Garden calendar | For the week of Dec. 17
Caring for your Amaryllis (Hippeastrum) bulb: Amaryllis bulbs make wonderful gifts. They produce large showy blooms on a sturdy stalk.
The common name “Amaryllis” is something of a misnomer; true amaryllis or belladonna lilies are from South Africa. The correct botanical name of the bulbs we are talking about is Hippeastrum; they are native to South America. However, garden centers sell them as amaryllis, so that is what you should ask for if shopping for them.
They are usually sold as large dormant bulbs, often packaged in a planting kit. If the bulb is unpotted, purchase a 6- to 8-inch diameter pot about 1-1½ inches in diameter larger than the bulb diameter for best blooming. Use a well-drained houseplant mix that doesn’t contain pine bark, and plant the bulb so about one-half the bulb protrudes above the soil line. The soil line should be about 1 inch below the pot rim.
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Gently firm soil around the bulb, then water. Grow in a bright area, ideally between 65-70°F while the flower stalk is growing. If the temperature is too high, a weak flower stalk and smaller flower may result. Keep the soil slightly moist, but don’t overwater. Fertilize once a month with a 5-10-10 or 10-10-10 fertilizer at the rate directed for houseplants. You can extend the bloom by taking the plant out of direct sun and placing it in a cooler room — about 60-65°F.
Two to six big, beautiful, white, red, salmon or pink flowers are produced on a stalk that may be 18 to 24 inches tall. Remove each faded flower without damaging the main stem. When the main stem droops and starts to brown, cut it off a couple of inches above the bulb neck. After flowering, move it back to a sunny, warm window or outside for summer, once the danger of frost has passed. Keep watered and fertilized while leaves are actively growing — this produces energy for next year’s flower.
If you put the plant outside for summer, you can keep it on a porch or deck or sink the pot into the ground in an area with part shade or morning sun. Watch that it doesn’t get too dry. Bring it back inside before frost. In September or October typically, leaves will die back and bulbs will go dormant. Remove brown, dried leaves and store the potted plant in a cool, dry place. Keep the bulb on the dry side, but don’t let it completely dry out while dormant.
Hippeastrum bulbs require eight to 10 weeks of dormancy in order to initiate flowers. In late November or December, growth will begin again, and you can look forward to another set of beautiful long-lasting flowers!
— Lisa Johnson, Dane County UW-Extension horticulture educator
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