Gardening: Amaryllis bulbs are one of the easiest plants to grow

Amaryllis bulbs are sold in stores and garden centers mid-October until they are all gone. They are available as a kit which includes: a soil and a pot, or they can be purchased as a bare rooted bulb.

Purchasing the kit, is convenient but not always the best choice. Kits are less expensive than purchasing individual bulbs but the bulbs within the kits are often smaller meaning fewer flowers. The pot in the kit is a light weight plastic and can be used as a pot liner but doesn’t work well to hold the plant upright once the flower spike begins to grow.

Bare rooted Amaryllis bulbs are usually more expensive but the bulbs are larger and usually produce more flowers with the largest bulbs sending up two flower spikes.

Gone are the days when all Amaryllis have red flowers. Blooms now come in a combinations of reds, pinks and doubles.

Examine the bulbs before making a purchase. The bulb should be a firm without any fungi, mold or cuts. The top or growing portion may show a bit of green but the leaves or flower shoot should not be growing.

Amaryllis flower stocks with the exception of dwarf varieties, bloom up to 2 ft (20 cm) above the bulb which creates a top heavy plant. To stop the plant from toppling over, use a heavy clay pot.

Bulbs can be planted individually and in groups. When planting in individual pots, choose containers that are about an inch (2 .5 cm) larger than the bulb. Fill the bottom of the pot with potting soil, place the bulb in, shoot side up and place soil around the bulb to the half way point. Do not cover the complete bulb.

When planting more than one bulb in a container, choose a container that is large enough to hold all the bulbs without them touching. Planting bulbs close together makes for a great floral display.

Once planted, water sparingly until the bulb begins to grow. Then water when the soil is dry.

Place the bulbs in a bright window to encourage strong growth but move the container to a cooler area once the plant flowers.

For those that prefer just the flowers, cut the flower spike and place it in a vase. If the water is kept clean, the flower will last a similar length of time as it would on a bulb.

Often Amaryllis bulbs are discarded after the finish blooming but they can be easily and forced to flower next year.

Once the flowers are spent, cut of the flower stock at the base. Then continue to water and fertilize the bulb regularly encouraging the leaves to grow and store nourishment in the bulb. The bulb can continue as a house plant or be set outside after all danger of frost is past. In late August bring it back inside to a cool, dark area and allow the leaves to die back

Once the bulb has rested buds will begin to form and the cycle can be repeated.

The question commonly asked is,” When should the bulb be planted to get it to flower for Christmas?” Unfortunately, it is not an exact science. Most amaryllis will bloom 6 – 8 weeks after planting. The flexible time line allows for different growing conditions and different varieties of bulbs. It is easier to slow down the blooms by placing the pot in a cool area than to speed up the plant’s growth.

Amaryllis bulbs are one of the easiest plants to grow. The large showy flowers make it a good addition to anyone’s home.

Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist that lives near Rocky Mountain House. She can be reached at your_garden@hotmail.com

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