I blame my friend, Kylee.
For years, I happily enjoyed paperwhites as my main Christmas flower. Paperwhites, purchased with my tulips and Dutch iris in the fall, provided the perfect, no-fuss burst of cheer. Ridiculously easy to grow, their almost-instant gratification meant that I'd have continuous blooms throughout the drudgery of winter. Plus, add a gift card and bow to a bowlful of paperwhite bulbs, and voilá! Instant teacher present. Paperwhites--my dependable, go-to bloom for the holidays.
And then, I met Kylee. You know Kylee, right? She's the co-author of Indoor Plant Décor and the creative force behind Our Little Acre. Before I met Kylee in real life, I religiously read her blog. She's constantly creating interesting garden projects or posting gorgeous photos of plants.
As it does every year, winter happened, the season that makes gardeners antsy for dirt under their nails and craving blooms. Kylee began posting photos of drop-dead gorgeous amaryllis blooms.
I was smitten. And obsessed.
I'd grown amaryllis—a pitiful, nondescript red bloom in an ugly container that I picked up at Target while fulfilling the kids' wish lists. I'm not really certain why I bought it. Traditionally, I hate red flowers. Still, I felt that fleeting gardener's joy to find anything to plant. When it presented its scrawny bloom, I waited eagerly for it to wither and die. To the compost it went, without a moment of sorrow.
But Kylee's amaryllis fell into an entirely different category. Ethereal, romantic hues of blush and cream, delicate textures and captivating structures...nothing about these flowers screamed “MERRY CHRISTMAS!”
No matter the season, these are flowers to cherish. Kylee's amaryllis can hold their own, whether there's a vase of roses next to them or a lush bouquet of California grown flowers in the same room.
These are no Target amaryllis.
My obsession began quietly, with a smallish order. A few 'Apple Blossoms' made me happy.
As I placed my order for tulips and Dutch iris last fall, though, I suddenly found my cart full of amaryllis bulbs.
I don't know how that happened.
In fact, I believe the grand total of new amaryllis bulbs equals a baker's dozen. Then, there are last year's purchases, which I'm hoping will rebloom in early spring after a little TLC. (I may have forgotten them in the greenhouse, poor things.)
Growing amaryllis is simple. Honestly. Narrowing your choices, now, that's the challenge. From the genus Hippeastrum, amaryllis bulbs are native to tropical and subtropical areas of the Americas, so you're not actually “forcing” the bulbs, as people tend to say about growing amaryllis in winter. This is the time of year they traditionally bloom. Warm, moist conditions followed by a short, cool season is the typical climate where amaryllis grows. We gardeners simply provide the same conditions, and the amaryllis is happy to share its blooms.
It's odd. There are so many sites detailing how to grow amaryllis, when in truth--it's easy. Find a container that's slightly larger than the bulb. Amaryllis like crowded conditions, so allow only 1-2 inches of space around the bulb. Fill the container with well draining potting soil, and plant the bulb so that the shoulders are above the soil line.
I'm a little funny about containers for my amaryllis. Because I want the focus to be on the bloom, I use neutral, white containers. While the texture is varied, I like the monochromatic effect when the containers are grouped together so the focus is on the flowers. (Plus, these pots are incredibly inexpensive: $3.97 at IKEA. They're a good choice for our contemporary house.) The only drawback is the containers' lack of drainage. Waterlogged bulbs rot, so good drainage is imperative. I solved that issue by layering 1-2 inches of pebbles on the bottom of the container and potting the bulbs in 4-inch nursery liners, which I placed into the white container on top of the pebbles. A layer of Spanish moss on top of the container hides the ugly inner pot and adds polish to the final planting.
Something I dislike in houseplants are ugly tags. Of course, I want to know the varieties of my amaryllis bulbs, but I don't like a piece of plastic detracting from the plant. I also dislike the traditional stakes available to support plants, but amaryllis become top heavy, toppling over without support.
This year, I gathered fallen branches, sprayed gold glitter on them, and inserted the branch into the space between the nursery liner and pot. As the amaryllis grew, a small ribbon tied around the plant's stem and the branch provided support. Then, to identify the variety of each amaryllis, I wrote the names on small Christmas ornaments using a paint pen and hung the ornament from the branch. I think it added a slightly festive touch without taking away from the bloom.
When you first plant your amaryllis, water sparingly until the bloom stalk begins to emerge. As the plant grows, water regularly, letting the top dry out a bit. Don't overwater the plant, or you'll risk a rotten bulb. Make sure to place your pot in bright light, otherwise the plant will get leggy as it stretches toward the light source. (Trust me. I know.) Simple, right?
Amazingly, my amaryllis bulbs that I potted up during Thanksgiving break began blooming on Christmas Day. What timing! I honestly thought I'd planted them too late for Christmas blooms, but apparently they were anxious to put on a show. Whew.
As my new bulbs began blooming, I addressed my poor, neglected bulbs from last year. It's not difficult to rebloom amaryllis bulbs, but the important thing to remember is this: you need to let the bulb regenerate. That means, after the blooms are done, cut off the flower stalk, but allow the plant to keep growing. The leaves will absorb the energy to feed the bulb, but a good liquid fertilizer will also help ensure your bulb gets the nutrients it needs to produce more blooms. Place the bulb outside after the danger of frost has passed, either in its container or in the ground. The plant wants sunlight, so make sure it's in a good, sunny location that will promote healthy foliage development. Don't let the soil completely dry out, but avoid overwatering. You can keep the plant outside all summer and fall until there's a danger of frost, then they need to come inside.
Decide when you'd like your amaryllis to bloom. Do you want flowers for Christmas? If you do, it's time to begin the dormant period in mid-August. Stop watering and move the plant into a location where the temperature is cool, approximately 55 degrees. The plant will lose most of its leaves during its dormant period, but you can snip off any dead or dying leaves. Keep the bulb dry and cool for eight to ten weeks. After the period of cool storage, repot the bulb in fresh soil and move to a warm location with good light. You're ready to go!
Last year's amaryllis bulbs are resting downstairs in a small refrigerator. (If you use a refrigerator to cool your bulbs, make certain your bulbs don't cohabit with apples. Apples produce ethylene gas, which inhibits flower development. Those would be some sad amaryllis without their blooms!) In about 7 weeks, I'll pot up the bulbs for a new round of amaryllis blooms.
Wow. In seven weeks, we should begin finding spring blooms in the garden. Spring seems so far away, but our garden blooms will be here before we know it.
I'm anxious to try to produce amaryllis blooms to use in bouquets next year. I just couldn't snip them this year, but maybe if I keep adding to my amaryllis obsession, I'll grow enough of them for bouquets, too.
That Kylee. Look at the amaryllis monster she's created!
Now, if only I can elevate my amaryllis photography to equal hers...
Happy New Year, friends!