Christian County Extension Office
Growing an amaryllis is an easy way to add tropical color to your home during an otherwise drab winter. Amaryllis is loved by many for its large four to six inch bell-shaped flowers which bloom in a range of dramatic colors including red, orange, salmon, pink, white, and variegated. As many as six flowers may appear on its 12 to 24 inch tall stalk and these blooms may last up to six weeks. Additionally, amaryllis may be one of the few blooming plants that requires low maintenance and is long lasting.
Amaryllis is generally found in stores as bulbs beginning in October. Bulbs may sell from $5 to $20 depending on the cultivar. Closer to the holiday, potted amaryllis in full bloom can be bought but is often pricey. Although the instant color is nice, they are very easy to grow from bulbs. You can purchase a pre-planted bulb in a container or a by itself. When selecting a bulb look for those at least 2 1/2 inches in diameter as they will produce better blooms and often produce two flower stalks instead of one. Your bulb should also be firm and free of soft spots, mold, or discoloration. Plant your bulb in a container that is slightly larger (2 to 3 inches) than the bulb and has drainage holes. Commercially available soil mixes work well for amaryllis provided they are well-draining or you can make your own soil by mixing equal parts of peat and perlite. Plant the bulb so that 1/2 to 2/3 of the bulb remains above the soil line. Also, leave a 1/2 inch rim of pot above the soil line. Water the soil thoroughly at planting and keep the soil moist but not oversaturated until growth begins. Overwatering is the most common mistake people make with houseplants and for amaryllis this may lead to a fungal disease or rot. You should also keep the pot out of direct sunlight and away from hot or cold drafts until new growth is seen.
When you see the flower spike begin to grow from the center of the bulb, move your amaryllis to a bright, sunny location and start watering more often. Turn the pot frequently to keep it from leaning. If the plant gets too top heavy, you may need to support its weight with stakes. Flowers should appear six to eight weeks after planting. The duration of flowers can be extended by reducing temperatures to 65 degrees and using a liquid fertilizer about every two weeks. You can also extend a flower’s life by using tweezers to remove the long pollen-bearing stamens inside the flower as they develop. Remove each flower after it fades and the entire stalk after all the flowers are finished, but do not remove the leaves. If you decide to save your bulb for next year it is important that the leaves stay intact so they can produce food and strengthen the bulb for next year.
To save a bulb for another year of bloom, continue watering but reduce fertilizer applications to once a month. You can keep the pot indoors or move it outside after the last frost. Many gardeners will plant their amaryllis in well-drained soil in a sunny spot by sinking the pot into the ground up to the rim. In late summer, stop fertilizing and gradually reduce watering. After about three weeks, stop watering completely. Let the leaves turn yellow and die down naturally. When they have died, cut them off completely. Bring the pot indoors in late September or early October, but prior to frost, and store it in a cool, dry place. Place the pot on its side and let the bulb rest for at least six to eight weeks. This rest period is important if you expect to see any blooms. In November or later, move your amaryllis back into a warm, bright area and start the cycle again by resuming watering. Don’t start fertilizing until new growth begins. Amaryllis likes to be pot-bound so you shouldn’t have to repot for at least three years or more.
Growing amaryllis is fairly easy. Its problems are limited to overwatering, which leads to rot or fungi, and occasionally scale, mites, thrips, or mealybugs. If your amaryllis fails to bloom it is possible the bulb is too young or too small, the dormant or rest period was too short, or the temperatures were too high during or after dormancy. If you want to extend the season of bloom, consider purchasing several amaryllis bulbs and staggering the planting. This can give you months of vibrant color.
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UNIVERSITY OF KENTUCKY, KENTUCKY STATE UNIVERSITY, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE, AND KENTUCKY COUNTIES, COOPERATING