This time of year, amaryllis is a popular winter blooming bulb found on shelves in local flower shops and garden centers. Their large showy trumpet shaped blooms produced atop a tall flower stalk provide a nice welcome to the cold winter. Below are a few steps to ensure the biggest and brightest amaryllis blooms. Most amaryllis bulbs are sold either as bare root bulbs or in a kit which includes the bulb, container, and potting soil mixture. If purchasing bare root bulbs, select a large, firm bulb that is free of cuts and bruises. Large bulbs indicate a healthy plant that will produce larger blooms and more flowering stalks. There are a wide variety of colors and types of amaryllis blooms available from traditional red, white, pink, orange, salmon or bicolored which are white with brush strokes of pink or red.
Choose a container that is 1 to 2 inches wider than the diameter of the bulb, since amaryllis bulbs prefer a slightly pot-bound container. Look to see if the container has drainage holes before planting. If no drainage holes are present, drill a few small holes in the bottom of the container to provide adequate soil drainage.
Next, purchase a quality potting soil mix that is a sterilized, well-drained, and high in organic matter. A mixture containing equal parts of peat and perlite is an excellent choice for growing amaryllis. Moisten the potting soil mix with water prior to adding to the container to assist in establishing a good root system.
To begin planting, add a small amount of moistened potting soil to the container and place the amaryllis bulb in the center so that one-third to one-half of the bulb is located above the soil level. Continue to fill the container with soil until the potting medium reaches 1 inch below the top rim. This step keeps the fungal disease known as red blotch from occurring and allows for space when watering. Tap the container on the counter to remove any air pockets from the soil, add more soil if needed, and lastly firm the soil around the roots and bulb.
After planting, water the soil thoroughly with lukewarm water and place in a warm 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit location. A well-lighted area such as a south-facing window or sunroom that receives at least four hours of direct sunlight would be ideal for amaryllis growth.
While the bulb is growing, keep the soil slightly moist until flowering. Water when the soil feels dry to the touch. Rotate the plant frequently to promote a straighter flower stalk rather than one that leans toward the light. Flowering usually takes about 6 to 8 weeks after potting.
Once blooms appear, locate amaryllis to a cooler location indoors around 60 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit to extend the life of the flowers. After flowering, apply a liquid or slow release fertilizer for houseplants according to recommendations on the label for amount and frequency.
It may seem that amaryllis requires extra care and time investment, but once people see the bright, almost tropical shaped blooms, it can brighten any room on even the gloomiest winter day!
Submitted by Kristin Goodin Hildabrand, Extension Horticulture Agent, Barren County, University of Kentucky