Hippo-what? An Amaryllis by any other name is still easy to grow

Hippo-what? An Amaryllis by any other name is still easy to grow

Amaryllis Guide Sheet

Amaryllis Exotic II

It's that time of year again. The bulb catalogs are arriving in our mailboxes and we are confronted with all of those gorgeous amaryllis pictures. And this year there are more to choose from than ever - big huge red ones, gorgeous pink and white doubles, miniatures with green stripes - even orange ones.

They are tempting - so very, very tempting.

Sometimes it's even a bit confusing. As home gardeners get more sophisticated, retailers are now offering both hippeastrum and amaryllis in their catalogs. So what on earth is a hippeastrum? And how come it looks exactly like an amaryllis?

Actually, for the most part they are the same. There is really only one true amaryllis. It is Amaryllis belladonna and it is nicknamed "Naked Lady" because when it blooms, it does so without any leaves. A hippeastrum looks almost exactly like it - but when it blooms it also sends up a bit of foliage so that it doesn't look quite so top-heavy.

And it doesn't really matter what you call it - as long as you can plant it and have glorious flowers, right?

Hippeastrum, amaryllis - both are actually very easy to grow indoors. Not only that - they are also very easy to get to bloom year after year with only a minimum of care. Sometimes they even have baby bulblets, which will grow into even more amaryllis. SO while the price of a single bulb may seem high at first, it really isn't.

When you get your bulb home, it may be so eager to grow that you will already see the tip of the flower poking out. Last winter I saw some in a grocery store that had literally pushed their way out of the box and were ready to flower - and they hadn't been planted yet. SO, as you can see, they are really quite eager to perform.

All you need to do is find a container with drainage holes that is just slightly larger than the bulb. (Or, if you really want to make a splash, get one large enough to hold three, or even five bulbs at once without a lot of extra room.) Amaryllis likes to be a bit crowded. Put a flat stone over the drainage hole so that the dirt doesn't leak out.

Now, fill that container with a well-drained potting mix. Put enough into the container to raise the neck of the bulb over the rim of the pot, then set the bulb on that bed of soil. Now fill in around the edges, leaving the neck of the bulb wholly exposed.

Water the bulb in lightly - you want the soil to be damp but not soggy. Bulbs rot in soggy soil - which is one reason you want that pot to have a drainage hole!

Now, go put the pot in a dark place and forget it for a while. Putting it in the dark is sort of like fooling the bulb into thinking it's been planted in the ground and hasn't come up to see the light yet. It will obediently send out roots. Because it is busy rooting, any growth that you may have seen on the bulb will slow down until the plant is rooted - so don't panic of things seem to come to a dead halt.

Check on it maybe once a week to make sure that it hasn't dried out. Pretty soon you should see the flower bud start to rise from the bulb. When it is about three -four inches high, move your plant into an area with filtered light.

At this point you may want to water the plant with a weak solution of balanced plant food. Generally only use about half of what the plant food package recommends. Bulbs are actually amazing little packages that carry their own food supply - too much and you may get a lot of leaves at the expense of flowers. Overfed bulbs, just like overfed people, get lazy.

In general, it takes an amaryllis about eight weeks from the time it sprouts until the time it flowers - so plan accordingly if you want flowers for Christmas or other special occasions.

NOW - what can you do from this point to make sure that your bulb will not only look great this year but also continue to do so year after year?

First of all, continue to give it a light feeding every couple of weeks, especially while in flower. And when it is done flowering, cut off the stems. Immediately. Should a flower happen to have been accidentally pollinated by a passing housefly or inquiring fingers, it will try to set seed. Bulbs that go to seed won't bloom the following year. Be safe - cut off that stem as soon as the flowers look limp.

Do NOT cut off the leaves. Continue to water the plant lightly until those leaves turn yellow and ugly. This will take a long time. Many of mine from last Christmas are still green as we head into October. But the bulb gets its food from the interaction of sun on the leaves.

When summer comes, take your bulbs outside into some nice protected area and let them enjoy the summer. I take some of mine and plant them in the ground wherever I need tall, spiky leaves. I dig them up again before frost. These bulbs are tender, so do the same and bring the pots in when cool weather starts threatening.

When the leaves die down, cut them off. What is left, you will notice, is nothing you would want to display - which is good. Because now you want to put that amaryllis (hippeastrum) into a dark, cool spot and forget it. I mean really forget it. The plant is dormant and just wants to be left alone. Don't even water it.

If you were good about watering and feeding the plant all year, you will be delighted to see that after several weeks that little flower tip will come poking its head up through the bulb, despite all the neglect. And so the whole cycle starts again. Change the top inch of soil for new, fresh stuff. Water the plant lightly. Put it in a dim place and wait. In about eight weeks, your amaryllis will bloom again.

About the Author

Carol is a garden writer and college professor in northeast Pennsylvania. She manages the Gardening section of Suite 101.com, where she also writes the column Virtually Gardening.

About this Author