Amaryllis is growing its reputation and role as a major player in holiday decorating and gift-giving.
The big brown bulb matures into a bold beautiful flower that keeps on giving for years to come - unlike the poinsettia that is typically tossed in the trash or compost pile.
"Growing amaryllis is much easier than it appears," says Lisa Ziegler of Newport News, Va., owner of The Gardener's Workshop, an online gardening shop at www.shoptgw.com.
"I think the beauty of the blooms literally scares people from growing them. But, the flower is in the bulb when you buy it, and it is coming out of the bulb with or without your help. Your help just makes it look a little nicer by providing basic care."
In addition to providing different hues of reds, pinks and whites, amaryllis can be the beginning of a new "pass it on" tradition in your family, according to Ziegler.
"I met a lady at a flower and garden show recently that has the amaryllis bulb that her mother grew for years and it was passed on to her when her mother passed away," she said. "She continues to care for it as her mother did and it blooms every year."
Amaryllis also makes excellent fresh-cut flowers.
"They last just as long, if not longer cut from the bulb as left on the bulb," says Ziegler.
To use as fresh cuts, grow as usual, cut the stem just above the bulb when the bud is colored but just starting to open. Treat as a cut flower, placing in clean water with fresh flower food for a beautiful display. Harvest flower stems as they develop leaving the leaves on the bulb - as these are the food making the flowers for next year! Follow the regular instructions included with the bulb for summer care.
Here's how Ziegler suggests you plant and care for amaryllis bulbs for the best results:
Before planting the bulb, place in a saucer and cover the roots with half an inch of lukewarm water for a couple of hours - this encourages root formation.
Select a container that has a drainage hole. Fill the container with potting soil and place the bulb on top. Add just enough potting soil so that at least half of the bulb is exposed above the soil surface. No fertilizer is needed. Allow to dry out between watering. As the bulb grows, you will notice an increase need for water.
Provide support for your bulbs before they need it, using three to four twigs from your yard, each about 18 inches tall and diameter the size of your little finger. Push the twigs into the soil - either into each corner of the container or use 3 twigs to create a tripod. Tie the twigs together at the top with raffia. The foliage grows up and through the support, virtually hiding it and you can tie a wide, beautiful ribbon around the waist of the plant for added support if needed.
Planting three amaryllis bulbs together in a container puts on a show you never forget.
Place the planted bulbs in a cool bright spot; remove faded flowers promptly to increase the life of the remaining flowers.
After flowering, cut off the faded flowers and let the leaves continue to grow and develop. To encourage this, provide regular water.
In May, place your pot in a sheltered shady spot in your garden. In September, refrain from watering. In October, remove the pot from garden, trim foliage and place in a dry cool but frost-free location. In January, remove old roots and repot in fresh soil. You will enjoy flowers again indoors come late winter.
"With amaryllis, bulb size matters because large bulbs produce more stems, more flowers and larger flowers than younger smaller bulbs," says Ziegler
"Larger bulbs also make saving the bulbs from year to year easy and rewarding. Each year the show just gets better."
AMARYLLIS IN THE GARDEN
Once amaryllis blooms fade away, keep and plant the bulbs in your garden for years of continued enjoyment. When spring arrives and warm weather stabilizes in May, plant the bulb, placing it about 6 inches deep; mulch generously. The bulb will grow and probably not bloom the first year, but it will flower the following early summer; this works nicely in temperate gardens, including Zone 7.