Amaryllis, with its beautiful clusters of fragrant blossoms, is a holiday favorite. A South African-native, it delivers its trumpet-shaped blossoms in the winter, often just in time for the holidays.
That can mean Christmas but can also include Valentine’s Day. There’s nothing like the lift the bright red, white or pink blossoms can give your spirit during the coldest part of winter.
Amaryllis is easy to grow and care for. It’s bare bulbs are planted to time flowering for end-of the-year gifts or for producing pleasing flowers through the short dark days of winter.
In November and December, the unfussy plants, well on their way to blossoming, are sold by grocery stores, gift shops, department stores and other places that cater to gift buyers or those who just want some color around the house.
They’re also sold as kits complete with pot, bulb and soil. These do-it-yourself packages make wonderful gifts for your favorite gardener.
Gift giver’s tip: Don’t overlook amaryllis as a gift for children. The plant’s relatively quick growth and impressive flowers and foliage will keep their attention as well as teach budding young gardeners the rewards of consistent care. Charting their plants progress through blooming and dormant periods makes for a rewarding, long-term science project.
Botanical Name: Hippeastrum genus
Common Name: Amaryllis
Plant Type: Perennial, bulb
Hardiness Zones: 8 – 10 (USDA)
Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial sun
Soil Type: Well-drained
Soil pH: Acidic, neutral
Height: 1 to 2 feet tall
Bloom Time: Seasonal
Flower Color: Red, white, pink
Native Area: Central America, South America
Note: Amaryllis leaves and flowers are poisonous. Don’t leave plants where children might be tempted to pluck their beauty then put it in their mouths. Cats also find the blossoms a temptation.
Quick Guide: Planting, Growing & Caring for Amaryllis
- Amaryllis is a tropical plant and prefers warm climates when grown outdoors.
- Although it will grow in conditions ranging from full sun to partial shade, bright shade is the ideal setting for it outdoors.
- Water it only when the potting mix is completely dry to a depth of at least an inch or more.
- The least expensive way to buy and grow amaryllis is to buy the bulbs from a garden center and then plant them in the pots you choose.
Amaryllis Plant Care
Amaryllis bulbs are popular holiday gifts due to their large, brightly colored flowers, which brighten up a long, cold winter.
True amaryllis or belladonna lilies (Amaryllis spp.) are native to South Africa, whereas the plant we commonly refer to as ‘amaryllis’ is native to South America and is generally a hybrid of several species in the genus Hippeastrum. Both, however, are members of the amaryllis family (Amaryllidaceae).
The genus Hippeastrum is mostly found in tropical and subtropical areas in Eastern Brazil and the central southern Andes in countries like Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina, but some species can be found as far north as Mexico and the West Indies.
If you receive one of these gifts or bought one or more for yourself, you can enjoy them next year at this time and for years to come with the proper care. Here’s how:
How to Care for Amaryllis During Spring and Summer
Gifts of potted amaryllis are usually in blossom or well on their way. If your gift plant has only sprouts and no blossoms, put it in a warm, sunny place. Water it only when the potting mix is completely dry to a depth of at least an inch or more.
When blossoms appear, enjoy them as long as you can by keeping the plants in a cool place. Move your amaryllis plant out of direct sunlight when the flower buds have begun to open. They’ll hold their blooms for weeks if kept from direct sunlight.
Once the flowers start to fade, cut them off but leave the stalks which will continues to produce the nutrients the plants will need to blossom the following year. This after-bloom growth is critical to future production.
Once the flowers have been trimmed, move the plant into a sunny spot to help facilitate photosynthesis. Fertilize the plants regularly with a balanced organic plant food.
Eventually the stalks will yellow and wither. Trim them back to the bulb and put their container in a cool, dark location. Do not water or fertilize during this period. In 8 to 10 weeks, the bulbs will again show new sprouts.
Once sprouts appear and you’re ready for more blossoms, move the pot into a warm sunny place. Resume watering and feed with an organic houseplant fertilizer that’s high in phosphorous.
During this time, potted bulbs can be moved outside once low temperatures stay above 50 degrees. Take time to acclimatize plants to the outdoors gradually.
How to Care for Amaryllis During Fall and Winter
After the summer bloom, it’s time to repeat the steps above, trimming the blossoms, allowing the stalks to grow until they dry and wither. Trim back the stalks and keep your bulb dormant until it’s time to begin the process again.
