Although amaryllis can be purchased at any stage of development, for many, the real fun is growing the flower from a bulb. Amaryllis bloom about 8 to 10 weeks after planting, so get them ready in the fall if you want them to flower in time for Christmas! These big bulbs are easy to bring into bloom, and even a novice can expect success.
Like daffodils or tulips, the amaryllis plant starts out as a bulb—often sold as part of a kit containing the bulb, a heavy pot, and some growing medium (ideally, a sterile, soilless planting mix). They are naturally a spring-blooming bulbs, producing flowers at some point between late winter and mid-spring (February to April in the Northern Hemisphere). However, amaryllis are commonly forced to bloom earlier in winter, in time for the winter holidays.
After the flowers die back, the plant’s large leaves soak up sunlight for the rest of spring and summer, providing them with the energy they’ll need to bloom again in the following spring. With the arrival of autumn, the leaves die back, and the bulb goes dormant until later winter, when the blooming process is begun anew.
Amaryllis… or Not?
Historically, there has been some confusion regarding the name of this plant. Most amaryllis varieties grown today are hybrids and are not “true amaryllis”; they are instead part of the genus Hippeastrum, which is native to tropical parts of South America, from Brazil to the Andes. The true amaryllis—members of the genus Amaryllis—are native to South Africa and are also known as belladonna lilies (despite not being true lilies). That being said, both Hippeastrum and Amaryllis are part of the amaryllis family, so they are all amaryllis in some sense!
The name “amaryllis” comes from the Greek word amarysso, which means “to sparkle.”
When shopping for amaryllis bulbs, you can buy the boxed kits that contain a bulb, a pot, and some soil. These make a nice gift, though there are usually not a lot of color choices—generally, they offer red, pink, and white. The flowers are usually the smaller variety, though they should bloom just fine if you follow directions.
Some garden centers offer larger bare bulbs that give you more choice of variety and larger sizes, and each one usually produces two or more flower spikes. Each spike will produce 2 to 4 large, trumpet-shaped blossoms.
Amaryllis bulbs are classified by size, which is determined by measuring around the outside of the bulb at its widest point. Generally, the larger the bulb, the more flowers the plant is capable of producing.
Another good reason for choosing a bare bulb is that you can see the condition of the bulb without having to rummage around in a box. Ensure it is heavy and firm—not moldy, squishy, or injured. It should have some fairly long fleshy roots attached, too.
How to Plant Amaryllis Bulbs
If you can’t put the bulb in a pot right away, store it in a cool, dry, dark place until you can.
Amaryllis bulbs may not bloom if they are in too large a pot. There should be no more than 1 inch of space on each side of the bulb, and 1/3 of the bulb should be above the soil line. They prefer to be a bit cramped (pot-bound).
Before planting, soak the bulb’s roots in lukewarm water for a few hours to rehydrate them.
Put a layer of soil in the bottom of the pot and position the bulb so the top sticks up above the rim of the pot. Firm the soil around the edge, exposing the top third of the bulb. If planted too deeply, the bulb may rot.
Place the pot in a bright spot and water, but be wary of overwatering. Allow the soil to dry a bit between waterings.
Expect beautiful, lily-like blooms in 6 to 8 weeks.
Tip: For a continuous display, start a few bulbs at 2-week intervals. As one finishes blooming, the next will be reaching its peak.
How to Care for Amaryllis Bulbs
Display the amaryllis away from drafts in a bright room, but not in direct sunlight.
Amaryllis plants prefer temperatures in the range of 60° to 70°F (15.5° to 21°C). Keep them away from freezing windows and drying radiators.
Water sparingly. Only water when the top inch of potting mix is dry, taking care not to get water on the neck of the bulb.
To promote blooming, use a houseplant fertilizer with high phosphorus content.
When the flower stalk appears, move the amaryllis into brighter sunlight. Turn the pot every several days for even lighting and to prevent leaning.
If the stalk starts to lean, insert a stake next to it, taking care not to disturb the bulb. Amaryllis flowers tend to be top-heavy, so stake proactively.
Once your amaryllis is blooming, you can move it to a cooler location out of direct sunlight to make the blossoms last longer.
After the flowers have faded, cut them off to prevent seed formation. Cut the stem off at the top of the bulb.
Grow the amaryllis as a foliage plant through the spring and summer until the leaves turn yellow. Then, store the potted bulb on its side in a cool, dark room or basement to rest for 8 to 10 weeks. See more “post-bloom” tips below.
How to Care for Amaryllis After Flowering
One of the most frequently asked questions after the holidays is, “Now that my amaryllis has finished flowering, how can I get it to bloom again?” Those bulbs can take center stage again next Christmas if given proper care!
After blossoming, the bulb must grow and store food for the next season’s bloom. Often, the bulbs actually shrink in size from the stress of blooming and will need time to recover lost nutrients.
Once the blossoms have faded, cut off the flower stalk, but keep the leaves growing by placing the pot in a warm, sunny spot. Water regularly and fertilize weekly with a balanced houseplant fertilizer. This is when next year’s buds are formed within the bulb.
It takes a minimum of four leaves to produce one flower stalk, because the buds form in the axils of every fourth bulb scale. Keep the plant growing all summer long; you can even move it outside for the summer. Bring it in at the end of August and cut OFF the watering. Let it dry out to induce a period of dormancy. Put the pot in a cool (around 50°F), dark place. Pull off any dried-up leaves.
To induce flowering in time for Christmas, bring the plant into a warm, sunny location and resume watering around in early to mid-November.
We would recommend repotting it at this time to give the bulb better soil. Or, if you don’t feel like it, just scrape off the top 2 inches or so of loose soil and replace it with fresh soil. In about 6 to 8 weeks, the amaryllis should be in full bloom again.
‘Liberty’: rich, velvet red petals on 20-inch stems
‘Stardust’: large red flowers that fade to white
‘Samba’: red and white flowers with ruffled inner petals
‘Susan’ (also called ‘Dutch Belle’): rosy-pink blooms with green throats
Wit and Wisdom
The Victorians associated the amaryllis with strength and determination because of its height and sturdiness.
Many of the holiday amaryllis varieties belong to the Hippeastrum genus and are native to South America.
When grown as a houseplant, careful inspection when purchasing bulbs and proper care will prevent most insect pests as well as diseases.