Amaryllis for the Holidays

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Potted amaryllis bulbs make wonderful holiday gifts for family and friends. Planting them and then watching them grow also makes for a fun activity to do with your children. Their beautiful blooms add to holiday décor and last longer than cut flowers. They are fairly inexpensive (although you may find some of the more unique varieties are offered at a premium price) and the only supplies you need are bulbs, soil and pots. They can be grown in containers after the holidays and forced to bloom again or if you live in zones 8 or higher, you can plant them outdoors and they will thrive and re-bloom with little to no care. Most importantly, they are calorie free!

A family tradition, each year we pot up 5 to 10 amaryllis bulbs to give as gifts to our neighbors, family members and special friends. Here are the step-by-step instructions for preparing amaryllis for holiday distribution:

1. Gather the necessary supplies. You will need bulbs, soil and pots.

Blooms of 'Blossom Peacock'Blooms of 'Blossom Peacock'Bulbs. We usually order the bulbs through a catalog and my favorite variety is called ‘Blossom Peacock.’ You can also find them at many garden centers.

Soil. We use a well-draining indoor potting mix with a slow release fertilizer included. The bulbs contain all the nutrients they will need until they bloom, but the plants can be grown indoors until the end of winter and then kept as container plants or planted in the ground.

Containers. Picking out containers is a matter of individual taste, there are so many options that will work. Things to consider:

Size- We usually use about a 6” pot, but smaller pots will also work. Although you want the plant to be able to put out a healthy root system so that it will be well anchored, amaryllis actually like to be in close quarters. The standard recommendation is to allow 1/2 -to 1-inch of space between the bulb and the container. If you put the bulbs in too large of a pot, the soil has a tendency to stay too moist and may develop mold and attract fungus gnats.

Weight- The flower blooms can be fairly heavy, so light weight containers may topple over. Some years we have used plain terra cotta clay pots which provide a nice sturdy base (if you want to dress them up a bit and let your kids add their own personal touch, you can decorate them with paint, ribbon or other decorations).

Although I like the look of clay pots, they are breakable and may grow mildew on the sides if they stay too wet. Other years we have used light-weight plastic containers. To increase the stability, we put a layer of heavy rock at the bottom. This also helps with drainage. Baskets and metal containers are other readily available options.

No matter what type of container you choose, make sure it has holes in the bottom to allow access water to drain. If you find a wonderful container without holes, just add them yourself with a drill.

2. Plant the bulbs.

Timing. We always plant our bulbs the weekend before Thanksgiving. Most amaryllis bulbs require at least 6 weeks from the time of planting for flowers to bloom.

Soil. Moisten the soil thoroughly before planting. The soil should feel like a moist sponge, but should not drip water when squeezed.

Position. The narrow end of the plant should point up and should not be covered by soil. You want about 1/2 of the bulb protruding above the soil.

3. Place your pots in a warm well-lit spot. Don't water it again until the first leaf or flower bud starts to grow. Then keep the soil moist. Make sure the location you choose is out of reach from nibbling children and pets as they are poisonous.

4. Deliver the plants. We prefer to deliver them when the flower stalks are up, but before flowers open because the weight can make them a bit top heavy and tricky to transport. You can also wait until the after flowers are in bloom and secure them with a stake if the stalk seems unstable.

5. Enjoy. If kept in a cooler location, out of direct sunlight, the flower may last a couple of weeks. Sometimes you get lucky and a second flower stalk will emerge.

Giving unplanted bulbs is another present option. That way the recipient also gets to enjoy the activity of planting. One caution though, every once in a while you may run across a bulb that does not produce a flower stalk, so generally we wait for the first flower stalk to emerge before delivery.

For more information, check out these additional articles on growing amaryllis and other bulbs indoors:

Forcing Bulbs for Winter Blooms

Encouraging Amaryllis Rebloom


Forcing Bulbs Indoors

How-to Project: Forcing Tulips Indoors

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