Forced amaryllis (Hippeastrum cultivars), with their multiple big, boldly colored flowers perched atop sturdy stems, has become an appealing alternative to the ubiquitous poinsettias that decorate homes during the December holiday season. They can be a great gift for those “who seem to have everything” and pose a problem in gift giving around the holidays. They are easy to start and you need only four to six weeks in direct sunlight to get them ready for flowering. (So for Christmas bloom, plant in the first two weeks of November.)
Native to the tropics of the Caribbean, South and Central America, Hippeastrum have become widely hybridized with over six hundred cultivars. Colors ranging from white and lime green to pink, peach, salmon and red, as well as bi-colors, offer something to suit everyone’s fancy. Each blossom’s ‘throat’ and ‘eye’ often are in striking contrast to the outer petals making them seem to “pop” exuberantly. Some are crystalline in sunlight reflecting like spun sugar. When mine are in bloom, they garner many compliments. They are truly outstanding plants and so easy to cultivate!
If you are aiming for Christmas, it’s important to use bulbs grown in the southern hemisphere (most commercial growers are now in South Africa) as opposed to those grown in Holland, as these are normally spring bloomers. The ones grown in the south will be ‘preconditioned’ to break dormancy sooner. The bulbs I have in my sunspace flower around Easter. Even when I try to “fool” them by initiating dormancy in August, then start watering them in early November, they are slow to start and won’t bloom until March. They seem to be day-length sensitive and won’t flower until the days are at least ten hours long.
I recommend using deep, 6” pots as they like a tight fit. Terracotta pots are attractive and if desired, for the holidays can be jazzed up (or before gift giving) with a pretty bow. Here are potting directions excerpted from the Van Engelen catalog:
“Pot them in well-draining, cozy pots in sterile, neutral pH potting soil. Place them in direct sunlight at 72-82°F with good air circulation and low humidity. Give them one drink of tepid water and tamp down the soil. Do not water again until the bulb sprout begins to green. Then, water moderately, avoiding water collection in the nose. Do not overwater: it can cause stunted roots and plants. Cooler temperatures and lower sunlight result in taller plants and immature coloration.”
Once past blooming, cut off flower stalk only and place in full sun. It is an attractive houseplant in its own right with long, spear-like leaves. Continue to water and fertilize until late summer. Stop watering, cut off foliage and place in a dry, dark place for three months, a closet is ideal. Repot in fresh soil and start the process all over again. It’s that easy! Try growing a few, I’m sure you will be dazzled and hooked for life!
- remedy for grey autumn and winter days – forced bulbs (growinggracefarm.com)