Growing an amaryllis is easy, just plant and water. Unlike the spring blooming bulbs, an amaryllis does not need a chilling period. It is a tropical plant, hardy to Zones 9-12. Once planted, these large bulbs can bloom in time for the holidays, depending on the bulb. Although they may seem like an investment, you can coax the bulb to re-bloom the following year.
Now is the time to purchase bulbs in garden centers or order online. An amaryllis can be bought as a single, large bulb, for you to pot up; as a gift box of a “pre-planted” bulb (in a plastic container); already planted in a ceramic container as a gift; and as a gift box of a glass container with a bulb and pebbles (without soil). A single bulb makes a great gift since it is easy to mail.
When the amaryllis blooms depends on several factors: when you plant it, the environment (light, heat), and the type you purchase. To try to get flowers for Christmas, purchase the early blooming bulbs that have been grown in the Southern hemisphere. They take 4 to 6 weeks to bloom so if you plant in November you may get Christmas blooms. These are labeled “early” or “Christmas blooming.”
If you are not targeting Christmas, try bulbs from Holland (grown in the Northern hemisphere). They take 8 to 12 weeks and bloom from January through March. These are labeled “Dutch grown” or “winter blooming.”
You cannot tell from the bulb which is which so look at the label if the bloom time is important to you. You can also plant several types for months of flowers. For guidance on bloom time, here is a list from Longfield Gardens:
Early Blooming: Bolero, Charisma, Denver, Ice Queen, Mandela, Olaf
Early Winter: Minerva, Cherry Nymph, Magic Green, Evergreen
Mid Winter: Apple Blossom, Splash, Double King, Exotica, White Nymph
Late Winter: Red Pearl, Red Lion, Spartacus, Nymph, Christmas Gift, Lagoon
Regardless of the bloom date, amaryllis bulbs can be grown in potting mix or in a vase of water with pebbles. If you plant the bulb in a potting mix, make sure the container has drainage holes or put in plastic pots with drainage holes into decorative containers/lined baskets. Pick a pot 2 inches wider than the diameter of the bulb. For a single bulb, try using a container that is 7 to 8 inches deep and 5 to 6 inches wide. Use a well-drained potting mix, not the soil from your garden. The upper half of the bulb should remain above the soil surface. Water and put in a warm place, around 70 to 75 degrees. Then water sparingly until you see growth. When growth appears, water more frequently but only to keep the potting mix barely moist, never wet. Place in a sunny window and watch the flower stalks. If they lean, give more light or rotate pot to balance or stake so does not topple over. There are special amaryllis stakes that you can insert in the soil to tie to the stalk. Once the flower buds appear, move the plant out of direct sun and into a slightly cooler location. A cooler location will prolong the life of the flowers.
To grow in a vase of water, place about 5 inches of pebbles, marbles, or glass rocks in the glass, depending on the height of the glass. Place the bulb on top so that the top third is exposed and add a few more pebbles to anchor the bulb. Water enough so the water line is below the base of the bulb. You don’t want the bulb to sit in water but the roots need to be in water. Follow the same directions as above concerning light and temperature. With this method, however, you need to keep an eye on the water level so that the roots always have water.