GARDENING: Amaryllis — A great flower for the holidays
Free Press Gardening Columnist
Amaryllis bulbs are available in many of our local stores waiting for you to take them home. Some have already been planted; some have even been forced into bloom. Others are packed in boxes ready for you to plant in your own pot.
When you get a boxed bulb home, plant it as soon as possible. While it is recommended you dip the bulb in a general purpose fungicide prior to planting to help control disease problems, most people skip this step and still have a beautiful plant. If you need to store the bulbs for any length of time, be sure to keep them at a temperature of 55 to 60 degrees F.
The amaryllis does best when planted in a well-drained sterilized planting mix having a pH of 6.0 to 6.5. A mix containing Sphagnum peat moss and perlite works well. Plant the bulb with the nose above the rim of the pot; at least one-third of the bulb should be out of the soil. Normally, only one bulb is planted per five- or six-inch standard pot. You could also use the shallower amaryllis pot. Just be sure it has a drainage hole.
After the bulb is planted, water it thoroughly with tepid water. You don’t want to use cold water. From then on, keep the soil only slightly moist. The bulb will need to be forced for it to produce its bloom and this is best done by placing the pot in a room where the temperature is between 63 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. If you plan on having these plants in bloom at a specific time, keep in mind the average forcing time until bloom is from 3 to 5 weeks. The higher the temperature the faster the flower stalk will develop.
Fertilizing once a month during blossom time is helpful but not recommended during the flower stalk development phase. During this forcing period, the plant should be placed in a site having low to medium light intensity. Do not expose these developing plants to full sun.
The number of flower stalks each bulb produces is dependent on the size of the bulb with the larger bulbs producing the greater number of stalks. The number of flowers per flower stalk, however, is primarily a function of cultivar with most producing four flowers per stalk. Some cultivars produce only two flowers per stalk while others produce up to six.
Leaf growth becomes vigorous shortly after blossoms fade and die. If you plan on keeping the plant for another year, do not cut the foliage off the plant. If damage occurs to the strap-like leaves, the bulb’s food reserves will not be replenished for next year’s bloom. The bulb can be left in the same pot for several years watering and fertilizing as you would any other houseplant. When all danger of frost is over in the spring, set the pot outside at ground level in a sunny spot. Continue to water and fertilize. In August the plant may bloom again.
Before the first fall frost, take the pot and plant back into the house and place it in a cool spot with subdued light. Gradually withhold water until the soil in the pot is absolutely dry. This cures the bulb and provides the 60-day rest period needed before renewed growth starts. As the leaves yellow and die, remove them by pulling them loose from the bulb. Top growth will begin when the rest period is complete and the process can be started over again.
The amaryllis is a product of South Africa and the Netherlands. Each country produces different cultivars with the blooms being red, pink, salmon, white, orange or lemon. Bicolor cultivars are also available consisting of white and red, or white and pink combinations. The South African cultivars are typically forced earlier than the Dutch-grown bulbs, providing a longer market for nurseries and garden centers and more weeks of enjoyment for the consumer.
Dr. Curtis E. Swift is a retired horticulture agent with the Colorado State University Extension. Reach him at Curtis.Swift@alumni.colostate.edu, 970-778-7866 or check out his blog at http://SwiftsGardeningBlog.blogspot.com. He owns Swift Horticultural Consulting and High Altitude Lavender.
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