One of the most popular gift items during the November and December holidays is an Amaryllis, those beautiful 6 to 10 inch flowers which grow on 1-2 foot stalks (called scapes). A question I hear quite often is, Can I save my Amaryllis and get it to bloom again? Why, yes you can.
You may be most familiar with red or white Amaryllis flowers but they also appear in pink, salmon, apricot, bicolor or picotee (petals with a different color at the edge). Plants may already be in bloom or available as a bulb, and when selecting the latter, choose the biggest bulb possible, as the largest bulbs will produce more stalks and blooms the first year.
When caring for any plant, I find that it’s always helpful to know its origin, because this can inform us of how best to treat the plant year round. Here is an excellent description of Amaryllis from the United States National Arboretum:
“Amaryllis are bulbs of the genus Hippeastrum that are native to tropical and subtropical areas of the Americas. Some species grow in rock crevices in savannas that have distinct dry and wet seasons; others grow in high plateau regions that have cool weather for most of the year. One species from Brazil is epiphytic and grows in trees in montane forests with no soil around the roots. Many species have been hybridized to produce today’s hybrids, and most of these species experience warm, humid conditions with abundant rainfall for most of the year and a short, cooler dry season. To make your amaryllis bloom again, you simply have to mimic the conditions that nature provides.”
After you buy your Amaryllis
An Amaryllis craves sunlight year round and never likes wet feet, so place your plant near a sunny window and keep the soil on the dry side. Do your best to not get the top of the bulb wet when you water, as that can quickly introduce disease into the plant or cause the bulb to rot. As soon as the plant begins to flower, move the amaryllis out of direct sunlight (away from the window). This will preserve the bloom as long as possible.
Amaryllis flowers should last for several weeks before fading. After blooming, expose the foliage to as much sun as possible, because unlike other flower bulbs you may be used to, Amaryllis is capable of producing bloom after bloom with no dormancy period, unless forced. Keep the soil damp but not wet and move the pot to a warm room with a sunny window – if you have a solarium or greenhouse, all the better. Use an organic liquid feed monthly.
If you live in an area with no perceivable winter or winters which don’t go below 10 degrees (Zones 8-10), you can plant your bulb directly in the ground and watch it bloom and rebloom continuously. For the rest of us, the plant will need to stay indoors late fall through early spring.
Repotting your Amaryllis
The best time to repot your Amaryllis is immediately after blooming. This plant loves a tight space, so choose a container which is only about one inch larger than the actual bulb. Fill your container halfway with potting soil that drains quickly and is high in organic matter, then set your bulb on top of the soil. Add more potting soil until it reaches the widest part of the bulb, but no further. Do not bury an Amaryllis bulb up to or over its neck as you would other bulbs, as this will allow water to enter the bulb, causing it to rot or become diseased.
When you repot an Amaryllis bulb, you may notice smaller side bulbs. These can be separated from the main bulb and potted to produce additional plants, but will need about 2-3 years of growth before blooming (it takes a ton of energy to produce a flower that big from a bulb). Water your amaryllis thoroughly after you re-pot it, but not again until the surface is slightly dry to the touch.
When all danger of frost has passed, acclimate your Amaryllis to the outdoors with a slow introduction (this is called hardening off). On warm days in spring, place it on a shady porch first (or some other kind of protection from direct sunlight), bringing it indoors on nights which are cold. After a few days of hardening off, gradually introduce the plant to direct sunlight for a few hours at a time – 1 hour the first day, 2 hours the next, etc. Only when the nights are no colder than 50 degrees, should the plant remain outdoors in a spot where it receives at least 6 hours of direct sunlight each day. Don’t be alarmed if some of the foliage withers and dies during this readjustment. Exposure to wind, sun and rain is stressful on the plant, but it will replace any foliage that dies. Fertilize with an organic fertilizer every 2 weeks.
Amaryllis plants love being pot-bound and will deliver showy flowers to prove it. They only require repotting every 3 or 4 years, which should be done after allowing the plant to go dormant as described above.
How to rebloom your amaryllis
The secret to get this beautiful plant to rebloom year after year is to never stop growing it. As soon as the flowers have faded each year, cut them off to prevent seeds from forming – this will save the plant’s energy. Leave about 4 inches of the stalk, as it helps to produce food after blooming. When the stalk begins to turn brown, snip this off as well, but always leave the foliage intact – it will brown and wither naturally, and generate new foliage. Keep the bulb exposed to bright sunlight and water regularly as the top becomes dry to the touch. Be sure the water drains freely from the pot, as Amaryllis hates wet feet.
How to time your Amaryllis bloom for Christmas and the holidays
If you want your Amaryllis to definitely bloom during the holidays, force the plant into dormancy in August. To force dormancy, keep the foliage on the plant and place the container in a cool (not below freezing) room like a closet, basement or garage and do not water. When the foliage has become dry and brown, remove it. After 8-12 weeks, you should see a small green shoot emerge from the center of the bulb – this is the time to bring the bulb back out into your brightest and warmest room (70-80 degrees). Water the soil thoroughly. Flowers and foliage will start to develop after 3-4 weeks (interesting note – the flower will continue to form even if the foliage doesn’t). You can repot the bulb in fresh soil at this point.Buy on Amazon: Charisma Amaryllis Bulb – Single Blooming, Easy To Grow
Garden Answer has done a nice video on how to plant your Amaryllis.