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Amaryllis-An Amazingly Easy Wonder

Amaryllis-An Amazingly Easy Wonder

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Amaryllis is a spectacular flower, easy to grow, and a wonder to behold. If you have never grown Amaryllis before, put it high on your "must plant" list.

Believe it or not, Amaryllis is really the common name for Hippeastrum hybrids. But don't worry, everyone knows them as Amaryllis. Winter is the time to buy Amaryllis bulbs, and they may be planted as long as you can still find them in the stores.

Bringing your Amaryllis into bloom is especially easy because the flower is already formed and merely waiting inside the bulb. This makes it almost foolproof for kids and others (you know who you are). They come in red, red-orange, white, and pink with some fancy hybrids occasionally available. The standard colors will give you the mind boggling giant flowers, whereas the fancy hybrids are often smaller. A personal favorite is Apple blossom, which is white with a pink throat.

How To Buy
Amaryllis bulbs are often sold in clear bags or individually. Choose the largest bulb you can find and see that it is firm, kind of like choosing a good onion. Ideally, the root end will have some fleshy roots, but if they are all dried, the bulb may still be fine. Look at the tip end (the opposite side from the roots) to see if there is a flower bud or leaf peeking through. These are also good signs. Even without roots or peekers, an amaryllis bulb can still be fine as long as it is firm and substantial. If it is dry, chaffy, and very lightweight, or wet and squishy, better to move on and skip the Amaryllis this time around.

There may be reddish discolorations on the bulb or, later, on the plant. Irregular patches or streaks may be a sign of damage, possibly from insects, but this is usually nothing to worry about. On the other hand, clearly defined circlular red lesions may be a plant disease called Amaryllis Fire. There is not much, practically for the homeowner to do about this. The best defense is always prevention in the form of a happy well grown plant. Even if these problems show up, they may not practically effect the flowering or growth of your plant.

How To Plant
The easiest way to plant an Amaryllis is in a pot. Whether clay, plastic or ceramic, the pot must have ample drainage holes. The pot should be big enough to allow about two inches of space all around the bulb. A 6 or 8-inch diameter, deep pot is probably fine, and heavy enough to not fall over under the weight of the giant flower stalk.

Soil Mix
Amaryllis is not picky about its soil. Any good soil mix will do. Personally, I like to use 1/2 commercial potting mix, 1/2 sand (not beach sand – it has too much salt) This mix will be rich and also drain well. Put a piece of broken crock over the whole in the bottom of the pot so the soil doesn’t fall out, and plant the bulb so the shoulder and tip protrude above the soil surface. This gives as much room as possible for roots under the bulb. Firm the soil in well, and label with the date and name.

Labels can be anything from fancy plastic commercial plant tags to used popsicle sticks. Realize that whatever you write with must last through weathering and still be legible. A grease pencil may work, and regular pencil is just fine on white plastic.

Water your Amaryllis thoroughly upon planting. Water should flow from the drainage holes in the pot. Never let the plant sit in water, especially when the saucer underneath collects excess water. The easiest way is to take the plant to the sink, water thoroughly, and put it back after it drains.

As with all houseplants, it is impossible to put the watering on a schedule. When first planted, there are no roots absorbing the water, and no leaves or flowers using the water. Just leave the plant alone as long as the soil is moist. The only way to tell is by feeling it. The surface may be dryish, but underneath, still wet, so feel the soil a bit under the surface. Actually, another way to tell is by weight. A wet soil mix is a lot heavier than a dry one. It takes a bit of practice, but by lifting the pot, an experienced gardener can tell by weight if it needs watering.

QUESTION: Can I just water once a week? ANSWER: No.

As it grows, it may need watering more frequently. Just keep checking, and water when needed. After blooming, the leaves will grow. Again, just water regularly, as it needs it. After a while, the leaves will yellow and die back. This is the time to withhold watering as the bulb goes to sleep for its dormant season. And so the cycle repeats. You can repot the bulb, or leave it in its pot and grow it next year. A bit of fertilizing during the leafy growth time will give a more vigorous plant and help it build stronger flowering for next season.

Six to eight weeks after growth begins, your potted Amaryllis may grace you with 2 to 4 or maybe even more flowers on a stalk that could be from 1 to 3 feet in height. There may be 2 stalks on a good size bulb.

Although the flowers should not be in sun to prolong blooming, the leaves should have 1/2 a day of sun for best growth. They can take more sun in a cooler climate or less in a hot area. Although usually grown in pots, as we have described, in zones 9 and 10, they can be grown out of doors. Perhaps, even in zone 8, with a good mulch, or other protection. Although the plant will not be a major feature after flowering has finished, the leaves are attractive and make a nice contrast among other plants.

It cannot be overemphasized that Amaryllis is a perfect project to do with your kids. Put the child's name on the label and they will feel a sense of pride in 'their' plant. Very satisfying. Once you see how easy Amaryllis can be, you'll be encouraged to try other bulbs. There are many bulbs that do well in pots or the garden, and we'll discuss that another time!

Amaryllis - Circular 1243, a series of the Environmental Horticulture Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Publication date: March 2000.

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