Amaryllis bulbs are a great gift to give and receive at the holidays. In the doldrums of winter it’s so nice to see their happy faces blooming and with proper care, the bulb you receive can bloom year after year.
If you are giving the bulb as a gift or have received one, the bulb should be kept in a cool, dry location with air circulation until they can be planted. If the bulb is not already potted when purchased, choose a pot that is about 6-8 inches in diameter with drainage holes in the base. Amaryllis bulbs prefer to be pot bound with no more than 2 inches from the side of the bulb to the wall of the pot.
Pot the bulb with a good potting soil so that the top third of the bulb (including its ‘neck’) is above the soil. This ensures that no water placed on the surface of the soil will go down into the bulb’s neck. Fertilizer isn’t necessary but if you wish to use some, a general purpose bulb fertilizer may be mixed with the potting soil and placed under the bulb. It’s important that no fertilizer is actually touching the bulb.
Begin the forcing process 6-8 weeks before bloom is desired. Water the potted bulb just once thoroughly, from top and bottom of the pot. Do not water regularly until new green growth appears at the top of the neck. If the soil dries out before that time, water no more than once per week, preferably from the bottom of the pot. Excessive watering at this stage will rot the bulb. Over watering at the beginning of amaryllis growth is the main reason for its failure to thrive.
Once growth appears (this may be thin, flat green leaves, a flower stem that is rounded and topped with a bud or a combination of the two), water it no more than once every three days. The best way to water your amaryllis is by placing the pot in a pan of water that is halfway up the pot’s height and allow the soil to draw the water up through the base of the pot. Don’t let it sit for too long.
Providing support for the flower stem is a good idea. You can use a stick or wire to hold up the flower stem but be careful when inserting the support into the soil that you don’t push it through the bulb below. Leaves sometimes grow on either side of the main stem or just on one side of the stem.
Depending on the size and health of your bulb, one or more flower stems may be produced. Each stem typically produces four blooms which open within days of each other. The ideal place for your blooming plant is a cool, shaded room which will prolong the life of the blooms. Heat and light will cause the bloom to wither.
After each bloom withers, cut the flower off just in back of the bloom, removing the green lump in back of the blossom and the thin stem connecting the bloom to the main flower stem. By doing this, you will save the plant energy from having to form seeds behind the bloom. When all blooms have been removed, cut the main stem off 2 inches above the bulb. Put the plant back into normal light and water as necessary and keep the leaves unchanged.
After the summer, you will want to force the plant to go dormant. Place your potted amaryllis in a cool, dimly-lit area, like a cellar, for 6-8 weeks. Do not water the bulb and make sure to cut the leaves at the top of the bulb’s neck as they become yellow and wither.
When you are ready to force your plant to bloom again, cut any dead tissue off of the bulb’s neck. Also remove the top 1/2 inch of soil and replace with new soil. Water the potted bulb once thoroughly and place the pot in a normal indoor temperature. From here on out you can follow the same process as stated above in Growing Season.
If your amaryllis produces leaves but no flower stem in any given year, still continue to tend to the plant so that the leaves will feed the bulb for next year’s flower. Should your bulb show no growth from forcing, try squeezing the bulb beneath the soil with your fingers. If the bulb is no longer firm, it may have rotted and need to be thrown out. It’s possible the bulb received too much water during its growth cycle.