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Chicago Urban Gardening

The day to day experiences of a University of Illinois Extension Urban Horticulture Educator in Chicago, Illinois

Amaryllis: A Holiday Favorite

Posted by Ron Wolford -

Popular during the holiday season, the spectacular amaryllis can be enjoyed throughout the winter, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

"The amaryllis has a single flower stalk with four-inch blooms at the top," said David Robson. "The blooms resemble lily flowers and come in an array of colors from red to pink, coral, and white. The foliage is bright green and strap-like, similar to a bromeliad.

"You may be lucky and get two or three flower stalks per bulb."

Robson provided some recommendations for the purchase and care of amaryllis.

"If buying a bulb--available from October to March--select a large, fat one at least 2-1/2 inches in diameter," said Robson. "Bulbs need to be that size to flower properly. Make sure the bulbs are free of any mold or rot. If the bulb feels soft and squishy, avoid it."

When planting, use a container that has one or more drain holes in the bottom. Amaryllis bulbs are potted so that one-half to two-thirds of the bulb is exposed above the pot rim. Use a pot that is no more than two to three inches bigger in diameter than the bulb. Leave one-half inch of the pot rim above the soil line so you can water without spilling over the edge.

"After potting, soak the soil thoroughly," he said. "When watering, make sure water comes out the bottom of the pot, but do not let the pot stand in this excess water. Pour the excess off. Too much water and the bulb may rot."

Flower stalks with several blooms on each should develop in about six to eight weeks if a top-grade bulb was used. Stake the stalks if necessary but be careful not to injure the bulb.

"Some people stake before planting. It is possible that one flower stalk will bloom out before another is formed," Robson said. "Make sure to keep the soil moist during the flowering period."

The cooler the night temperatures, the stronger the stem, the longer the flowers will last--and the more intense the colors will remain.

Getting the bulb to re-flower the next year isn't always simple, but it can be a rewarding challenge.

"Cut off dead blooms immediately," he said. "However, don't remove leaves that begin to grow after the flower stalks have developed. Keep the plant moist and in a humid location with bright light to full sun. Once the danger of frost is over, sink the pot with the bulb inside into soil outside in a sunny flowerbed and fertilize with a complete water-soluble fertilizer every four to six weeks.

"In late summer, gradually reduce the watering. When foliage has died down, trim it off. Place the pots inside where it is cool--40 to 50 degrees--and dry. Lay the pots on their sides. The bulbs need a six to eight-week rest period. This period is critical to set the flower buds."

Amaryllis should be repotted about every three years or so. Otherwise, do not disturb the roots.

"Pots should be two to three inches larger than the bulb at planting, but pot-bound bulbs seem to flower nicely year after year with minimal care," said Robson.

Source: David J. Robson, Extension Educator, Horticulture,

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