A friend recently asked me to write a post about growing Amaryllis bulbs; this one is for you.
The Amaryllis Hippeastrum bulb originates in South America, is developed by the Dutch and in later years refined in South Africa. It is a tender bulb, meaning it can’t tolerate low temperatures or frost. This should be a hint not to buy bulbs at outdoor Christmas markets in northern Europe. The Hippeastrum bulbs are not to be confused with Amaryllis belladonna originating in South Africa; they are two entirely different species.
So, let’s start. When you want to buy a bulb, you should look for a nice fat bulb with white fleshy roots, i.e. if you buy it without pot and soil. It doesn’t matter if you can’t see the bud, at this stage you are almost guaranteed to get flowers anyway. If you buy one in a pot it should also be fat. Buy one that sits firmly in the pot, it should not be wobbly. It is an extra plus if you can see roots coming out of the drainage holes, because yes, the pot absolutely has to have drainage holes. We’ll get to that. The bulb you have chosen should be firm, have no red markings or red stripes on the leaves, and at least one third of the bulb should be planted above the soil level to prevent rot and fungus diseases.
As Amaryllis bulbs grow very long and fleshy roots it is important that you find a pot as deep as the bulb is tall, or more, and three to four centimeters’ space from the bulb to the rim of the pot. Remember to pick one with drainage holes. I myself prefer unglazed clay pots as bulbs in full bloom can get quite top heavy.
When you get home pot up the bulb in rich soil with a good bit of drainage. Then water, but don’t let any water get into the nose of the bulb. Place it in a warm position without cold drafts. Wait.
Skip this step if your bulb is already planted.
Now you have to be careful not to overwater, as that is one of the main reasons Amaryllises go to bulb heaven. Overall, all bulbs are sensitive to overwatering, and with too much water comes rot and funguses. If you stick your finger carefully into the soil and it feels cool and damp, hold the water. A bulb can take some drying out without damage, but salvaging a mushy bulb takes some skills and a whole lot of patience. To further prevent rot keep the soil and bulb clean, pluck away any debris like parts of the old tunic that sometimes falls of.
In a few weeks a stalk should appear, with or without leaves. However, a mistake many make is to cut off the leaves. That is not a very nice thing to do to your bulb. It will deprive it of energy and should never be done unless the leaves are brown and withered.
When the flowers are spent cut them right behind the little knob, unless you have been doing the work of a bee and want seeds. Seed production is very taxing on the bulb, though.
Now it is vacation time for the bulb. It needs ample light, full sun if you can supply it and lots of fertilizer and water (but remember what I said about overwatering). If you do this it will produce several long thin leaves. Just let it do its thing and if you are lucky you might get a second scape, or even a third.
Speed ahead to autumn and many people start to think about forcing their bulbs for next Christmas. They stop watering and put their bulb, pot and all in a dark location and let the leaves wither. They let the bulb sit like that until mid to late November and then put it into the light and start watering again.
I don’t do this anymore, I find the bulb loses too much volume and it might not even have enough energy to flower this Christmas again. I prefer to let my bulbs remain in the green and flower when they want. I find they are much happier that way. This mindset requires you not to be fussy about when the bulbs flower.
If you very much want to have flowers at Christmas time buy a forced bulb from a nursery.
Now we can get to the fun part about different varieties!
There are the large Dutch hybrids; they are the most common ones. In recent years the South African bulbs have become very popular. They are naturally smaller (and thus even more sensitive to drying out while resting I have found) and often sport much daintier flowers. In my experience they are also more willing to flower and it is not uncommon to get three flower scapes from one.
One perk with the South African bulbs is that they are also a good deal cheaper. While a Dutch jumbo bulb around Christmas time might set you back about 150 SEK, an African might cost 70 or even 50 SEK. The smaller size, good performance and attractive price have made them my favorite bulbs.
The Amaryllis has seen a rise in popularity even in the last five years. Now you can find hundreds of different cultivars, you aren’t limited to red, white and bicoloured like you were earlier.
Take care of your bulb and you can enjoy it for several years to come with countless flowers. There is absolutely no reason to throw away a healthy bulb just because the fireworks of New Year’s Eve have passed!
Here is a list of my favorite bulbs:
‘Papilio’ – a species with lime green flowers and burgundy stripes. I don’t have this one, yet.
‘Jewel’ – a pure white flower with a dark red eye, semi double and a wonderful scent. I have several of this one! Always lovely, one cannot have too many jewels right?
‘Alfresco’- white frilly meringue look. Double, I have two bulbs.
‘Exotic Star’ -it has a pronounced ‘Papilio’ parentage. It is less burgundy, leaning more at raspberry red with green/cream back. It’s so gorgeous, maybe my number one favorite. There are also two of them in my collection. It is a vigorous grower which likes to set bulblets.
‘Cherry nymph’- Christmas red but double. I have the only one I need.
‘Aphrodite’- frilly, double and pastel pink. What more can a girl ask? This one can be hard to get, but can be replaced with ‘Elvas’ which might in fact be even prettier. I would love to buy ‘Elvas’
‘Trentino’ – I have this one in my bedroom waiting for a scape. I’m pretty sure it will soon be among my favorites. It is a small flowering South African hybrid with soft pink flowers hinting at green.
See a pattern here? I’m very fond of small delicate flowers in white and pastel colours. I try to avoid the Christmas red jumbo bulbs that are so common.
Amaryllis bulbs are very easy to propagate. The least time-consuming way is to separate a bulblet from the mother bulb. Another way is to set seeds, a most time-consuming way, but the only one to get new hybrids. If you have the patience you can get amazing results though.
We’ll get to a more intricate post about bulblets when it is time to repot my bulbs.
In short, getting bulblets is an asexual way to propagate and the bulblets are clones of the mother bulb. Making seedlings is the sexual way, and they become brand new individuals.
There are two sites I can recommend for further reading: Hadeco, which also has an online shop though I’m not sure if they ship to Sweden. Then there is Eamaryllis, which is a privately run site with an extensive photo gallery of named hybrids.
Here is ‘Trentino’ with a bulblet and a bud. As you can be seen it already has a few leaves.