On The Garden Path

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Courtesy of Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center

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Amaryllis bulb production has more than doubled worldwide since the 1990s, and the colorful, large-flowered native of the southern hemisphere has become North America's flower of choice to take the gray chill out of winter.

'People can't seem to get enough of amaryllis,' said Sally Ferguson, director of the Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center in Danby, Vt. 'These big bulbs offer … tropical-looking flowers in the dead of winter. They're incredibly easy to plant, nearly foolproof to grow, and provide weeks and even months of bloom indoors as potted plants or cut flowers.'

Amaryllis is a perfect choice for those who are looking for a little indoor cheer this winter, and there should be plenty of plants available through spring.

Planting amaryllis is easy. They should be planted in a small pot that's a little larger around than the bulb itself. Put a layer of heavy potting soil - soil/sand mixes are ideal - in the bottom of the pot. Pop in the bulb. Fill in with soil up to where the bulb's 'shoulders' taper inward, leaving the upper shoulders and neck of the bulb exposed. Water the plant well, and keep it barely moist until growth begins. After the green shoot appears, water it regularly to keep the soil moist, but not soggy, and move the pot to a sunny spot. Access to good sunlight during the growing phase is important to keep the plant from stretching in search of light, as this can result in the already tall stems growing even taller.

Amaryllis can also be planted without soil, because, as with most bulbs, all of the food the plant needs is in the starchy material inside. Gardeners can substitute pebbles or stones for soil, as long as they make sure to add enough around the sides to give the bulb sufficient upright support. When watering, add just enough so it nearly reaches, but doesn't touch, the bottom of the bulb. Position the bulb in the pebbles or sand, poised above the water level so the roots will grow down to meet the water. Once growth begins, be sure to place the plant where it receives some sun.

A single amaryllis bulb produces multiple stems, each with multiple flowers. It takes only a single bulb to make an excellent display. And if one bulb makes an excellent display, imagine the spectacular display of five or six bulbs grouped together.

If you choose to plant multiple amaryllis together, plant them, shoulder-to-shoulder, in a broad, decorative container. The pot doesn't need to be deep. Since each bulb can produce several stems in succession, with each stem topped by four to six colorful flowers, the multiple bulb approach will create a pot dense with many stems in various stages of growth. This works best when all of the bulbs grouped together are of the same variety.

Most bulbs that are forced in winter have spent their energy by the end of flowering and can't be made to bloom again. Amaryllis is an exception. With minimal care, an amaryllis can be made to bloom the next season, and year after year. Some people have 40-year-old amaryllis bulbs that were handed down to them by their grandmothers.

If you want an amaryllis to bloom for years to come, grow it in soil, not water. When the bloom is spent, remove the wilted flowers, then treat it like a green houseplant. Water it as needed, and give it a dose of houseplant food once a month until August, then stop watering it and give the bulb a rest.

Leave the pot in this dry, dormant state for at least two months. When you're ready to start the flowering process again, spread some fresh potting soil on the top of the pot, and water it well, letting the water drain out of the bottom of the pot. Move the pot to a warm area, not in direct sunlight. Water it sparingly until you see signs of growth, then move the pot into bright light and begin watering it regularly, as needed.

As with most bulb flowers, amaryllis will grow toward sources of light, so be sure to turn the pot regularly to keep the flower growing upright. Once the blooms open, move the pot away from direct sunlight and sources of heat, including televisions. Doing this will ensure that your amaryllis blooms last as long as possible.