Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been associated with Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.
Nothing says Christmas like the spectacular trumpet flowers of an amaryllis bulb. Amaryllis are tropical plants that are easily grown indoors.
What are Amaryllis?
Amaryllis (Hippeastrum spp) are flowering bulbs that are native to South Africa. They are popular in the winter because they will bloom indoors. The flowers grow on tall stalks. They are large and trumpet shaped. The most popular color is red, but the flowers also come in white, pink and bicolors.
Use a Container That is Only Slightly Larger Than the Bulb
Amaryllis bulbs are large, but they like to grow in tight quarters. Plant your bulb in a pot that is not more than 1 inch wider than your bulb. You can go as small as ½ an inch wider than your bulb, but any smaller is not recommended. The bulb shouldn't touch the sides of the container. Amaryllis bulbs planted in large pots will not bloom. Don’t bury your bulb completely. Leave ⅓ of the bulb above the soil similar to how you plant iris. You can use regular potting soil.
Stake the Flower Stalk
You should use a stake such as a bamboo stake to keep your flower stalk from falling over from the weight of the flowers. It’s best to place your stake before you completely fill the pot with soil so that you don’t damage the bulb later when you are trying to push it into the soil.
When you water your bulb, make sure that you are only watering the soil. Do not pour water directly on the bulb. This could cause it to rot. Amaryllis prefer dry conditions because they are originally from South Africa which is very dry. Water sparingly and avoid drenching the soil. That could also rot your bulb.
How to Grow Amaryllis
Initially, you should place your bulb in a cool spot with indirect light. Keep the soil moist, not wet. After a few weeks, you will see a stalk emerging from the bulb. This is your cue to move your bulb to a warm, sunny location. Leaves and a flower stalk will grow. The stalk grows towards the sunlight so be sure to give your pot a quarter turn every 2 to 3 days to keep the stalk from leaning to one side.
How to Force Your Amaryllis to Bloom at Christmas
Normally, after growing all summer amaryllis go into a period of dormancy and bloom again in late winter. If you want your amaryllis to bloom for Christmas you will have to force it to go into dormancy earlier.
Start withholding fertilizer in August. If your plant has been outdoors all summer, bring it indoors in September or October and place the pot in a cool, spot with indirect sunlight. To ensure blooms at Christmas or any specific date, count backwards from that date about 10 to 12 weeks and stop watering at that time.
The leaves will dry up and fall off indicating that your plant has entered a dormant state. It sounds cruel, but dormancy is necessary for the lifecycle of amaryllis bulbs. When a new flower stalk appears, you can move the bulb to a warm, sunny window and begin watering it again rotating the pot ¼ turn every 2 to 3 days to prevent the stalk from growing towards the sun.
How to Care For Your Amaryllis Bulb After it Finishes Blooming
Just like your outdoor spring bulbs, once your amaryllis flowers die, its bulb will need to rebuild its nutrient supply through its foliage. Leave the bulb in a sunny window and continue to water sparingly. You should feed it once a month with a liquid fertilizer to help it along. When all danger of frost has passed, you can bring the pot outside or even plant it in the ground.
How to Propagate an Amaryllis
You will notice small bulblets growing around the base of your bulb. These are new bulbs forming. You can remove them from your bulb, pot them up and allow them to grow. Within 2 to 3 years, they will be large enough to bloom.
Growing amaryllis indoors is easier than you might think. With a little care (and a little cruelty), you can enjoy their spectacular trumpet flowers year after year.
Questions & Answers
Question: What is a good time to plant amaryllis bulbs for Christmas?
Answer: Plants are not machines. They cannot be programmed to bloom on a certain date. There are so many variables (temperature, soil, water, sunlight, age of plant, etc) that the best estimate is a range of dates. In this case, the date range is 10 to 12 weeks. So if you want your amaryllis to bloom by December 25, count back 10 to 12 weeks from that date. Plant your bulb between Oct 2 and Oct 16 and hopefully it will be blooming on Christmas morning.
Question: What are the uses of amaryllis plants?
Answer: As far as I know, the only "use" for amaryllis is ornamental. None of the parts of the plants are edible, including, the bulbs, the foliage and the flowers.
© 2013 Caren White
Caren White (author) on June 01, 2020:
You prepare them the same way that you prepare bulbs that are grown in pots. Stop fertilizing in August. Stop watering 10 - 12 weeks before Christmas to allow the bulbs to enter dormancy.
firstname.lastname@example.org on May 31, 2020:
How do I prepare over 200 amaryllis bulbs out doors in ground for Christmas blooms?
Caren White (author) on December 26, 2013:
Eiddwen from Wales on November 28, 2013:
A wonderful hub; loved it and looking forward to so many more.
Caren White (author) on October 29, 2013:
You're welcome, Jackie! And thanks for reading.
Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on October 28, 2013:
So beautiful. My mom use to do this every fall and it would bloom when it snowed! Thanks for the memories. ^