Winters wouldn’t be complete around my house without several pots of big, showy red amaryllis bulbs blooming in the sun room. Forcing them to bloom is easy, fast and almost foolproof. The kids love to watch the flower stalks start to emerge. Potting to bloom time usually only takes about six to ten weeks. They have to be patient at the beginning, but once the flower stalk starts growing, it’s so much fun to watch it quickly reach heights of one to two and a half feet, and then have the spectacular, showy trumpet like flowers emerge one after the other at the top of the stalk.
The amaryllis that we associate with the holidays is actually a member of the genus Hippeastrum. True Amaryllis are bulbs from South Africa. Our Hippeastrum bulbs are native to South America, Mexico and the Caribbean. They grow in tropical areas with frost free winters. Because of this cold intolerance, they won’t grow outside in Boulder in the winter, but it makes them easier to force inside as they don’t need to be pre-cooled like tulips, or daffodils or any of the other hardy bulbs that we try to force inside in the winter.
Hippeastrum come in a wide variety of colors. They can be several shades of red, orange, pink or even bi-colored. The pure white ones are spectacular. We crowded five white bulbs together in a single pot last year. After the flower stalks began to appear, we put the starter pot down into a decorative green ceramic pot and added a beautiful white and silver bow along with some clear and silver balls around the top of the bulbs. The dining room is bright, but stays nice and cool and those white amaryllis bloomed spectacularly through several holiday dinner parties.
Choose bulbs that are solid and firm to the touch. As bulbs age they increase in size and usually the larger the bulbs, the more flowers they’ll produce.
It’s very important to plant your bulbs in pots with good drainage holes. They don’t like to have wet feet and will tend to rot if left sitting in water. Amaryllis like to be root bound. Individual bulbs will usually do best in 6 to 7 inch pots, or a group of three fit nicely into a 10 to 12 inch container.
Use a good, porous potting soil like the houseplant mix that we make up at Sturtz and Copeland when planting your bulbs. Add a small amount of potting soil to the bottom of the pot. Center the bulb in the middle of the pot, and then add additional potting soil firming it around the bulb and its roots. When you are finished the upper one half to two thirds of the bulb should remain above the soil surface. It’s not necessary to cover the bulb with soil as all the action takes place at the base and in the root system and covering the bulb often leads to rot.
Water your newly planted bulbs in well and put them in a warm place with direct light. Both light and warmth are essential for the development of the stems. Water sparingly until the stem appears. After the buds, stems or leaves begin to appear, your amaryllis will require regular watering as the soil dries to the touch.
While the flower stalk is growing, it might help to turn the pot every few days if the stalk is beginning to lean towards the light of a window. After the flowers start to bloom, you can move the plant to a slightly cooler location that doesn’t receive direct sun to prolong the life of the flowers.
Freshly cut amaryllis flowers are long lasting and perfect in holiday arrangements. We love to pair white amaryllis blossoms with mixed evergreens, pinecones and white hydrangeas and silver or gold ribbon for an elegant holiday design.
You’ve done your work now, so sit back and enjoy the show!