IN NOVEMBER, I usually succumb to the amaryllis (Hippeastrum) bulbs that florists offer. Who can resist these South African travelers with enormous, lily-like, winter-blooming flowers? The colors are sumptuous — pure white, apple-blossom pink, ruby red and crimson-orange, to name just four. The bulbs are great investments, too. They will stay with you for years if you give them proper care from the start:
If unbudded at the time of purchase, the bulbs need at least six weeks for thorough root development, and then three or four additional weeks to perfect the flowers. If these do not appear, but only a disappointing amount of foliage develops, the amaryllis will claim one of three alibis — it was not sufficiently fertilized during the summer months; it was planted too deeply, or it was given such an oversize pot that all its energies have gone to filling the container with roots.
Yearly flowering-success begins with a sturdy clay or glazed pot that is only one or two inches larger than the diameter of the bulb. A six-inch pot is usually right. Place a piece of broken pottery over the drainage hole, and then add a quantity of fresh, well-draining compost. Set the bulb high enough so that its top half rests above the surface of the soil, as in the photo up top.
Next, water well, and permit the bulb to make its roots in a dark, cool place (50-60 degrees). During the following six to eight weeks little watering will be required, certainly not more than once every 10 days.
After roots have sufficiently filled the pot the bulb will send up a flower bud. When this appears move the amaryllis to a sunny window. Water sparingly until the bud is 4 inches tall, then increase water as growth indicates a greater need for moisture.
Be sure to feed the plant, too. I feed mine with every watering, using a 1/4 teaspoon of high-phosphorous formula per gallon of water.
When blossoms fade, cut off the flowering stalks, but continue to care for the amaryllis just as you would your other houseplants. It is absolutely necessary to provide food and water freely through spring and summer, for this is when the bulb is producing its embryo flowers for next winter’s show. If possible, let the amaryllis spend the summer months outdoors in semi-shade.
Induce dormancy the first week in September. To do this, lay the pot on its side, as pictured above, and let the soil dry out. Remove the foliage after it turns yellow and becomes loose. Then bring the plant indoors to a dark, cool place. Give water not more than once every three weeks during the winter rest.
Check the plant occasionally from November on, although signs of growth are not likely until January. When the green point appears, scrape away the top soil and replace with a fresh mixture.
I hope you will treat yourself to at least one amaryllis this season. You’ll be happy to have the flash of color during the depths of winter.
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