Growing an amaryllis is easy, just plant and water. Unlike the spring blooming bulbs, an amaryllis bulb 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. They are pricey, but you can coax the bulb to rebloom 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).
When the amaryllis blooms depend on several factors: when you plant it, the environment (light, heat), and the type you purchase. To obtain 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 example, you can plant early blooming Bolero, Charisma, Denver, Ice Queen, Mandela or Olaf; then early winter blooming Minerva, Cherry Nymph, Magic Green, or Evergreen; then mid-winter blooming Apple Blossom, Splash, Double King, Exotica, or White Nymph; and then late winter blooming Red Pearl, Red Lion, Spartacus, Nymph, Christmas Gift or 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 potting mix, make sure the container has drainage holes or put in plastic pots with drainage holes and then into a decorative container or lined basket. 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 new growth. When growth appears, water more frequently but only to keep the potting mix barely moist, never wet. Place in a sunny window.
Keep an eye on the flower stalks. If they lean, give more light or rotate the pot to balance or stake so they do not topple over. There are special amaryllis stakes that you can insert in the soil to tie to the stalk. Brecks Gifts sells “ladders” as stakes, which little Santa Clause or gnome figures can climb on. Once the flower buds appear, move the plant out of direct sun and into a slightly cooler location.
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 do not 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, you need to keep an eye on the water level so the roots always have water.
Then there are the waxed amaryllis bulbs. These are great fun because you don’t water them, you don’t plant them, you just watch them grow. And they do very well. The plant has all the nourishment and moisture it needs from the bulb. With these though, you cannot coax them to bloom again, and you cannot put them in the compost pile because the wax will not decompose. But they are a great holiday gift, especially for kids and the brown thumbs. What is even more fun is that now there are wax designs, like swirls and different colors. Jackson and Perkins and Holland Bulb Farms sell waxed bulbs with colored swirls, heart shapes, and cute tags. Plus there are “sweaters” or “socks” you can buy to cover the waxed bulb. Brecks Gifts sells sweater designs with an image of a polar bear or a reindeer; Dutch Grown has a snowman; Viva Terra has Nordic sweaters; and Wind and Weather has a Santa Clause sweater. Even weirder, Gardener’s Supply Company sells hangers that you can insert into the base of the waxed amaryllis so you can grow it upside down!
For an easy way to decorate the home for the holidays, purchase amaryllis bulbs now. They are guaranteed to put a smile on faces. Here are additional bulb resources.