Now that Twelfth Night has passed and the Christmas season is officially over, what to do with all those holiday plants bedecking your home?
I still feel a wee twinge of guilt when I toss a pretty red poinsettia atop the informal compost pile in my yard, although I have gradually come to accept that — as the pros tell us — it’s OK to treat a post-dated poinsettia just as we would a cut flower that is no longer fresh.
But what about that amaryllis I “forced” to bloom in a pot by my kitchen window? Does it merit the same fate?
Absolutely not! I understand that not everyone loves gardening and some could be tempted to pitch the plant after its blooms fade, just like the poinsettia. But with just a little effort, the plant can shower you with gorgeous blooms for years to come.
The perennial bulbs, with the Latin name of Hippeastrum, are natives of South America and are hardy in our climate. Allen Owings, of the LSU AgCenter, says that getting them to bloom indoors is easy even for beginners.
“Bulbs purchased for holiday blooms require a minimum of care as long as they get enough light from a sunny window and the soil stays evenly moist. When bloom stalks begin emerging, it’s good to rotate the pot every few days so that the flower stalk grows straight and doesn’t lean toward the window,” Owings said. “After the flowers have faded, just cut the flower stalk about two inches above where it emerges from the bulb.”
Just because the bloom has faded, however, it doesn’t mean that the romance with your amaryllis must end. In fact, it has just begun.
“The bulb can be prepared for planting directly into the garden by leaving the pot in its sunny window for a few months and watering the soil when it feels dry,” he said. “Early spring is the time to take the bulb out of its pot and plant it in a garden bed with its apex just above ground level. Bulbs planted this spring won’t bloom until the spring of 2016 because they have already gone through their bloom cycle, but after that, they will bloom reliably.”
Owings recommends a sunny bed with well-drained soil and afternoon shade as the ideal growing conditions for amaryllis and says they will require nothing in the way of care for the first four or five years. Eventually, though, the perennial bulbs should be divided or they will produce fewer and fewer blossoms.
Wait until the foliage dies back, then gently lift the amaryllis bulb out of the soil with a garden fork. The mature bulb will have produced small “bulbils” that can be removed by snapping or cutting off with a sharp knife. Plant the bulbils in a pot with well-drained soil until they are big enough to be planted in the ground and return the mature bulb to its place in the garden. Divide the bulbs every four or five years for best results.
If you don’t want to plant amaryllis in your garden, you may choose to simply keep the plant in its pot and care for it so that it blooms again indoors next holiday season. After cutting back the stalk of the faded flower as described above, wait until spring, then move the pot to a sunny location outside.
Water and fertilize it in its pot for the next six months or so in order to allow the leaves to develop fully and thereby nourish the bulb, and don’t cut them back until they turn yellow in the fall. At this point, the bulb is dormant and should be removed from the pot and stored it in a cool place — the fridge is fine — for six weeks or more.
To “force” blooms to coincide with the holiday season, remove the bulb from storage about Nov. 1, repot it, place it in a sunny location and begin watering it again.
If that seems too bothersome, I know dozens of gardeners who would likely love to adopt your orphaned amaryllis, so email me and I’ll see what I can do.
R. Stephanie Bruno writes about houses and gardens. firstname.lastname@example.org, @rstephaniebruno.