Try amazing amaryllis fall to spring

Daniel Gill, Bogren, Richard C.  |  9/29/2008 9:05:03 PM

Get it Growing For 10/31/08

By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

Few flowering bulbs can surpass the stately beauty of the amaryllis. Typically blooming in April, this popular bulb is a star performer in the spring garden.

Dormant bulbs are readily available now, and with proper care, they can become a long-lasting part of your landscape. The bulbs you purchase now, however, must be handled specially this winter. When they are dried and forced into dormancy for shipping, the bulbs are triggered to bloom during the winter rather than the spring. If you plant bulbs you purchase now outside into the garden, they will send up their flower stalks this winter when they are likely to be damaged by cold.

Growing amaryllis indoors

Even if you intend to plant them in your garden eventually, amaryllis bulbs purchased now should be planted into pots using a well-drained potting soil with the bulb neck above the soil surface. The pot should be large enough so there is about a 1-inch clearance between the pot rim and the bulb. You may use clay or plastic pots, but since an amaryllis in bloom can be somewhat top-heavy, clay pots provide a little more stability. You also can buy them pre-planted in pots, ready to grow.

Place the pot indoors in a sunny window (the more sun the better) and keep the soil evenly moist. When the flower stalk begins to emerge, rotate the pot about one-half turn every few days so it will grow straight. Otherwise, it will grow toward the window and look awkward. If you provide your amaryllis with too little light, the flower stalk will grow excessively tall and may even fall over.

Flowering generally occurs in December from bulbs planted this time of year. Some large bulbs will produce two flower stalks.

Sometime after the flower spike has emerged, leaves will grow from the top of the bulb. After the flowers have faded, cut the stalk at the point where it emerges from the bulb, but do not cut any foliage. Keep the plant inside and continue to provide plenty of light or the leaves will be weak. Water it regularly when the soil begins to feel dry, but it is not really necessary to fertilize your amaryllis during this time.

When April arrives, it’s time to plant your bulbs into the garden. Amaryllis planted in the garden this coming spring will get into their natural cycle and bloom in April the following years.

Care in the landscape

If you are growing amaryllis in your garden now, you know just how carefree they are. They thrive in any reasonably good garden soil as long as drainage is good. A spot that receives part sun (about six hours of direct sun and then shade in the afternoon) is the ideal location, but I have seen amaryllis thrive in full sun to part shade.

Once planted and established, amaryllis can be left alone for years. A light sprinkling of a general-purpose fertilizer appropriate for your area in March and June and watering during unusually dry weather are all they need.

Beds should be mulched with and inch or two of pine straw, leaves or other similar material to help reduce weeds and conserve moisture. Increase the thickness of the mulch to 3 or 4 inches during the winter to help protect the bulbs from freeze damage.

Although it is not necessary to dig and store amaryllis bulbs in the fall each year, clumps of bulbs can become overcrowded, and fall is a good time to divide them.

Dividing amaryllis

If needed, divide your amaryllis now by lifting the clumps of bulbs carefully so as not to damage them in the process. Try to keep most of the roots attached to the bulbs. I like to use a garden fork because it will not cut through the roots.

Separate the smaller bulbs from the larger bulbs and put them in two piles. Trim off any yellow or unhealthy foliage but leave healthy, green foliage attached.

While the bulbs are out of the bed, take the opportunity to turn the soil and incorporate some compost, rotted manure or peat moss to enrich the soil.

Replant the largest bulbs immediately back into their area until it is filled. Amaryllis bulbs are planted with the narrow top of the bulb, or “neck,” exposed above the soil surface. Do not plant the bulbs too deep or flowering will decrease. Bulbs generally are spaced about 8 inches apart and show best in the garden when planted in clumps of three or more. Mulch the bed to provide cold protection for the bulbs this winter.

The smaller bulbs can be planted into another area where you want amaryllis or given to friends. Some may bloom next spring or in the next year or two depending on their size. This is the most common method of propagating amaryllis.

Purchase amaryllis bulbs now to brighten your home during the holiday season, but don’t forget, they can become a wonderful part of your landscape as well. One other point: potted amaryllis bulbs in bud or bloom are popular gifts for the holidays. If you think you might be giving some as gifts, keep this column handy and include a copy with each amaryllis you give.

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Contact: Dan Gill at (225) 578-2222 or dgill@agcenter.lsu.edu 
Editor: Rick Bogren at (225) 578-5839 or rbogren@agcenter.lsu.edu   

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