My Passion for Amaryllis
Some people countdown to Christmas with chocolate advent calendars, or catchy holiday carols. I count down with amaryllis. Each December morning, I slip on my wool socks and eagerly tiptoe down the stairs to watch my precious bulb presents unwrap themselves. “How much will the bloom stalks have grown last night?” my mind wonders. “Will this be the day the new variety bursts into flower?” my soul delights. I watch in amazement as each bulb awakens, pushing up new leaves, new blooms, and new life! It’s officially “Amaryllis Christmas” in my home.
My passion for amaryllis started as a young girl, and the obsession has been growing ever since. My grandma always had a multitude of amaryllis blooming for the holidays. She would display some with houseplants, place blooming pots in visitors’ bedrooms, and give dozens away as Christmas gifts. She always grew the classic red and white varieties aptly named ‘Red Lion’ and ‘Christmas Gift.’ At the time, I thought amaryllis were only red and white. Little did I know there are peaches, pinks, yellows, ivories, and deep crimsons to make my amaryllis-loving heart glow!
Larger amaryllis bulbs produce more flowering stems
When I first started growing amaryllis, I purchased boxed grow kits from the local Tractor and Supply store. These kits included dehydrated coco coir, a plastic pot, and a small amaryllis bulb. Generally, these small bulbs produced only one or two flowering stalks. But as my passion for amaryllis grew, I started to invest in larger bulbs.
Amaryllis bulbs are sized by measuring (in centimeters) around the widest part of the bulb. I prefer to purchase 34/36 cm or 38/40 cm bulbs whenever possible. These larger bulbs produce more flowers and have thicker, stronger stems than their smaller counterparts. In fact, I’ve had some 38 cm bulbs put out five flowering stems! It takes commercial amaryllis growers an extra year to produce these jumbo bulbs so you can expect them to be slightly more expensive. In my opinion it’s always worth the extra cost.
Amaryllis bloom time is determined by country of origin
Amaryllis bulbs are produced in both the northern hemisphere (Holland) and the southern hemisphere (Peru, South Africa, Brazil). Those that arrive in the US from the southern hemisphere, are already eager to bloom and usually produce flowers in late fall, just 4-6 weeks after planting. You will often see these amaryllis bulbs listed as “Early Blooming” or “Christmas Flowering.”
Amaryllis bulbs that are grown in the northern hemisphere are dormant when they arrive in the US. Once these bulbs are planted, it usually takes 8-12 weeks for them to produce flowers. If you want your amaryllis to bloom in midwinter, be sure to purchase bulbs that were grown in the northern hemisphere.
How to plant an amaryllis bulb
Planting amaryllis bulbs is a fun, quick, and easy endeavor. The bulbs prefer to be relatively tight in their pots, so choose a container that’s only about 2 inches wider than your bulb. Using a heavy container with a drainage hole will help to keep the display from toppling over and from becoming waterlogged.
Start by filling the bottom half of the container with lightly moistened potting mix. Set the bulb on top and fill in around it with more growing mix, leaving the top 1/3 of the bulb exposed.
Water around the perimeter of the bulb to settle the soil. In the following weeks, keep the soil barely moist, applying approximately 1/2 cup of water per week. Place your pots in a warm area (68-70°F) with bright, indirect light and watch them grow and bloom!
- Bonus Tip! A 2013 study by Cornell and Kansas State University concluded that soaking amaryllis roots in room temperature water for 12 hours prior to planting resulted in more rapid and uniform early leaf growth, and greater overall early vigor. Read the full study HERE.
How to re-bloom amaryllis bulbs for future holidays
Getting an amaryllis to re-bloom is easier than it sounds. As with other flower bulbs, amaryllis use their leaves to produce energy for next year’s flowers. Once the flowers fade, cut off the stalks and grow the bulb like a houseplant for the rest of winter and spring. Give it plenty of light and keep it watered. After all danger of frost has passed, move the pot outside for the summer. The bulb should stay dry, and the soil should be barely moist — never soggy. If your summers are wet, you may need to shield the pot from excessive rain.
In late summer stop watering the amaryllis and move the potted bulb to a cool (50-55°F), dark, dry location. An unheated basement is ideal. The leaves will gradually wither as the plant goes dormant. Leave the bulb alone and don’t water it for at least 2-3 months.
Once the bulbs have completed their dormancy period, you can start waking them up. Ideally, you should bring the bulbs out of dormancy 8-12 weeks before you want them to re-bloom. Therefore, if you want an amaryllis to be in bloom on Christmas day you would put them into dormancy in August, take them out of dormancy in October, and they should re-bloom in late December/early January.
Naturally, there are a number of variables that can affect when the bulbs actually bloom, but this schedule has given me the highest success rate for achieving holiday blooms.
Repotting your amaryllis bulbs
Amaryllis bulbs get larger as they age and may need re-potting every three to four years. If they still look comfortable in their pots, just remove any dead foliage and refresh the soil on top. Drench the soil and then bring the pots into a warm area (68-70°F) with bright light.
When you do need to re-pot an amaryllis, take the dormant bulb out of the container and gently loosen the roots. Remove any dry scales from the bulb and replant it in a slightly larger pot.
Favorite amaryllis varieties
Cape Horn – These jumbo, rose-pink flowers have broad, overlapping petals and shallow trumpets. The center of the flower is adorned with a crisp white star (see below).
Sweet Nymph – Sweet Nymph is a frilly, double amaryllis with a romantic charm. The flowers have layers of creamy white petals, decorated with coral pink stripes.
Gervase – Gervase is deep rose-pink but look more closely and you’ll see the petals are adorned with patterns of stripes and veining that make every blossom unique.
Magical Touch – The flowers of Magical Touch remind me of a pansy’s sweet, open face. It has bright, cherry red petals with white edges. At the center is a green and white star.
Sweet Star – A gorgeous, candy-pink amaryllis with creamy yellow highlights.
Yellow Star – A pale, creamy yellow amaryllis.