10 December 2009

Amorous about Amaryllis

A few faithful readers, including Tabby at Crooked Heart, and several people without blogs, asked some questions about bulbs, in particular amaryllis, and I thought I'd quickly put together a post to help those who have either never been seduced by these glorious plants, or else have had trouble with rebloom.

First question I'll answer came from Joy, who doesn't do bulbs inside because she worries about her cats getting into them. Amaryllis ARE toxic, but I swear that our cats know that; in all the years I've grown amaryllis, and in all the cats we've had, I've never had problems with anyone ingesting a toxic plant. I think cats are smarter than dogs when it comes to avoiding things that will make them sick. The Cat Fanciers Association has an extensive list of plants toxic to cats, but it doesn't specify what parts are toxic: amaryllis bulbs are especially toxic, but I've never had a cat try to do anything with the plants except dig at the dirt. Bad kitties.

Amaryllis are deliciously easy to grow because the bulbs don't need prechilling: you buy them, plant them in a properly sized container (about an inch wider in diameter than the bulb) with about 1/3 the bulb sticking out of the soil. Water well, and then wait: times from planting to bloom vary, and I don't know if that's cultivar-related, or depending on the treatment they've received before we buy them. I planted four bulbs of different varieties all on the same day (5 November): two have put up stems and buds more than a foot tall, one is getting started, and one's still thinking about it. Dee mentioned hers were sulking--I remember one I bought one year that I planted in early November and it just sat and sulked until February, when it erupted into a splendid plant, putting up two stems of amazing flowers. So I hope Dee's are worth the wait too.

Our kitchen is quite warm with the woodstove, so I often put a bulb or two out there to inspire them to grow well. The secret is to keep them well watered--moist, but not soggy.

I find once they get their stalks well up and the buds expanded, it's very quick for the flowers to open. Although I can't find the labeled photos from this 'Sydney' from two years ago, I remember taking photos of the flower buds every hour or so until the first flower was well opened.

So once they've finished flowering, what then? Cut off the flowerstalk once the flowers are all withered, leaving just a short stub at the bulb end, and let the leaves grow large and vigourous. They're making food for the bulb, so that it can create flowers next year. Once mild weather comes and the risk of frost is past, you can put them outdoors for the summer. Some people bury plant pot and all, but I sit mine on the back deck. You have to remember to water and feed them regularly through the summer months, too.

Next September, before you have a frost, cut off the tired, yellowed leaves and store bulb, pot and all in a cool, dark location. Our cellar is perfect for this, we've found. Do NOT water or feed the bulbs during this period. Don't let them freeze, don't store in a fridge or other location near fresh fruit: as with tulips and other bulbs, embryonic flowers will be killed off by the gases emitted by ripening fruit. I wonder how many people forget that, and rest their bulbs in a root cellar beside a bag of apples?

After 6-8 weeks, bring the bulb up, repot in fresh potting medium, water and fertilize, and wait. You should start to see regrowth in about 6 weeks or so--remember, these are plants, and they don't read instructions; some will start growing more quickly, like those that are almost in bloom here, while others meditate for a while longer, like the one recalcitrant bulb I have.

Finally, Shady Gardener asked what that strange photo was of at the beginning of my previous post. It's a Christmas ornament made of beads and pins that I purchased at a craft fair a few years ago. I absolutely love it, and actually keep it hanging in my office yearround, for an instant rainbow. I'm trying to do the Macro Master Class that David Perry, awesome photographer, inspired many of us to try; my only problem being that my Mason jars aren't quite big enough so that I was a bit too close. But it worked for me anyway, and looked like beaded fireworks.


  1. It's definitely the year of the Christmas Amaryllis. This year I tried 'Exotica' with bulbs that sprouted themselves in the nursery's cardboard bin. Turned out well.

    I am going to make a follow-up post to show off the open blossoms on mine, since I documented only up to the first opening. I'm including the posts of others; I'd like to include yours, please.

  2. My mom gave me an amaryllis way back when I was a student living away. I was absolutely astounded at how fast it grew.

    I would definitely try one again. Yours look very festive!

  3. Lovely pictures - and so good for Christmas - I think I shall be giving a few away this festive season! Thanks for the inspiration.

