For as long as I can remember, an amaryllis has graced my kitchen windowsill at Christmas time. They’re elegant, incredibly easy and, as I learned this summer, full of surprises. Typically I’ll buy a bulb in October and plant it in potting mix, or sometimes leave the soil out entirely and allow only the root plate to touch the water in a clear glass vase. Long, strappy leaves emerge like green tongues from the bulb and grow incredibly fast, giving way to a thick stalk that houses the bloom. The south-facing window offers up plenty of light and I get something to look at as I conquer the nightly dishes.
Aphrodite bloomed last Christmas. In the past, I’ve gotten amaryllis bulbs from big box stores for $5. At $15, Aphrodite was a splurge, but so worth it with her pink edged, frilly white blooms that lasted for a month. I left her on the windowsill and was shocked to see another flower stalk emerge from the bulb in June. By July 7, she was in full flower and I was smitten once again.
Around the same time, I discovered a forgotten Red Lion amaryllis bulb looking a bit wrinkled and forlorn, yet determined to throw up a flower stalk sans leaves, on my work bench. So I potted her up, offered a few words of encouragement, gave her a much needed drink and set her on the patio. Despite the neglect, she still offered up beautiful red, albeit slightly anemic, trumpet flowers. She’s since developed plenty of leaves and has joined Aphrodite in the garage for a bit of a chill to ignite the cycle all over again. Hopefully in time for the holidays!
Forcing An Existing Bulb
- Bring the potted plant in before the first frost and locate in a cool, dark place. Withhold water.
- Once leaves have yellowed and died, cut them back close to the top of the bulb.
- Leave plant in place and allow to rest for at least a month.
- It takes about six to eight weeks for the plant to flower once it’s brought back into a warm environment so count back from the approximate time you’d like the blooms to appear and that will be the time you start the chilling process (fingers crossed!). Mother Nature may have other plans.
- When you’re ready to start the show, locate the plant in a warm, sunny spot and water thoroughly. Then withhold water until roots begin to appear, otherwise you risk rotting the bulb.
- The bud may appear before the leaves or vice versa, or it may remain dormant for a bit until one day you realize things beginning to happen.
- When color begins to appear in the bud, take the plant out of direct sunlight in a cool location to extend the bloom time.
Planting A New Amaryllis Bulb
- Select a bulb that is firm (no soft spots) with obvious roots at its base.
- Amaryllis like snug pots, which also help keep the plant upright when it becomes top heavy. A 5- to 7-inch pot should do the trick.
- Make sure the pot has a drainage hole and fill it partially with potting mix so that about a third of the bulb will be above the soil. You can add a bamboo stake now so that the stalk will have something to help it remain upright and you won’t risk damaging the bulb later.
- Water and place in bright, indirect light. Keep soil moist but not sopping.
- Rotate the pot a few times a week to prevent the plant from leaning.
- Feed it once a month with a half-strength water soluble fertilizer.
- When the flowers fade, remove the stalk and treat as a houseplant. You can move the plant outside when temperatures warm and repeat the process in the fall.