Amaryllis Are Blooming
still, although there are only a couple left – both of them big gaudy Dutch hybrids. Then all will be quiet until the promising papilios bloom (or don’t) sometime in early to mid summer.
Thus we arrive at the moment for talking about long-term amaryllis care. Questions have been coming in, so here’s the drill:
There are about 80 species of Hippeastrum, to give the genus its proper name, and not surprisingly they grow in a number of different habitats. But most of the “Amaryllis” sold in the US are hybrids like this Elvas, derived from deciduous species that live in well-drained soil where winter is temperate and dry, spring is heralded with warm rains and summer temperatures are toasty but not downright tropical.
On home turf, the spring rains wake the dormant bulb. It sends up a flower stalk, closely followed by a sheaf of strappy leaves. The leaves grow and feed the bulb all summer, then gradually die back as the rains stop and the ground grows drier. Cold – well, cool, they can’t take frost – weather keeps them dormant until late winter, when the whole cycle starts again.
1. After blooming, or when there are leaves if there weren’t blooms, encourage strong growth by keeping the plants warm (70 – 80 degrees), giving them bright but not scorching light and watering just enough to keep the soil barely moist; better to err on the side of dryness if you’re unsure. Avoid pouring water into the neck.
Feed with all purpose fertilizer diluted to half strength, every 2 or 3 weeks from spring to fall. Don’t start until the leaves are well on their way and stop when you see they are no longer growing actively.
2. If you can move the potted plants outdoors for summer, that’s a good thing, though it’s important to protect them from narcissus bulb flies if these pests are in the area.
3. In mid to late summer, stop watering. If the plants are in pots outdoors, just turn the pots on their sides. If there are serious autumn rains; put the pots under cover, especially the terra cotta ones.
4. When the soil is dry and leaves are flabby and yellowing, cut off the leaves. If the bulb is extremely crowded or has produced many offsets, repot in very well drained potting mix in a slightly larger pot, leaving the upper third of the bulb exposed (to forestall rot at the neck). Removing the offsets will direct more strength to the mother bulb; leaving them will eventually produce a more handsome clump. Be warned “eventually” means 3 to 5 years.
5. Let the bulb experience winter – temperatures in the 50 to 60 degree range – for 8 to 10 weeks. You don’t have to put them in a dark place unless the place they’d be in otherwise is so brightly lit after dark they’d completely fail to get the message about winter’s short days.
6. Water well, just once, to restart growth. Be patient; it often takes a couple of weeks before anything starts happening, and over watering at this stage is a sure invitation to rot. When you think about those bulbs in the bin at the store, sprouting away while their naked roots are just dangling there in the dry air, you can see that lack of moisture is seldom the thing that’s holding them back.
Warm Climate Armaryllis Growing
Gardeners in zones warm enough to grow hippeastrums as garden plants – 8b and warmer, basically – have better or worse luck depending on soil, weather and placement. Slightly sandy, quick draining soil is essential; pH can be anywhere from 6 to a little above 7.
“Bright but not scorching” applies, a bit of afternoon shade is a good idea in truly torrid areas. There’s not much you can do about giving them the requisite dry period if you live where it rains in late summer, but you can be sure to site the bed away from plants that get watered in the normal course of things.
Bulbs in the ground may fail to experience 60 degrees as winter, especially if it’s never any colder. I’ve heard of people digging them up and putting them in the fridge but I’m against that degree of fussing around even if it does work.
Sources: I got the Benfica from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, which may well have been the source of the original Papilio – unless I got it from John Scheepers, an equal possibility. Next fall I may try an offering or two from Easy To Grow Bulbs. Never ordered from them before but they have both a good reputation and a large selection.