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Amaryllis Trumpets a Splash of Color
by Sarah Browning, UNL Extension Educator
Amaryllis is a popular holiday gift plant that is easy to grow and creates a showy splash with its huge, brightly colored flowers in late winter. It's a tender bulb that grows easily in pots, but must be grown indoors in Nebraska except during the warm summer months. The flowers range in color from scarlet to white, and are often striped or mottled. The leaves are long and strap-like.
The name "Amaryllis" sounds like a botanical name, and it is, but it's also the common name we use for a group of plants in the genus Hippeastrum, Greek for "knight's star". For many years, there was confusion among botanists about the classification and naming of plants in these two genera. Finally, the name Amaryllis was assigned to a group of South African plants, while Hippeastrum went to a similar group from Central and South America. But it ultimately resulted in our use of Amaryllis as a common name that doesn't match it's genus. However, we do grow true members of the Amaryllis genus in Nebraska. One type that is found in many gardens is commonly called naked lady, or surprise lily, Amaryllis belladonna.
The genus Hippeastrum encompasses about 90 plant species, which are native to tropical and subtropical areas of South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean. Fortunately, many plants in this genus bloom in winter and grow well as houseplants in colder parts of the world.
Often amaryllis sold as gift plants come already potted in a container, but if yours didn't then choose a container that is only 1-2 inches wider than the bulb. The preferred soil mix for amaryllis is high in organic matter; a peat, perlite/vermicullite mixture would work well. Place the bulb in the container so that it is only halfway below the soil. Water it thoroughly, until water drips from the drainage holes. Allow the soil to dry, and rewater sparingly until the plant's roots are well developed, and growth has begun. Overwatering can lead to bulb rots.
Place the plant in bright light, but not direct sun to lengthen flower life. Once growth begins, apply a complete fertilizer, either slow release or liquid. Water soluble fertilizer can be applied 2 to 4 times per month. Consult the label on slow release products for the right amount and application timing.
Temperatures of 70 to 75 degrees F are fine until the bulb begins to root, and leaves or flower stalks(s) begin to appear. Then move the plant to the coolest location possible in the house, where it will still have good light. The foliage is weakened by being forced too rapidly under higher temperatures during the period before flowering. During bloom, cooler conditions will prolong the flowers.
Usually leaves appear first, followed by one or two flower stalks. Each stalk can have anywhere from 2 to 6 flowers each. Once the flower star to fade, pinch or cut them off. Remove the flower stalk by cutting it down to just above the bulb nose, once all the flowers are gone.
Foliage growth is most active during the next two or three months, and should be encouraged by ample water and fertilizer. When all danger of frost has passed, the plant may be plunged, pot and all, into a garden bed in full sunlight, or it may be grown indoors in a bright location during the summer. Fertilize the bulb 2 to 3 times a month with a liquid fertilizer.
Gradually decrease watering late in summer when the leaves begin to turn yellow. Allow the soil to become completely dry when the foliage has died back. While in this dormant state, the bulb should be left in the pot and stored in a cool place, preferably 40-45 degrees F. Turn the pot on its side to further encourage dormancy, and do not water during the dormant period.
In January, bulbs should be repotted if necessary, keeping the bulb in a container only 1-2 inches wider than itself. After repotting, water the plant thoroughly to initiate growth. Bulbs that bloomed the previous year may need a year to recover before they will bloom again.
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