Growing Amaryllis Bulbs Successfully
by Don Janssen, Extension Educator
Most people achieve spectacular results when they first plant amaryllis bulbs, but many run into trouble getting them to bloom following years. The bulbs are too costly to feel good about enjoying them once, then tossing them away as you would hyacinth or crocus bulbs that were forced to bloom for the holidays.
Unfortunately, lots of misinformation is passed on about these amazing bulbs, including some questionable recommendations found in the instructions that often accompany their sale.
There are two keys to growing amaryllis bulbs successfully. The first is recognizing the plant's need for high light levels. Without adequate light amaryllis will only produce long, floppy leaves; no blooms beyond the first season.
The second is providing a deep container with soil that drains well, and planting each bulb so its upper half sits above the soil surface. Because they're so large and fleshy, amaryllis bulbs will rot easily when kept excessively moist.
Amaryllis bulbs should be planted in pots which are approximately 1 to 2 inches wider than the diameter of the bulb. Containers may be plastic or clay, but should have drainage holes in the bottom of the pot. Add a small amount of potting soil to the bottom of the pot. Center the bulb in the middle of the pot. Then add additional potting soil, firming it around the roots and bulb. When finished potting, the upper one-half to two-thirds of the bulb should remain above the soil surface. Also, leave about an inch between the soil surface and the pot's rim. Then water well and place in a cool (60 degrees F) location. Water sparingly until growth appears. When growth begins, water more frequently, move the plant to a warm, sunny window and apply a water-soluble fertilizer every 2 to 4 weeks.
Once sprouted, place amaryllis in a sunny location. The warmer your room, the faster they'll develop. As buds expand, you may choose to pull the pot out of direct sunlight into a slightly cooler place so flowers will last longer. Nip off blooms as soon as petals begin to fade, so no energy is lost in seed production. But don't pull out the flower stalk until it yellows and withers; it continues to gather energy as long as it remains green.
After flowering replace amaryllis in full sunlight. Once frost-danger has passed, you have the option of moving pots of amaryllis outdoors for the summer. Start off in a shaded place, but move them gradually to full sun. Fertilize two or three times with a liquid plant food meant for bulbs or flowers, checking often to see if you need to water. Set containers on stones so rainwater flows freely out their drain holes.
In September, before frost, move the bulbs to a cool, dark place in the basement. Stop watering entirely; remove foliage as it dries and browns. After two or three months in storage, begin bringing pots of amaryllis upstairs. By adding a little fresh potting soil, if needed, and watering the container thoroughly, you'll start the cycle over again.
Flowering normally occurs about 4 to 6 weeks after potting. A large, top grade bulb should produce two flower stalks with four flowers on each stem. The individual flowers may be 6 to 8 inches in diameter.
Pot amaryllis bulbs in mid-November for bloom during the Christmas holidays. Excellent varieties include: 'Red Lion'--deep crimson red; 'White Christmas'--snow white; 'Prince Carnival'--white with red stripes; 'Minerva'--red with white star; and 'Picotee'--white with red edge. Then cross your fingers. Forcing an amaryllis bulb is not an exact science. No one can be sure when the amaryllis will actually bloom. The flower display, regardless, will be spectacular.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County is your on-line yard and garden educational resource. The information on this Web site is valid for residents of southeastern Nebraska. It may or may not apply in your area. If you live outside southeastern Nebraska, visit your local Extension office