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By Tom Woods
Amaryllis are extremely easy and fun to grow and now is the time to get them started to bloom for the holidays. Fortunately, the enjoyment does not end after the blossoms fade.
Amaryllis are hardy bulbs in our area, which means you can plant your amaryllis outside in the landscape in spring, where it will blossom each spring for years to come.
Purchasing amaryllis bulbs
Many garden centers currently have specially prepared bulbs or kits in stock. Kits usually include potting soil, a container and a bulb and are an easy way to get started. Individual bulbs may also be purchased. Amaryllis bulbs that are sold for forcing have been specially prepared to bloom in winter by being kept dry and cool for a specific length of time. Bulbs should not be dug from the garden for forcing, since they will not bloom at this time of year.
When purchasing amaryllis bulbs, make sure you purchase a large, firm bulb without any obvious injuries, such as cuts or bruises. Bulb size is important because the flowers the plant will produce are already inside the bulb.
Larger bulbs will have larger flowers and will produce more flowering stalks. You will find amaryllis available in several colors, including shades of red, orange, pink and white, with some being solidly one color while others are striped or shaded in various hues. Newer selections include those with double flowers and miniatures, which are simply petite versions of their full size cousins.
Growing amaryllis bulbs
Growing amaryllis bulbs at home is simple. Containers used to grow amaryllis do not have to be much larger than the bulbs themselves. To pot an amaryllis bulb, fill the bottom part of the container with potting soil and place the bulb inside so that the top one-third of the bulb will stick up above soil level once the pot is filled.
Water plants in well to begin with and then only water when the potting soil appears dry. Also, make sure any container used has drainage holes in the bottom; amaryllis do not like to grow in continuously wet soil. If you have a dish under your container to collect extra water, pour it out after each watering rather than allowing the container to sit in water all the time.
It will usually take three to six weeks for amaryllis to flower when grown in a bright, sunny spot. Ideally, grow plants indoors around 65-75 degrees. Warmer temperatures encourage faster growth and earlier blooming. Placing the plant in a cooler location once flowers appear will help the blossoms last longer.
While growing, be sure to rotate the plant by a half turn once each day to encourage the flower spike to grow straight rather than leaning toward the light.
Other than a sunny location and occasional watering, amaryllis need little care when grown indoors. Fertilization is not needed until after the plant blooms. Liquid fertilizers applied once a week or slow release fertilizer pellets sprinkled on top of the potting soil will do an equally good job.
Once all of the flowers have faded, the flowering stalks should be cut off as low as possible and the plant left to grow on in a sunny, frost free location.
Planting amaryllis outdoors
Amaryllis are hardy when grown outside in southeastern North Carolina and bulbs forced for Christmas can be transplanted into the landscape in spring where they will continue to grow and multiply for years to come.
As a landscape plant, amaryllis are easy to grow, deer and vole resistant and are adaptable to many sites, though they will grow best in a sunny to partly shaded site with well-drained soil.
To transplant amaryllis outdoors, wait until the threat of frost has passed, around the middle of April. Plant them in the same manner as you do in containers, with the top one-third of the bulb sticking up above soil level.
Once planted outside, amaryllis bulbs will return to their natural bloom cycle, producing blossoms in the spring rather than mid winter. A layer of mulch around the bulbs will help conserve moisture and prevent weeds.
Other bulbs available for forcing at this time of year include hyacinths and paperwhites. Learn more about forcing these bulbs from the following NCCE fact sheets:
Send your gardening questions or comments to: Brunswick County Master Gardener Column, P.O. Box 109, Bolivia, NC 28422, or call 253-2610. Enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope if requesting information or a reply. Answers may be printed in this column.