Friday, October 29, 2010

Amaryllis

As the Christmas season gets closer and the greenhouses start to bring in holiday plants, most people think of the legendary Poinsettia and often overlook a plant that will display some of the most dramatic flowers you will ever see – the Amaryllis. With proper care, the Amaryllis will boast dazzling blooms the first year you own it and every year after that. And if you really pamper this beauty, the bulb may even divide and multiply, leaving you with a gift of more Amaryllis bulbs. Lucky you...


Caring For The Beautiful Amaryllis

If you can’t grow a single other thing, you will be able to grow an Amaryllis. It’s foolproof. Three simple ingredients - water, warmth and sufficient light - get this tropical beauty to start developing roots, stalks and leaves in no time.

The first step in your Amaryllis-growing project is bringing home a healthy bulb. Make certain you choose one that is firm to the touch. Bulbs that are too soft may be rotten. Don’t hesitate to open up a kit to check out the bulb; you don’t want to end up with a dud. Pick it up out of the box, place it in the palm of your hand and give it a small squeeze (not too hard!). It should feel firm. The bulb should also be clean and disease-free. There should be no signs of shriveling, decay, scars, nicks, mold, mildew, visible damage or offending odors. If the bulb is dried up, wet, squishy, light in weight or obviously unhealthy, move on to another one.

In the case of Amaryllis ‘bigger is better’ so pick the largest bulb you can find. Smaller bulbs are usually young – one to two years old – and will only produce one flower stalk. On the other hand, the larger, older bulbs can easily produce two or three stalks. With a plump bulb, the results will be richer and longer-lasting.

Avoid buying bulbs that have already started to grow significantly at the store - unless you are a real softie for sympathy purchases. The ones that have begun to sprout before being bought are quite often stressed, which will lead to smaller, lesser flowers; occasionally those bulbs will also fail to produce. If there is any visible growth, it should be extremely minimal (the bud tip should barely be showing). There will likely be some dried roots and signs of leaves having been cut off, which is all normal.

Once you’ve made your purchase and transported it safely to your home, pot it up in the container that was in the kit or select your own. I personally don’t like the cheap plastic pots that come with the kits. For one thing, Amaryllis can become very top-heavy so it’s wiser to choose a container with a little more weight instead of the flimsy one the plant is sold with. Make sure that the pot you choose has drainage holes, is wide enough to allow 1” to 1½” of space around the bulb and large enough to accommodate the extensive root system. Ideally, there should be 2 – 3 inches available below the bulb.

Plant the bulb up to its neck in quality soil that is sterile, light and very well-draining to avoid rot. Pat the soil down to make sure that the bulb is snug and secure in its new home. Water thoroughly and set the plant in a sunny spot (indirect) in temperatures between 21°C (70°F) to 23°C (75°F). Do not water the plant again until you see obvious signs of growth, which generally take about three weeks. Once new growth begins, water thoroughly when necessary. Keep the soil moderately moist. Do not allow it to dry out completely and be careful of over-watering.

The flower stalk is usually the first to appear but it’s not unusual for leaves to grow before or even during the initial stage. As a general rule, the period from potting to flowering takes place between 7 – 10 weeks. Depending on the size of your bulb, you may be awarded anywhere from 4 – 6 flowers. And if you’ve picked up a top grade bulb, you’ll get to do it all over again with a second flower stalk, maybe even a third. Keep stakes on hand to stabilize top-heavy plants. It’s not unheard of for the plants to topple over or for flower stalks to bend and break. Remove each flower as is fades to prevent seed formation, which depletes nutrition from the bulb. You want your plant to concentrate its energy on blooms not seeds. Make sure to rotate the plant every now and again to assure that it grows straight. An Amaryllis tends to bend towards the light source.

When the flowers are opening, and especially while in bloom, keep your Amaryllis away from direct sun and taxing heat sources such as air vents and fireplaces. Direct light and high temperatures will shorten the flower life while cooler areas away from the sun’s rays will prolong it.

It’s that simple.

Once the blooming period is over, there’s no need to throw out that bulb. With the right care, you can get your Amaryllis to bloom again next year. It may even be worth your while to keep that Amaryllis bulb instead of buying a new one every year. The longer you have your Amaryllis bulb, the bigger it will get and the more flowers it will produce. For those reasons alone, it’s worth keeping it around.


Getting Your Amaryllis To Bloom Again

When the blooming period is officially over, cut the flower stalk down completely but do not touch the leaves that have grown. The leaves are necessary in preparing the bulb for the next performance; they absorb nutrients and deliver them to the exhausted bulb, replenishing all the depleted food. From here on in, you will treat your Amaryllis like any other foliage houseplant.

Water and feed your plant regularly to promote vigorous leaf growth, which in turn will manufacture enough food to reenergize the tired and noticeably shrunken bulb. Use a standard liquid fertilizer for houseplants at half the recommended strength a couple of times a month. During this period, make sure that you provide plenty of light for your plant to gather the right amount of energy. A sunny location near a window or on a windowsill is ideal.

When August arrives, stop fertilizing and gradually reduce watering. When the month of September approaches stop watering completely to force the bulb into dormancy; Amaryllis bulbs perform much better when they enjoy a substantial resting period. Allow the leaves to yellow and die, and cut them off to an inch or two above the bulb. By the end of September, no later than the beginning of October if you want flowers by Christmas, set the bulb in its pot in a dark, cool (not cold) location for 6 – 8 weeks. A corner of the basement or a shelf in the garage is a good storage option as long as the temperature remains fairly steady between 10°C (50°F) - 12°C (55°F). During this important period, your plant is snoozing and gathering energy for its upcoming presentation.

After a few weeks of uninterrupted and much-appreciated rest, it’s time for your plant to wake up. Move the bulb back into a warm, bright spot in your home and encourage the growth cycle to begin by watering. From this point on, repeat the process that you would with a newly-purchased, newly-potted bulb. Before you know it, the tiny green tip of a flower stem will appear. Once that happens, get ready for another spectacular performance.

(Note: You can also remove the bulb from the soil, clean it and store it in the crisper of your refrigerator. Do not store it in a refrigerator that contains apples, which can damage the bulbs! Storing bulbs in the fridge is recommended by many reputable growers. However, I have never tried it myself and don’t know just how effective it is. In addition, you don’t necessarily have to force the bulb into dormancy. The leaves of an Amaryllis bulb begin to yellow on their own after 5 – 6 months of normal growth, usually in early fall. Forcing the bulb into dormancy is typically done in order to manipulate the flowering period, which for most people is desirable during the holidays. If you don’t care when the flowers emerge, you can allow your plant to handle its own natural cycle without your interference. If you do want to control the flowering period, plant the bulbs 8 weeks before you’d like them to bloom.)

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