24 September 2009

How to Grow Amaryllis (Hippeastrum)

Amaryllis bulbs are one of the most popular plants to grow indoors in the winter. Their flowers are spectacular trumpet-shaped single and double blooms in red, pink, white and combinations of those colors.

Friends of Honor Heights Park Association received a gift of 40 potted Amaryllis bulbs from the estate of geologist Dr. Dick Hollingworth. The Amaryllis which Hollingworth grew as a hobby, were donated through his local caregiver, Stay Home Services and his niece Wendy Gibbons.

Central and South America natives, Amaryllis (Hippeastrum) plants have to spend the winter inside in areas north of Florida. Bare bulbs purchased now are planted in clay or plastic pots with drainage holes.

The size of the pot has to allow only one-inch between the edge of the pot and the bulb to keep the bulb pot-bound. The top one-third of the bulb remains exposed above the soil.

Amaryllis from Colorblends

Dr. Hollingworth's plants are potted, growing, and ready to bring inside.

At this time of year, there are two choices with an Amaryllis that is already growing: You can either cut back the plant to force a December to January flower or you can keep it as a houseplant over the winter and allow it to bloom naturally in April.

To force a winter bloom, cut back the tall leathery leaves, put the pot in a dark, 55-degree location, and withhold water. The leaves will turn yellow, as the bulb goes dormant.

After 6 weeks, refresh the top two inches with fresh potting soil and put the plant in 4 hours of sunlight or artificial fluorescent light.

Water thoroughly with warm water and allow to drain. Water again only when the soil is dry and then sparingly until you see rapid growth. Then give the plant a little houseplant food.

Bright light is essential. Keep turning once a week to grow straight stems.

When your bulbs start to flower, move them to a cooler location to preserve the flowers. (I use fluorescent bulbs from when growth first appears to when the flower buds appear. Then, I move them to an east-facing window.) If they are grown on a windowsill, prevent frostbite by moving them away from the glass on freezing nights.

It is a lot easier to allow them to go through their natural cycle, keeping them as architectural houseplants over the winter, increasing available light in the early spring, and enjoying the flowers just as our last days of frost arrive between late March and mid-April.

Whether you decide to have your Amaryllis bulbs flower in December or April, cut off the flower buds when the flowers fade. Otherwise, the plant goes into seed making mode and the bulb is weakened. Remove the flower stem when it dies back to the base.

Fertilize with diluted fertilizer while the leaves continue to grow and gather strength for the next year. Keep them in bright light and put the plant outside for the summer. Then next fall, stop watering the plants and tilt the pots on their sides so they do not retain rainwater.

The small bulbs that grow beside the large mother bulb will be identical clones.

Reasons Amaryllis fail to bloom include: insufficient light and fertilizer, foliage removed, overcrowded bulbs, bulb neck buried.

The Amaryllis grown by Dr. Hollingworth are large and healthy ones, obviously well loved by a hobby grower. Most are un-named though a few have the variety tags in the pot.

Friends of Honor Heights Park Association hopes to sell all 40 plants during their events at the Park on October 3 and 17. Any remaining plants will be sold at the Gift Shop between Thanksgiving Day and New Year’s Day. Plants are $5.00 each.

Potted amaryllis will be available at upcoming Friends events
October 3 Members-Only Party at the Park
October 17 Friends Park Clean-up Day
October 17 Worm Composting Workshop

Remaining plants available at the Honor Heights Park Gift Shop between Thanksgiving and New Years Day.

More Information Honorheightsfriends@gmail.com or Martha Stoodley 918.683.2373

After this column went to press, Dr. Jerry Gustafson from Tulsa told me about an Amaryllis that is a passalong plant in our area. This zone 7 hardy Amaryllis is called a Saint Joseph's lily. Gustafson said his friend had 20 to give away they had multiplied so well in her garden.

Easy to Grow Bulbs sells them for $20 each.
Developed by a watchmaker named Johnson in England in the late 1700s, this amaryllis cross is winter hardy in much of the country but still remarkably unknown. A brilliant red dynamo with a strong, spicy fragrance it is hard to find, but not difficult to grow outdoors in warm areas. The St. Joseph's lily blooms in late spring, usually with more than one flower stalk per bulb and 5 to 6 blooms per stalk. Mother bulbs will set smaller bulbs on the side to create a large patch over time, providing the option to divide and share.

An online Texas article calls them one tough bulb. Charla Anthony wrote the column for The Eagle and gives the history of St. Joseph's Lily.

Amaryllis at the National Arboretum

2 comments:

Sandra Holloway said...

Very nice article, thank you! I grow the St. Joseph's Lily (Hippeastrum Johnsonii) in Texas as well! They really do take care of themselves.

Martha said...

Hi Sandra -
I still don't have a St. Joseph's Lily and you comment made me remember that fact.
Must shop!