The winter months can feel long, especially after the rush of the holiday season. Some of us head to warmer climates for a little vitamin D, but if you want to embrace the tropics without the heavy expense, I have a mid-winter remedy that will help you escape those winter blues…
Hippeastrum ‘Papilio” or Amaryllis Papilio
Hippeastrum aka Amaryllis
Commonly known as Amaryllis, but really, they are two different plants (bulbs) – one native to South Africa (Amaryllis) and the other from South America (Hippeastrum). The difference, other than where they come from, are their blooming habits. Amaryllis typically send their blooms first while Hippeastrum will establish their leaves before they send their blooms. However, outside of the botany world, the term Amaryllis is commonly used for both.
Both have incredibly showy blooms and are super easy to grow. You do not have to be an experienced gardener, just follow a few easy steps and within 8 – 10 weeks you will have stunning blooms that will get you through the doldrums of the winter months. Flowers come in shades of red, pink and white, with some varieties showing interesting spotting and banding.
There are three growing methods; soil, water, and most recently, a wax dipped option. If you want to enjoy your beautiful bulb year after year (some have been known to last up to 20+ years), then I recommend planting your amaryllis in potting soil. If you have limited indoor space and are not looking to care for a tropical houseplant, then forcing in water or the wax method is a good option for you.
Amaryllis are typically available in North America around October – November. When selecting bulbs, try and get the largest bulb you can find, ensuring the bulb is firm and there is no rot, bruising, or mold. If you want to enjoy the blooms for the holidays, then get them started no later than early November. However, they are also a great activity for kids (big and small) during the winter months.
Some of my favourite varieties include Papillio, Picotee, Evergreen, Bogota, Chico, Vixen, Dasher, White Nymph, and Apple Blossom. (There about 500 varieties of Amaryllis – 90 species and 600 hybrids of Hippeastrum).
Hippeastrum ‘ Evergreen’ or Evergreen Amaryllis
Planting in Soil
A heavy pot with drainage is a must, as Amaryllis can become quite top heavy and will need the support, and they do not like to sit in water. Unlike our outdoor fall bulbs, amaryllis do not have to be completely covered or go through a cooling period. The bulb should be planted with the pointed end up so that 50% – 70% of the bulb is exposed. A good potting mix is best – do not use garden soil mix as they may not drain well. Pack the soil gently around the bulb to help keep it in place.
Once planted, soak the soil thoroughly and keep it moist until you start to see the bulb sprout. Once it’s sprouted, water regularly allowing the soil to dry out in between waterings. Find a warm sunny location and rotate the pot every so often to keep the stem and leaves from stretching out, which may cause the plant to topple over.
Most Amaryllis will produce more than one bud with 3 – 4 blooms. To prolong the blooms, move the pot to a cooler area, out of direct sunlight, as soon as the flower starts to open. Once the blooms are finished, cut the stems 1 – 2” above the crown of the bulb.
Designer Tip: I add Red Dogwood or decorative branches around the bulb for interest and support. Adding decorative stones around the base of the bulb can retain warmth which Amaryllis love and it’s also a nice detail to cover up the soil.
The bulb may or may not have produced leaves while producing a flower bud. If leaves are present during the flowering stage, do not cut them off once the flower is spent. The leaves will help to regenerate the bulb for its next growth cycle.
Amaryllis have long simple strap-shaped leaves, so make sure you have at least 1 – 2’ of growing space around the plant. After the blooms are finished, continue to water and feed the plant during the spring and summer. In late summer, start to hold back watering and allow the foliage to die back. Remove the plant from the soil, cut off the leaves & excess roots, brush off soil, and store for about 6 – 8 weeks in a cool dark place. Once the bulb has had some time to rest, you can repeat the growing guidelines and enjoy their blooms year after year.
Hippeastrum ‘Picotee’ or Picotee Amaryllis
Planting in Water
Did I mention that Amaryllis do not like to sit in water? Seems odd then to recommend this as an option. However, the key to the success of this method is to allow the water to touch the roots/base of the bulb and not submerge the bulb in the water. Special forcing vases or a watertight container with pebbles work best, and these also offer more display options.
How is this possible? Amaryllis have enough food and energy inside the bulb to generate blooms for that season. However, once finished, the bulb needs to be planted in soil and cared for to be able to regenerate for the following year(s) (see guidelines above).
With this method, choose a watertight container with pebbles, making sure its 4” deep to allow the roots to anchor and support the large blooms. Place the bulb root side down, pushing the roots gently into the pebbles and adding some additional pebbles around the base of the bulb. Add water to about an inch below the base of the bulb so that the roots and not the bulb are wet.
Place your amaryllis in a sunny windowsill and keep the temperature around 15 – 23 C. to encourage it to sprout. Keep an eye on the water level daily and change the water weekly to prevent odors. Rotate the vase to promote even growth. Cut the spent bloom 1” – 2” above the bulb, and then you can decide to transplant or toss out the bulb (hopefully you choose to keep it – but no judgement here).
Source: Food & Wine
Wax dipped Amaryllis
This innovation comes from Holland and has become more and more popular here in North America, as no soil or water is required. As I mentioned above, all the necessary nutrients are packed into the bulb and without much effort, these incredible bulbs produce beautiful blooms within 4 – 6 weeks, although a bit shorter and stockier. The downside to this option, is that it’s only a one time use and can be higher priced than buying the bulb itself.
Waxed amaryllis are treated differently in preparation for blooming. The bulbs are first soaked in water to fully hydrate them, and then the roots are removed at the basal plate to shock them into forcing mode and prevent the roots from growing. They are dipped in colourful wax to seal the bulbs moisture.
Most waxed bulbs come with a metal stand or can be displayed on a decorative plate or bowl. Water and sun are actually not required. Once they are finished, the bulb is discarded.
If you would like to try this method yourself, here is a link from The Art of Doing Stuff that provides great step by step instructions and good visuals to make your own waxed amaryllis bulb.
So, what will it be?
No matter what the growing option you choose for your amaryllis, you are in for a treat. I hope that this blog has inspired you, and that your winter months have the potential to filled with a little more joy & warmth from these incredibly beautiful blooms.