weeks. The six to eight weeks of rest should not be counted until all the leaves are yellow. I put mine in the basement and forget about them.
In November or later, move the potted plant back into a warm bright area and start the growth cycle again by watering. Amaryllis like to be somewhat pot-bound so don't worry about repotting for a couple of years.
Keep the soil, moist but not soggy. Don't let the bulb dry out especially once it starts to flower. Rotate the pot daily as it grows so the plant doesn't lean to one side. Ideal temperature is 55–65°F. Warm temperatures promote long, weak and spindly growth. Be patient. The bulb should flower within 4 to 8 weeks from the time you start watering again.
The reasons why bulbs fail to bloom include: bulb too young/small; too short a dormant period (the bulbs should be completely dormant with no green leaves); or too high of temperature during or after dormancy.
The longer you have an amaryllis bulb, the bigger the bulb gets and the more flowers so it is worth the little extra effort to keep it year after year.
Need something more to chase away the winter blues? Why not spend the day dreaming and learning about gardening at the University of Illinois Extension Garden Day on Saturday February 24, 2001 from 8:30am-4:00pm at the Park Inn in Urbana, Illinois. Call 217-333-7672 for more info or to get a registration form log on to our website www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/champaign