Amaryllis announce the holiday season
LIKE POINSETTIAS AND PINE BOUGHS, amaryllis have become holiday icons. Their bold trumpet flowers herald celebrations and warm grey winter days with cheery color.
But unlike many holiday plants, these South America-native bulbs have a long life after gifts are open and New Year’s confetti is swept away. In mild-climates like ours, plant them in a sunny spot in the garden. Then watch for flowers in spring of the following year — and for years to come, as the plant returns to its natural bloom cycle.
Surprisingly this spring bloomer is not technically Amaryllis, the genus of fall-flowering naked ladies (Amaryllis belladonna). Since the early 19th-century, amaryllis has been classified as Hippeastrum, a genus that now encompasses dozens of species and hundreds of hybrids. Over the years, breeders in Holland, Israel and South Africa have enhanced their decorative appeal with new flower forms and colors ranging from Santa-suit red to burnt orange, white, pink and burgundy.
Amaryllis bulbs sold for the holidays have been preconditioned to be forced or pushed into flowering early. Just add water and light and watch the stems climb to a foot or two tall. Flowers — usually 4 or more per stem — blossom in 30-60 days.
Some of the quickest to bloom, according to Kathleen McCarthy at Oceanside-based Easy to Grow Bulbs, are red ‘Ferrari’, snowy ‘White Christmas’, orange ‘Desire’, soft pink and green ‘Appleblossom’ and red and white ‘Minerva’ (pictured above). Once sprouted, give these bulbs a warm location and keep them on the dry side to speed flowering.
Growing amaryllis at home for the holidays and after couldn’t be easier. Follow these steps and the bulbs will do the rest.
1. Pick a container suited to the big bulb, its tall stem and flowers. A heavy container or one weighted with pebbles or small rocks will help keep the blooming plant from falling over. Drainage holes are essential since too much water will rot the bulb.
2. Using a good-quality, well-draining potting soil, arrange the bulbs in the container, root side down. Aim for a tight fit. If planting multiple bulbs in one container, separate them by only an inch or two. Fill around the bulbs with potting soil, leaving the top inch of the bulb — the narrow neck — uncovered.
3. Water well to thoroughly moisten the soil. Then set the container in a brightly lit spot where temperatures stay around 65 degrees. Don’t water again until green new growth appears.
4. As the flower stalks grow and bud, let the soil dry out between waterings. Rotate the container daily to keep the plant from leaning toward the light.
5. When bloom ends, trim off the spent flowers, but leave the stems and leaves to replenish the bulb before transplanting to the garden.
Garden Guide: By Mary James