You can store the potted bulb on its side in a cool, dark place, such as a closet or basement, to rest for about 8 to 10 weeks.
Timing during the late summer and early fall dormant period is crucial to producing flowers when you want them. Once stalks appear from the bulbs, it takes four to eight weeks before the flowers appear, depending on the conditions you provide it.
Halloween is a good time to coax bulbs from their dormant period if you want blossoms for the holidays. Holding bulbs dormant well into December yields flowers in February.
How to Care for Amaryllis Outdoors
It is possible to grow amaryllis outdoors in USDA hardiness zones 8 through 10. The bulbs can be grown in fertile, well-drained soil by planting them whenever the soil reaches 70 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.
Being a tropical plant, amaryllis prefers warm climates. Although it will grow in conditions ranging from full sun to partial shade, bright shade is the ideal setting for it outdoors.
When all danger of frost has passed in the spring, acclimate the amaryllis plant to outdoor conditions by exposing it to shade or indirect light. Gradually move the pot to a spot or garden bed where it will get at least 6 hours of full sun every day.
Place the potted amaryllis in a sunny location on a deck or patio, or sink the entire pot into the soil in a sunny garden bed.
If your area never gets frost, plant the bulbs so that their necks are at or just above the ground. In places where frost is possible, plant the bulbs with 5–6 inches of soil on top of them and then 5–6 inches of mulch on top of that. After planting, water well, but don’t water again until the top two inches of soil are dry.
Feed once per month with a balanced fertilizer from the emergence of leaves until blooming. Remove the flower stalks once flowering is completed, but leave the foliage so it can keep growing. Cut off any yellowing leaves if you notice any.
If your area gets frost in the winter, add a layer of winter mulch in the fall. The plants are typically dormant during the winter.
How to Plant and Grow Amaryllis
How to Pick Amaryllis Bulbs for Planting
The least expensive way to buy and grow amaryllis is to buy the bulbs from a garden center and then plant them in the pots you choose.
Select the largest bulbs that are available since they will produce more blooms and stalks in the first year. Keep in mind that larger bulbs produce larger flowers.
Inspect the top from where the flower stalks will grow making sure it’s not soft or offering rot a way in. It’s perfectly fine, even preferable, if a bit of growth has already begun to show itself. Larger bulbs will send up two or more stalks, one after another.
Make sure to choose firm buds that are free of cuts, bruises, and mold and carry a good cluster of roots at the bottom.
How to Plant Amaryllis
The plants grow best when slightly root-bound so choose a pot size according to the diameter of your bulb. Pick a pot with the width and weight to keep it from falling over from the top heavy stalks.
Plant the bulb on an inch or two of soil and cover with soil leaving a third or so of its top above the soil line. Leave no more than an inch or so of soil between the bulb and the pot on all sides.
Drainage is important. Make sure the potting soil you use allows for it and that your pot has a hole in the bottom. Peat moss makes for an attractive ground cover for your plant and is high in organic matter which will benefit your plant.
After potting, give your plant a warm place to begin putting up growth. Sunlight encourages quicker, more compact growth, something that will prevent it from tipping over when it reaches its full height.
How to Repot Amaryllis
Amaryllis bulbs keep getting bigger every year, so they need to be repotted every few years. The best time to repot bulbs is after they have experienced a period of dormancy.
To do this, start by loosening the roots with a knife around the edge of the pot. Next, gently lift the amaryllis plant and root ball out of the container and move it to a new and slightly larger pot.
Place the potted bulb in a sunny location at room temperature, which is roughtly 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and keep the soil barely moist.
If the soil stays too wet, the bulb will rot, and if you keep the bulb at higher temperatures, the flower stalk will be weak and the flowers will be smaller.
Common Pests and Plant Disease for Amaryllis Plant
Amaryllis can also be infected with the red blotch and mosaic viruses. Red blotch appears as red spots or blotches on the leaves, bulb, and scape and spreads quickly from bulb to bulb.
If a plant has the mosaic virus, it will grow and bloom less, and the leaves will have yellow streaks on them. Unfortunately, nothing can be done to treat either of these diseases.
Eric Vinje founded Planet Natural with his father Wayne in 1991, originally running it as a grasshopper bait mail-order business out of a garage.
Eric is now retired, but is still a renowned gardener known for his expertise in composting, organic gardening and pest control, utilizing pesticide-free options, such as beneficial insects.
Eric believes when you do something good for the environment, the effects will benefit generations to come.