I know you’ve been searching for easy houseplants for gifts lately, and I’ve got just the thing for you! This year at Park Seed we are offering South African Amaryllis (actually in South American native genus Hippeastrum) which boast some of the biggest flowers seen in the plant world. They have large sword-like foliage and thick, strong stems (usually two) topped with up to six lily-like blooms at a whopping 6- to 10-inches in size. They come in an array of bold colors – pink, scarlet, salmon, red, white, and violet with lighter or darker throats, and six banded, solid, striped, or bordered petals. They’re stunning window pot plants or houseplants and are remarkably easy to grow. We even have some Amaryllis that might match your new dining room’s copper walls…maybe! Here’s a few you might want to check out – we have miniatures available, too!
Park’s South African hybrids differ from Dutch Amaryllis in that they are bred for quicker flowering times, more blooms per plant, and new and unusual colors and forms. They also produce leaves along with the stems, whereas the Dutch forms produce their flower stem before the leaves appear. Since South African hybrids are grown to bloom on their normal cycle (summer in Southern hemisphere is actually winter in Northern hemisphere), blooms appear in just 4 to 6 weeks from planting time! So if you start them in mid-November, you’ll have a bold centerpiece just in time for your holiday party, but if you’d like to have them in bloom for Thanksgiving, just start them mid-October.
If you aren’t ready to plant when you receive them, store bulbs at 45 to 50 degrees F with good ventilation to keep them from sprouting prematurely. When you’re ready to plant, use a well-drained, sterile soil with a neutral pH and add a tablespoon of bone meal to encourage root development. In a pot slightly bigger than the bulb (about 1 to 2 inches larger in diameter), plant the bulb with one-half to one-third of its top above the soil with its “shoulders” just above the surface. Pack the soil around the bulb so it’s secure once the stalk starts blooming and making the whole thing top heavy, especially since the roots will be barely established and 1/2 to 1/3 of the bulb is above the soil line.
Water thoroughly after potting and keep soil only slightly moist until growth begins, then water more often – once a week should do the trick. As with most bulbs, good drainage is essential – make sure your pot has drainage holes or line the bottom with pebbles to increase drainage. Once the bloom bud shows above the top of the bulb, you can start to fertilize every seven to ten days with a liquid fertilizer, but be careful to cease fertilization when the plant is not actively growing because doing so can inhibit root formation. A good rule of thumb is to fertilize only when the plant has leaves or stems present. An Amaryllis needs four hours of direct sun per day to produce the best flowering, so place it in your sunniest windowsill to keep it happy. Amaryllis thrive in normal indoor temperatures, but remember that higher temperatures speed up flowering, while cool temperatures prolong flowering. Turn the pot occasionally (1/2 or 1/4 turn every couple of days) when the bloom stalk is elongating to keep a straight stalk as it has a tendency to bend toward the light.
After flowering, cut the flower stalk off to 2 inches above bulb, but continue watering and feeding for the next 8 to 9 months. When foliage turns fully brown, remove any remaining leaves and place the bulb in a dry, dark location, reduce watering, and let it go almost dry for two to three months or until a new bud begins to emerge. If repotting the bulb, lift entire bulb and root ball, soil and all, and add fresh soil on bottom of pot, allowing bulb to set at the same level, and add fresh soil around the sides and top. Water thoroughly, place in cool, dark location, and grow almost dry until flower bud is up 6 inches or more. Repeat as above.
Do not repot until the bulb becomes root bound because Amaryllis would rather grow roots than flowers. To produce the best flowering, keep bulb tightly pot bound. People who live in Zones 8 to 11 can also try growing Amaryllis year-round outdoors in part shade, but those of us in Zone 7 can get by with this only if we have a mild winter. Anywhere else, they will need to be grown outdoors in containers or dug for winter storage. Dig in late summer when foliage begins to die, remove soil, and store in cool, dry area. Allow bulbs to rest 2-3 months, then repot and grow indoors for winter bloom or store until spring for outside planting. If you do have the luxury of leaving them outdoors, expect them to multiply and produce giant clumps with hundreds of flowers!