I remember my first amaryllis. I asked my father to buy it while he was purchasing seed at Brawley Seed Company in Mooresville, N.C. It was in a pot with two stalks with large buds. Daddy had never heard of one, but I had seen pictures and knew I wanted it. Within a week or two, the large, velvet, red flowers opened and everyone in the family and at our church (where it made a beautiful altarpiece) knew the name “amaryllis.”
That amaryllis continued to give us flowers until it died this year – 31 years later – from old age or exhaustion, but leaving behind seedlings and offsets and a love for other members of its clan.
What’s not to love about an amaryllis? This lily-like bulb is easy to grow and the flowers are spectacular. At this time of year you may see bulbs for sale or specimens already potted and ready to bloom.
Here are some tips: Plant the bulb in a pot one to two inches wider than the widest part of the bulb (i.e. a bulb three inches in diameter would need a pot at least five to seven inches in diameter.) The pot should have drainage holes at the bottom and be at least as tall as the bulb is to allow room for adequate root growth and to provide ballast to keep the plant from tipping over when the stalks and blooms appear. Terra cotta pots are best as they are heavier and do not stay as wet as plastic pots. Use a well drained potting soil. You may want to add one part sand or perlite to three or four parts potting soil to insure good drainage. Plant the bulb up to its widest point, water it thoroughly and set it in a sunny window. The bulb will flower in six to eight weeks. Water only when fairly dry. You will need to increase watering as leaves and stalks appear.
After flowering, keep the plant in a sunny spot and set it outdoors for the summer. You may give it one or two feedings with liquid fertilizer in early and mid summer. In fall, set your amaryllis in a dark place indoors and stop watering it. Let it remain dormant for at least two months. Then begin watering to start the process again. Some people like to repot the bulbs every year.
Amaryllis can be propagated by separating the small bulbs that form at the base of the larger bulbs. They can also be grown from seed. Take some of the pollen (the yellow dust at the tips of the curved stamens) and place it at the tip of the pistil (the single, longer, straighter flower part that is beneath the stamens.) As the flower fades, the pod at the base of the flower will swell. When it turns yellow and begins to break open, collect the seeds (they look like dry, flattened raisins) and sow them in vermiculite or a seed-starting mixture. When they sprout they will look like grass. In a few weeks bulbs will begin to form. Transplant the seedlings to larger pots and keep them growing in a sunny location. Do not let them go dormant. In four or five years the bulbs will be big enough to bloom.
Yes, I know that is a long time, but it allows you to get many bulbs and, if you have two different kinds of amaryllis blooming at the same time, you can cross-pollinate to create your own hybrids. That is what I did several years ago and my hybrids bloomed for the first time this year. I crossed a small, orange variety with a red one. Some of the offspring had traits from both parents and some had traits that neither parent exhibited. While my hybrids are not going to split the amaryllis world wide open, I am proud of them. And I have ordered different colors to cross with them to create what I hope will be a new generation of extraordinary and unique amaryllises. I’ll make my crosses and cross my fingers.
-- Arty Schronce
Arty Schronce lives and gardens in the historic Cabbagetown neighborhood of Atlanta. He encourages everyone to discover the pleasures of plants and gardening.