Grow Amaryllis in the Southern Garden by Barbara Sharf
Southern gardeners can enjoy using “The Southerner’s Tulip” in our landscape design. Hippeastrum species and hybrids, commonly known as Amaryllis, bloom and thrive without the sub-freezing dormancy that is necessary for tulips, large-flowered daffodils, and other spring bulbs that are garden staples in colder climates.
The older Hybrids
Some of the older hybrids, such as Red Lion and Apple Blossom, do very well in the Southern garden. Some of the H. species are also quite successful, such as H. striatum and H. vittatum. My own favorite is the “pass-along” amaryllis, unnamed varieties that have been passed along from garden to garden, over many generations. They are ideally adapted to the conditions of the South and thrive in spite of neglect, inclement weather, disease, and pests. My “pass-along” bulbs came from the front yard of an abandoned home in my neighborhood. The original seven bulbs have spread to form a large bed of beautiful spring blooms.
Direct outdoor planting.
The potted Amaryllis, which we received at Xmas, can be planted outdoors as soon as the nights are consistently above freezing. Bulbs can also be purchased locally or from Internet sites for direct outdoor planting. Plant the bulbs so the neck is just visible. After the spring bloom is finished, dig up any bulbs that have started to heave out of the ground, separate off the mature bulblets, and replant them at the proper depth. During the active growth of spring and summer, regular applications of a slow-acting fertilizer and regular water will help the bulb to recover and produce next year’s blooms. The Xmas Amaryllis bulb has been specially forced and is depleted after blooming. This bulb can take up to three years to recover and to bloom in the garden.
Amaryllis do well in a good garden soil. The major danger is boggy soil that stays wet, encouraging disease. It helps to redirect sprinkle heads used for lawn irrigation away from the Amaryllis. Hand watering is better when rain is sparse. During winter dormancy, lawn irrigation is especially dangerous for the bulbs, which need to dry out while dormant. In areas of questionable drainage, raised beds are a good solution.
Amaryllis need at least 1/2 day of sun to bloom well. In the deep South they can be grown under a high dappled shade if they still get early morning and late afternoon sun.
The bulbs need to be protected from a hard or prolonged freeze, which will damage the basal plate, where flowers are formed. Choosing a sheltered microclimate, such as near a wall which radiates heat at night, will extend the northernmost limits of growing Amaryllis. Planting at the proper depth and mulching will also help in protecting the bulb. Even in warmer zones, a frost blanket or dry leaf mulch will provide protection when a frost is expected. In warmer climates, remove the cover as the day warms up.
Amaryllis have a short winter dormancy in the South. In response to decreasing day length, cooler nights, and dryer soil, they will die back to the ground, usually in December and January. New growth will appear, both leaves and flowers, as early as mid February. Growing a variety of cultivars can extend the blooming season into early May. The leaves may die back in mid summer, putting out a second set of leaves in late summer. In rare cases, a second flower scape will appear in the fall.
Pests and diseases
Pests and diseases seem to be a result of overly wet soil. Snails can be a real problem in a wet spring. They eat holes in the buds, which are evident when the flower opens. I have used a rose/flower systemic fungicide when disease is evident.
Without cool basements, Southern gardeners have less success in forcing their potted Amaryllis to re-bloom at Xmas than do our Northern friends. Northerners are better able to reproduce the necessary conditions to force early fall dormancy. This is why I advise Southern gardeners to forego forcing their Amaryllis to rebloom at Xmas. Instead, we are so lucky to be able to enjoy them as a landscape plant.