Posted on

The amaryllis Story of Mariana Greene “Gardening Fool”

Get your amaryllis potted! It’s time for the amaryllis ritual. Pot them now for blooms by Christmas.
A few years ago, I bought extra because I couldn’t choose between less-common orange blossoms and the standard holiday red. Once I had them lined up in their clay’flowerspots, watered and sprouting, I realized I should have staggered the planting at two-week intervals in order to enjoy a winter season of those buxom, broad pentaled beauties. Instead, they would all bloom in the same limited span of weeks and I would suffer from amaryllis overexposure. I’ll say it: I was greedy.
That’s how my Christmas custom began of sharing bulbs in bud with friends and neighbors.

During my childhood in the 50s, amaryllis bulbs (Hippeastrum) sold for forcing into winter bloom were red and only red. The bulbs were cultivated in Florida using species from Central and South America. My aunts in Georgia and Florida and my mother here in Dalles planted the bulbs in the ground (in my mothers’s case, in a south-facing bed against the house). The bulbs were moderately cold-hardy and rebloomed and multiplied year after year, as long as she tended a garden.

The difference between Dutch and African Amaryllis

The Dutch amaryllis market, on the other hand, was intended for the wholesale florist trade. The flower stems are longer and the flower clusters are bigger, which often results in top-heavy plants that tip over. Their bloom colors, however, are stunning: red, pink , white, maroon, orange, and the newest introduction yellow. The Dutch also have created blossoms with double and triple the petal count of singels.

The other class of amaryllis comes from Africa, though the farms there often have Dutch owners. African amaryllis can bloom on much smaller bulbs, less than half the circumference of a blooming-size Dutch bulb. A bulbs’s blooming stalks appear at once with clusters of small flowers, where Dutch amaryllises send up successive stalks. African Amaryllises bloom in pastel versions of their Dutch cousins.

The Exotic amaryllis

The same is true for the so-called exotic amaryllis. With their twisted spidery and striped flowers, they are nothing like the broad-petaled single, double and mini amaryllis. But because they are something different to gardeners, exotics (cybister and butterfly) have caught on and hybridizers are busily at work in the plant lab making more. Examples named Chico, Rio Negro, Night Star and Lima are splashy indeed, but they also are more expensive than many of the single, standard amaryllis. The cost of an amaryllis bulbs has several factors: the strenght of the dollar, the newness of the hybrid and the size of the bulbs. The bigger the bulbs in circumference, the higher the price tag. But by buying the biggest bulbs, you can find, you are paying for more flowers. Dormant bulbs with circumference of 26 to 28 centimeters usually will produce one blooming stalk A bulbs 28 to 30 centimeters will produce two stalks and so on.

The mother bulbs

Royal Colors in Holland, which accepts online orders from the United States, even offers “mother” bulbs at 44 centimeters they are the size of a grapefruit and are guaranteed to throw at least three flowers stalks. I buy small, used (even nicked and cracked) clay flowerpots at estate and yard sales all year long, and I store them in shady, damp spots at the back of flower beds in the hope they will acquire an aged patina. Bulbs should be planted six to eight weeks before Christmas to bloom on cue. I plant up the post and put them outside, where I won’t forget to water them.
When it’s time to exchange gifts with neighbors or colleagues or my cousin Carolyn, I dress the top of the pot with sheet moss, lichens or fine, washed pebbles. By them the bulb has at least sprouted it’s first blooming stalk, holding out the promise of succulent, glossy flowers whose color will be a happy surprise.

Try this at home

Soak the bulbs for a few hours in lukewarm water.

Plant the bulb in a pot whose circumference is barely larger than the bulb itself. Leave the bulb’s neck (also called the nose) and tops of “shoulders” exposed.

Water thoroughly with lukewarm water. Keep the soil barely moist but not soggy for at least a week. Once green growth begins to rise, it will need more water. Do not allow the soil to dry out.

Place the pot in a warm, will-lit spot, ideally a south-facing window. Once the flower stalk develops, move the pot to a cooler spot with indirect light.

Use a bomboo stake or dainty branchlet for suport.

Remove spent flowers Immediately so the plant does not waste energy on trying to make seed.

By Mariana Greene, The Dallas (Texas) Morning News.