  4. Hi Jodi~~ I'm glad you shared about the ornament. I was wondering too but neglected to ask. Very cool! The photos of your amaryllis are dazzling. I can understand your titillating feelings.

  5. Hi Jodi,
    Thanks so much for your info on amaryllis. I just bought some so now I am "in the know"
    BTW I use to live in Nova Scotia for about 10 years(Annapolis Valley) So Beautiful there,,,
    We are in Southern Ontario now near Toronto.. Drop the "Southern" part since it has been been very windy and bitterly cold...
    I have enjoyed my visit and will return... Your info may help heal my BROWN thumb.. haha
    Meanwhile have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

  6. These amaryllis are beauties. Seeing them makes me want to go shopping to see if I can find some to force.

  7. They are wonderfully delicious LOOKING flowers to my eyes! Cats are pretty smart, but I still can't chance it with Coal so there are very few indoor plantings. They are usually up higher then he can jump. But, I have to be completely honest~~I'm a terrible care taker and they dry out from neglect! gail

  8. thank you jodi :D
    lets see what will happen with the two that i have- one has some leaves and the other is just starting to peek up-
    i swear you can actually watch them grow-lol
    i love your ornament too :)
    enjoy your day
    tabby :)

  9. I haven't grow an Amaryllis in years until this year. Last time I tried, one of the dogs knocked it over in her excitement over a squirrel in the yard. After seeing them on so many blogs last year, I had to give one a try again.
    I just discovered something interesting about Mason jars - I've been reusing ones that had spaghetti sauce in them, and the new ones are much narrower than the old ones, but the neck and cap are the same size. The larger ones make for better photos.

  10. Great growing advice, Jodi! It took me many years to warm to amaryllis, but now I probably have 20. Like you, I keep mine on the deck during the warm months, then overwinter them in the greenhouse and bring them in when they decide to bloom. (My cats also leave them alone.) I've found that mine often bloom in spring rather than winter after their first year, but that's fine; the color and drama are still appreciated!

  11. Pretty, pretty, pretty! My mom's favorite holiday flowers are amaryllis. One of these days I'll track down the photo I took of her exquisite blooms. Did you ever find out where your amaryllis pot came from? That would make a neat-o Mother's Day gift for my mom. I've not tried the major jar technique yet, but aim to soon. Gosh...maybe even today...

  12. Thanks for the amaryllis tutorial, jodi -- I've avoided them as well because of the cat. Ours is of the sort that if there were something poisonous in the room to nibble on, he'd be the first to ingest it. :-? But I just might give it a go anyway. (I actually like the macro shot of the ornament even better than the other!) Sweet!

  13. Oh, my! What a pretty new look for the blog. :)

    You're encouraging me to plant a lilac garden next summer...

    Joy mentioned her concern about the kitties and amaryllis to me, too. I have 2 cats and while they're happy to wreak havoc with edible greens they never mess with the toxic ones...

  14. Love the Christmas ornament!

    Just this week I purchased an amaryllis bulb, and only one. The Airstream is not rich in locations for such things, but I think I can squeeze one in. Also, humorously, it's a pink one - so I won't have a pink aluminum Christmas tree, but there will be a pink amaryllis in bloom at some point!

  15. Beautiful photos and sound advice for growing these dazzling amaryllis Jodi. Am I reading correctly that you take the bulbs out of the medium to store them and then repot after their time out? I can see that adding new soil would be like desert to the bulbous ones. I usually just set the pots in the dark... which I have not done yet ... they are still up in the south windows of my barn making food for the bulbs. I will enjoy all the other ones blooming all over the blog world for the next several weeks, while mine go into the dark. I do not treat potted plants with the respect and dignity they deserve. Reading your post however and seeing your blooms does put a bit of encouraging fire under me. Thank you! What a spectacular ornament! Great macro too. Carol

  16. Hi Jodi, thanks for the link love. Mine are just now beginning to put up their stalks. I figure I'll get bloom in January which will be great, because they won't need to compete with the Christmas decorations. Great info on growing amaryllis. Lots of help for those who overwinter these delicious blooms.~~Dee


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