All About Amaryllis

All About Amaryllis

Amaryllis are one of the easiest plants to grow, and they bloom spectacularly at the darkest time of the year. For us, they're not just a winter hobby. They're a necessity for winter cheer.

We sell amaryllis in two different ways: loose bulbs and pre-potted plants. No matter how you receive your amaryllis, know that your priorities for growing these plants are going to be air circulation (not too much soil or water), warmth and bright light (for more compact, manageable growth).

If you're buying the bulb with plans to pot it up yourself, here's what you need to know:

  • Amaryllis should be potted in a well-draining potting soil. If you have cactus mix, that's perfect. Normal potting soil is also OK. You can add a little perlite if you have it handy to improve drainage.
  • Lightly moisten the soil. It should feel cold to the touch, but not too wet. If you squeeze the soil and water comes out, it is too wet. Lightly moist soil is what you're aiming for throughout the growing process, so get to know what it feels like!
  • The pot should be at least five inches wide and six inches deep -- a bigger pot is great. You want to have room for a few inches of soil underneath the bulb. You also want to position the top of the bulb below the rim of the pot if you have room. That way, if the weight of the flower tips the stem, the rim of the pot will catch it.
  • Do you need a drain hole? You don't have to have one as long as you don't overwater your plant. If you are an overwaterer, a drain hole could help.
  • Do not bury the entire bulb. This information is very important. When you pot your bulb, add at least 2-3 inches of soil to the pot. Set the bulb atop the soil and add more soil around the bulb until the bottom third of the bulb is covered. You could bury the bottom half of the bulb and be OK. Do not bury the entire bulb. If soil is touching the neck of the neck of the bulb, you're doing it wrong. These plants need lots of airflow, so less soil means more air.
  • Add decorative dried moss to the top of the soil if you like. Not too much! You still want to let the air in.

At this point, the bare bulb people have caught up to the pre-potted people. Here's how to maintain and care for your amaryllis:

  • Amaryllis come from places like Africa, Peru and Israel. They like really warm, bright conditions. If you have a radiator near a window, your amaryllis will LOVE to live near the radiator in the bright window. 
  • If your amaryllis isn't growing, it's probably too cold. Avoid drafty areas. Old houses with drafty windows are sometimes too cold. Is there a warm spot in a kitchen window where your amaryllis will be happier? Maybe set it on top of your refrigerator, an area that tends to be warm, to get it going.
  • Bright light keeps your amaryllis compact. The brighter the light, the shorter the stem. Short stems are handy because they are strong. Long stems can be fun to watch, but you will need to support them with stakes. You can buy stakes at a garden center, or you can make stakes out of coat hanger wire, young bamboo or small, fresh tree branches. Just tie the stem to your stake with twine.
  • How often to water? Err on the side of under watering. It's very hard to stop an amaryllis from flowering once it's showing a bud, even if you forget to water it for weeks. Conversely, it is very easy to kill an amaryllis if you give it too much water, so don't love them to death. One eighth to one quarter cup of water per week is plenty. If your pot is small (5"x6"), stick with an eighth cup. If it's larger, use a quarter cup.
  • Amaryllis like warm water, so if you have warm water from your tea kettle, you'll see a positive response if you give it to your plant!
  • If you're bad at measuring, try watering with 2-3 ice cubes once a week. The cold won't hurt the plant, although it prefers warmth. Ice cubes are handy for our "black thumb" clients because you don't have to measure.

Your amaryllis should flower 5-6 weeks from showing its first bud. Many of you will receive your amaryllis with buds already peeking out, so you'll have flowers before you know it!

We sell large bulbs, so it's very normal for them to push two flowering stems. Some of our bulbs will produce three stems! Sometimes the third stem pushes up after the first two have finished, so take good care of your plant and be patient.

The blooms are long-lasting. Enjoy them for weeks! Once the flowers have faded, pinch off the top before seeds begin to form. Allow the stem to shrivel up over time. Pinch off the brown bits, but allow the green parts to turn brown. All those sugars that were in the stem are flowing back down to the bulb and giving it more energy for the future! 

Yes, amaryllis grow lots of long, green leaves. We think they're gorgeous! Enjoy these leaves for months even after the flowers have finished.

If your amaryllis has lots of leaves but no flowers, try moving it to a warmer place or watering it with hot water from your tea kettle. (Not boiling, but good and hot.)

Storing for Next Year

Amaryllis will bloom year after year if cared for! Many of our clients have amaryllis that were passed down from parents and grandparents! What a special tradition!

Saving your amaryllis for next year starts with good stewardship this year. When your bulb finishes blooming, add an all purpose houseplant fertilizer. You could do this every week for the next few weeks. You're ensuring your bulb stores nutrients for next year.

Enjoy the beautiful green foliage all winter and spring. In May -- when you start thinking about changing up your wardrobe for the warm weather -- stop watering your amaryllis. After a few weeks, you should see the green foliage dying back. Do not cut off the green leaves, no matter what.

Sometimes your plants are just too healthy and that foliage won't shrivel on its own. If that's the case, leave it and go straight to the next step.

You want to send your amaryllis into dormancy for the summer. 

To induce dormancy, put the plant in a cool, dark place, like a basement, garage or closet. Darkness is critical to inducing dormancy.

If your plant still has green leaves, that's OK. Put the whole plant in the darkness, and the leaves will shrivel up on their own. Again, do not cut off the green leaves.

You want all the sugar from the leaves to return to the bulb so it can bloom again next year. 

Leave your amaryllis in the cool dark place all summer. Do not water it. Really.

When you start pulling out jackets for fall -- late September and early October -- pull out your amaryllis and return it to its warm, bright spot.

Water it deeply. Just this one time, give it more water than you've ever given it before. You want to hydrate that soil. You can water it for a few days in a row. It's thirsty!

You should see signs of life emerging soon! Sometimes, it will even begin to grow in the basement! They know when it's time.

Follow the instructions above for another great year.

Other Things to Know

Eventually, your amaryllis will have babies! These are called pups, and they're little  baby bulbs that emerge from the sides of the big bulbs. Pop these off and replant. Care for them just like the mothers. It will take a few years for them to bloom, but if you love plants, it's a super fun process.

Some people will tell you they don't put their amaryllis in the dark for a period of dormancy. They will tell you the amaryllis bloom every year anyway. We have heard this. We can't vouch for it.

Some people will tell you they get their amaryllis to bloom twice a year. That's very fancy. You could give it a shot. Essentially, you'll want to time it so your plant goes through two, two-month periods of dormancy, one in spring and another in fall.

Some people will tell you they grow amaryllis outside. We say don't do it. Cold kills amaryllis. Too much water also kills amaryllis. In the Appalachian Mountains of Western North Carolina, where we're located, we have lots of rain and lots of cold. We have both at the same time, a deadly combination for outdoor amaryllis. You can try putting them outside during the summer, but we don't recommend it in our climate.

If you want to try growing your amaryllis outside during the summer, we recommend a covered area to make sure they don't get too wet.

If you're in Texas or Florida or Southern California, go rogue and try it. We aren't experts on those growing conditions, so you're on your own.

Most of all, have fun! If you don't like storing your bulbs during the summer, don't do it. Just buy new ones every fall.

If you want to cut off the stems when the flowers and done, do it. Just know that removing any live green material for the plant could have a negative impact on its blooming ability next year. If you cut off green stems or leaves, make sure to apply all purpose houseplant fertilizer every other week to compensate.