LSU AgCenter Horticulturist
Each year, the National Garden Bureau designates a specific plant to celebrate each year. The goal is to promote awareness, education and appreciation for that particular plant — and this year, one of the selections is amaryllis.
The amaryllis you decorate your home with during the winter holidays is a Hippeastrum, meaning horse star. Amaryllis comes from a Greek word meaning to sparkle or twinkle. Belonging to the Amaryllidaceae family, Hippeastrum bulbs originate from Central and South America, particularly the Andes region. It was first introduced to Europe in the 18th century.
Amaryllis is comprised of 90 species and more than 600 cultivars in all sorts of colors and shapes, and it's all thanks to those hybridizers who keep making new funky styles, flower forms and shades.
The majority of bulbs you buy are either Dutch or South African hybrids. These will bloom without needing any special treatment right after you get them.
Fun fact: Amaryllis bulbs can be induced to bloom indoors, making them a popular choice for holiday decorations. This time of year, prepackaged amaryllis bulbs are commonly found in stores. Many come complete with a plastic pot and a bag of growing mix. Sometimes, you will find waxed bulbs that do not require water or soil. They’re often prominently displayed in stores leading up to the holiday season.
The trumpet-shaped blooms are large, often measuring 6 to 10 inches in diameter. They come in a variety of colors, including red, pink, white and bicolor combinations. Amaryllis flowers typically have six large, showy tepals (petals and sepals that look similar). Amaryllis produces long, strap-like, green leaves that emerge after the flowers.
You can grow healthy and vibrant amaryllis plants, enjoying their stunning blooms indoors during the winter months. Select large, healthy bulbs. Look for bulbs with no signs of rot or damage. Plant bulbs in a well-draining potting mix, leaving the upper third of the bulb exposed above the soil. Plant in a pot that has drainage holes. Water thoroughly after planting and keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged. Allow the soil to dry out between waterings.
Amaryllis prefers bright, indirect light. Keep the plant in a warm location, around 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer during the growing season (spring and summer).
Amaryllis typically blooms in late winter or early spring. After flowering, cut the spent flower stalk but allow the leaves to continue growing. In the fall, gradually reduce watering to allow the bulb to enter dormancy. You can store the bulb in a cool, dark place for 8 to 10 weeks before bringing it back into the light to restart the growing cycle. Watch for pests like aphids and scale insects. Ensure good air circulation to prevent fungal diseases.
In addition, amaryllis can be grown outdoors in garden environments, particularly in the South in USDA hardiness zones 8 to 10. Once the warmer spring weather arrives, you have the opportunity to transplant your amaryllis into your garden.
Numerous amaryllis varieties return and blossom in the summer garden consistently. An observation you may make is that their outdoor height is notably shorter than when cultivated indoors. This discrepancy arises because indoor growth involves a stretching phenomenon in search of light, whereas in the garden during the summer, the extended daylight hours make finding sufficient light a more straightforward process.
Growing amaryllis is a breeze! Just plant the bulbs in good-draining soil, give them some nice, not-too-bright light, and you can even move them from inside to outside here in Louisiana. In the southern United States, amaryllis holds not just the beauty of its vibrant blooms but also the charm of being a pass-along plant, sharing its elegance from one garden to the next, creating a blooming legacy that transcends seasons. Our family has an amaryllis that was handed down and is still thriving, continuing its legacy for three generations.
Numerous amaryllis varieties return and blossom in the summer garden consistently. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter
Our family has an amaryllis that was handed down and is still thriving, continuing its legacy for three generations. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter