Autumn was relatively mild and late, as the winter solstice approached. No heavy snowfall, no ice to speak of and a few unusually hot and windy days last week as well. I know because I broadcast local Albany news from here in sunny Florida. I try to keep up with your weather, but I certainly don’t miss it! I am very happy to wear a T-shirt and spend at least two days a week sailing the Gulf of Mexico.
This is the time of year when many of us struggle to come up with gift ideas for the holidays. Giving someone the same Christmas present every year for many years may cause others to question your memory or your creativity, but some gifts are truly appreciated and can be enjoyed indefinitely for many years to come. Like candy canes and chocolate, they can even become a tradition in your family.
Every year I get an amaryllis bulb for my daughter, who lives in sunny Florida. She plants them outside in her garden and they faithfully bloom for her every year outside. They are not at all hardy in our area and should be kept indoors when temperatures drop below 50 or 60. Most amaryllis plants are more correctly called “Hippeastrum”. There are over 90 species and 600 cultivars.
These true bulbs were brought to Europe in the 1700s and are known to flower for up to 75 years. These beautiful plants produce from one to several huge, brilliantly colored lily-like flowers on a single sturdy flower stalk. The flowers can be up to 10 inches in diameter and come in different shades of red, white, orange, pink, or striped combinations of these colors. When the flower stalk emerges, it grows so quickly that you can almost see it growing. The warmer the environment, the faster they grow, and flowers typically last around three weeks indoors.
Amaryllis bulbs are sold in several different sizes. Most are as big as an orange or even bigger. In general, the larger the bulb, the larger and more numerous the flowers. Prices can range from under $ 10, from a big box store to $ 25 or more, for a truly spectacular light bulb. I suggest you start shopping at a local garden center. You can also mail order them from multiple companies, but with supply issues being an issue this winter, it might be best to try and buy it in person.
Bulbs take about a month to flower if the bulb is completely dormant at the time of purchase. If we start now, it will bloom on the dark days of February when most Northerners are in desperate need of something pretty to look at.
Buy the biggest light bulb you can afford. Most amaryllis bulbs will be pre-potted in a plastic or clay pot. They like to be tied to the roots, so there is no need to repot them every year. After three or four years, you may need to repot.
A few days to a week after the first watering, the bulb should produce a flowering stem that will grow very quickly. In a month, the huge flower buds will open and you will be treated to a spectacular spectacle. Cut off individual flowers with a sharp knife when they wither, and keep the plant in full sun during flowering. Amaryllis will bloom in the sun or shade when forced like this. When all the flowers have wilted, cut the flowering stem near the base of the bulb. Long webbing-like leaves should appear next. Keep the soil moist and apply houseplant fertilizer about once a month while the leaves are growing. Provide as much sunlight as possible. Many people put them outside in a place with full sun during the summer. When the foliage begins to turn yellow and die, omit fertilizer and reduce watering. Although a cool period is not necessary to bloom again, many gardeners place the bulb in a cool basement once the leaves start to turn yellow.
About a month before the desired bloom, cut the leaves to within an inch of the bulb. Water, drain and place the pot in a sunny spot to repeat the flowering cycle. You will need to buy a bigger pot about every two years if all goes well. It is not uncommon for amaryllis bulbs to last up to 50 years with proper care.
My daughter’s Amaryllis collection is getting pretty impressive after so many years and I hope they will remain as important to her as giving them to her is to me.