It's the Plants, Darling, Unusually Clever People

Unlocking the mysteries of the amaryllis

 Lacy's favorite, Orange Sovereign

Hippeastrum. Amaryllis. Hippeastrum. Ama— Oh, who cares.
Taxonomy is not the mystery I’m talking about. For many gardeners, the biggest
mystery about these plants is how to keep them alive and blooming (as indoor plants)
for more than one season. I know many who either a. treat them as annuals or b.
don’t buy them all, anticipating rebloom failure.

 In Lacy's sunroom.

So I found a local hippeastrum expert—well, addict, really.
My friend Lacy, the former owner of a garden shop, currently has 67 of these in
various stages of growth. Clearly, she knows what to do, and it boils down to a
few simple rules, many of which you all know. So I put them together with what
I observed in Lacy’s basement and growing room. I also videotaped the visit and
will be posting that once I’ve edited it. I am sure many gardeners and
non-gardeners receive these as gifts at this time of year, so a little amahippe talk may be in order. 


Above is Lacy, and here are some of her strategies:

1.    12 weeks of dormancy starting in mid-late
. Lacy keeps hers in a not-too-chilly basement; it never gets below 50.
After the leaves die back, she covers the plants with a paper bag, so light
can’t come from the basement windows. She gradually starts to wake them up,
adding some infrequent water, and brings them up into the sun

She does not keep them outside in the summer,
explaining that this led to infestations. (Hippeastrum attract a lot more bugs
than I thought.) They’re in a sunroom, where they receive fertilizer and grow
the requisite 4 leaves needed to replenish the bulb.

Fun with bulbs (this one is too sickly to make it another season).  

The bulbs should never be repotted, just
replenished with a bit of soil once in a while.

Watering should be infrequent and thorough.

Briefly soaking the roots in lukewarm water before
initial potting can be helpful.

Bottom heat is nice prior to bloom.  Chilling them at any time—BAD.


      Some candidates for the collection in the basement.

W   Well,  I never thought hippeastrum
were as fussy as all this, but if you’re trying to keep 67 in prime condition, I suppose you
have to go the extra mile. I may or may not be able to obey all this (and I
will never be able to replicate the hygiene of Lacy’s spotless basement), but I
learned. And I just bought 4 more, bringing my personal total to 10. It might
be time to get serious. 

Posted by on December 1, 2009 at 4:45 am, in the category It's the Plants, Darling, Unusually Clever People.
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17 responses to “Unlocking the mysteries of the amaryllis”

  1. Michele Owens says:

    Elizabeth, thank you. I was going to ask you to do an amaryllis post–since I love them, but have never been able to get a single one to bloom twice.

    The 12 weeks of dormancy is interesting. I think I gave my two not-likely-to-bloom leftovers just 6 or 8 weeks this year before potting them up again.

    Maybe my problem is that I buy my amaryllis at Lowe’s, where the bulbs are small to begin with.

  2. Sally says:

    Basement? Up North, I guess. What a shame–just plant them out in the garden when they have finished blooming and you will have flowers forever here in south Texas.

  3. Wow, I’m NEVER that careful, and mine rebloom just fine. I always move them outside — sometimes I pull them out of the pot and shove them directly into the garden, then dig them up and let them go dormancy bare root sometime late summer.
    A friend of mine swears that in a greenhouse, you can actually skip the dormancy part and they’ll just keep growing and bloom periodically. I’ve never tried it, though, as I want to be sure they all to flower in the winter when I need them most.

  4. Jane says:

    Thank you for these directions. I have followed other advice and only had one bulb rebloom last year. I bought 7 new bulbs this year & have a total of 9 in various stages of blooming to just sitting there doing nothing. I do think it matters where I get them and how they’ve been handled. I LOVE the white ones. They are my lily-fix in the winter.

  5. Dan Mays says:

    I have also read that the dormant period should be at or below 50 degrees. Living in Iowa, that is not a problem! I currently have about 100 bulbs (some over 15 years old) resting in my unheated garage.

    I remove them before temps get below freezing in the garage and put them in my sun room with water & fertilizer.

    I read somewhere that the low temps improve the flowering. I *think* I have seen evidence of this but am still monitoring.

    There are lots of old wives tales about this bulb. I say; do whatever works for you. With my method, I do occasionally get a few bulbs to put on a second bloom during the summer.

  6. Eliz says:

    Lacy thinks that too cold is not good– the bulbs are native to Africa. She also swears by good, high-quality sources, and I have found that to be the case with any bulb. The bulbs I bought from our local nursery are huge.
    Also, I have kept mine as houseplants with no dormancy. It works with the common red ones and the bloom will be much later–like late March.

  7. Barbara says:

    Oops! I too have been breaking the rules – every last one of them. Here in my SoCal garden, they survive my benign neglect and blossom on an unpredictable schedule.

    I guess that in gardening, as with most things, ignorance is sometimes bliss. (Not that I’m recommending this as a life strategy – oh no!)

  8. Deirdre says:

    My sister gave me an amaryllis in a pot along with a fern and an ivy. I can’t stop watering or I’ll kill the other plants. It never goes dormant, and blooms twice a year, two stalks each time. It summers out on the porch. The flowers last along time in the cooler outdoor temps. I’ve never had problems with pests. Whatever works.

  9. How long have you been doing this? You seem to know a lot! 🙂

  10. Maybe I should stick to treating them as annuals. I didn’t even soak the roots before putting it in the pot.

  11. Hoover says:

    I grow them out in the garden in the ground. They are surprisingly drought tolerant and do very well here in Southern California (Sunset Zone 23). They multiply fairly quickly and put on quite a show in late April/early May. Watering them sparingly and placing them in a dry area protects them from slugs/snails.

  12. Dan Mays says:

    Again … do what works for you.

    My source for the cold period was Iowa State University.

    I never used to follow this regiment but tried it last year. As I said, “I *think* I saw an improvement.” However, I am still trialing this for only the second year.

  13. Garden Works says:

    Many homeowners love working outdoors in their yard and it is unusual not to find flower and garden areas tended on a regular basis. For some it is their love of growing their own flowers and garden vegetables are usually much tastier than those imported into the stores from other parts of the country. I like it..

    Thanks for sharing..

  14. Tink Hanson says:

    I do feel pretty lucky. I’m in 7b, so I put mine outside in pots and beds and cross my fingers. So far all but one have come back from winter – the most expensive one died, naturally.

    If they bloomed indoors for the holidays I don’t always get an outdoor bloom the first spring – but I get a nice show later in the summer or the next spring, and then regularly.

    I’ve not ever attempted getting another holiday bloom out of them.

  15. Jill says:

    I am going to have to give this a try. I would love to have color like this around my house.

  16. susie says:

    I put mine out in the dappled shade from May until Sept1. Cleaned off the dirt and refrigerated them until Nov. Potted them up and noticed all had flower buds. Since then, only one bulb sent up a shoot and bloomed. The other flower buds either withered away inside the bulb , or the flower bud just stayed stuck there. Some of the bulbs with Stuck buds have lots of leaves, others have only tips of leaves? I’m hoping these buds will eventually shoot up and bloom.

  17. eliz says:

    Susie, I have never heard that these should be chilled. Let to go dormant, yes, refrigerated, no. That might be the issue. Also, I know they shouldn’t be moved from pot to pot too often. They like to stay potbound in the same pot for a long while.
    At least according to my source, who is very successful with them.