By Susan Camp
Photo by Liz West
It’s funny how those short, dreary, winter days and long, dark winter nights creep up on us after the color and cheer of the holiday season. With all the glitter and sparkle gone, the house looks pretty bare and glum.
One way to brighten up the house is to force spring-blooming bulbs to flower out of season. A favorite for winter forcing is the exotic amaryllis, a native of South America. Amaryllis bulbs develop into big, showy red, pink, white, yellow, and salmon blooms. There are striped cultivars, double blooms, and flowers with contrasting edges. Miniature varieties are available. Amaryllis height ranges between 12 to 36 inches, depending on variety.
The huge bulbs (20 to 34 cm. in diameter) can be purchased singly. The amaryllis bulb should fit snugly in the center of its pot, with room for one inch of potting mix around the sides and one to two inches below. The top third of the bulb should be left exposed with the roots spread out into the pot.
Average bloom time is approximately eight weeks. Start the bulb in a cool, dark place (55 to 70 °F), and then move to a sunny location when shoots appear. Water about once a week. When you see green shoots, you may need to water more often to keep soil moist, but not soggy. Amaryllis flourishes in heat and sunlight. Keep the plant away from heating vents and drafts and move it to a cool spot every evening. You can feed it every two weeks with ½ strength high potassium fertilizer.
As the plant grows, rotate the pot every few days to keep the stems from leaning to one side. You may need to stake the amaryllis with one of the shorter wire stakes used for irises and gladioli. Click here to read directions on making your own stakes from wire coat hangers.
After blooming, the amaryllis should be placed outside in a sunny location and fertilized during the growing season. In early fall, cut the leaves back and stop watering for eight weeks. In late fall, repot in fresh potting mix and restart the forcing process for a bright spot of color after next year’s holiday season.
Susan Camp is a retired Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and nursing educator. She enjoys growing flowers and trees and puttering in the garden. Susan also writes poetry, short stories, and gardening articles. She reads a lot and loves cats. Her husband Jim is a member of Gloucester Point Rotary Club.