Garden Myth: No Need to Refrigerate Your Amaryllis!

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No, don’t put your amaryllis bulb in the fridge while it’s dormant. Source: Claire Tourigny, from the book Les 1500 trucs du jardinier paresseux

The very popular amaryllis (Hippeastrum) usually blooms around Christmas or into January or February in the Northern Hemisphere, then produces long green leaves that allow it to store energy for the following year. By September, the foliage is usually turning yellow, indicating it is ready to go through its annual period of dormancy. Do stop watering the plant and cut its dying foliage off at this point, but do not put the bulb in the fridge, a bizarre recommendation that I see more and more often on the Internet. (I sometimes wonder if anyone on the Internet actually tests the advice they give!)

The amaryllis is a tropical plant, originally from a climate where the temperature doesn’t vary all that much through the year. A bulb placed in the refrigerator may well be able to survive this mistreatment, but will be under extreme stress and may even begin to rot. Just leave your amaryllis at room temperature while it sleeps.

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Buds showing at the tip of this bulb show it’s ready to start a new cycle of bloom and growth. Source: karenhancock.com

When new growth appears two to four months later, simply start watering again. With any luck, it will soon be in full bloom … without any cold treatment at all!

For more information on the amaryllis, read How to Get Your Amaryllis to Rebloom.

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How to Get your Amaryllis to Rebloom

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Getting an amaryllis to rebloom is not that difficult… but you have to start just after its stops blooming. Source:  International Flower Bulb Centre

Most garden bloggers will probably start writing about getting your amaryllis (Hippeastrum) to rebloom in September, as it starts to sink into dormancy, but they’ve got it backwards. Now, during the plant’s prime growing season, is when you have to work on getting it ready to rebloom. How you treat it in September is just a minor detail.

So, let’s start at the beginning. The amaryllis (Hippeastrum) is a subtropical bulb (zone 8) usually grown as a houseplant. Amaryllis bulbs are generally sold in November and December (some may still be available in January, but hurry!) so they’ll be ready to bloom for Christmas. This is not actually their natural blooming season. Under normal circumstances, in the Northern Hemisphere at least, they’d probably bloom somewhere between the end of January and the end of March, but the bulbs sold are specially treated to bloom early.

Amaryllis bulbs will flower in their bag or box if you don’t pot them up fast enough! Source: laidbackgardener.com

Getting an amaryllis to bloom the first time is a snap: pot them up and water them and they simply bloom! In fact, they’ll bloom even if you don’t pot them up: unpotted amaryllis bulbs will often bloom in the bag or box they’re sold in if no one plants them on time.

Recharging Their Batteries

An amaryllis will bloom under just about any light condition, which is great news, as that means you can place them anywhere while they flower. Afterwards, though, you’ve got to move them to a more conducive spot. The full sun of a south window is not too much indoors. Think of the bulb as being a battery and the sun as being its source of energy. Flowering has drained the battery, now you need plenty of sun to recharge it.

When flowering is over, you can cut off the flower stalk (unless you want to collect seed, but that’s another story entirely). Let the stalk turn yellow first, however, for as long as it is green, it will be supplying the bulb with energy. Don’t cut off the leaves, though: they are its primary battery chargers!

When the flowers die, move the plant to the sunniest spot you have. Full, blazing sun is not too much! Source: ask.extension.org

Your amaryllis will remain in leaf through the winter, spring, summer and into early fall. During this period the plant is also very eager for fertilizer. Fertilize your plant with each watering, adding the recommended dose of all-purpose or houseplant fertilizer to the water as you go. Regular fertilizing and abundant sun lead to a bigger bulb … and the bigger the bulb, the better the bloom next year.

Long, floppy leaves show the plant is not getting enough light. Put it in a brighter spot if you want to see it bloom again! Source: http://www.flowershopnetwork.com

Your plant will tell you if it is getting enough light or not. Long, narrow, pale green, arching leaves that break easily are not a good sign: the plant is trying to tell you it is suffering from a lack of lack of light and that it will probably not bloom again next year. If, however, the leaves are relatively short, very broad, at least as upright as arched and very dark green, the plant is saying, “I’m thrilled with the growing conditions and I promise to bloom next year.”

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Amaryllis bulb hollowed out by a narcissus fly grub. Source: leslieland.com

Should you place your amaryllis outside for the summer? After all, the sun outdoors is far more intense (windows may seem transparent, but they cut off a lot of light!). That depends. You see, the amaryllis has a serious enemy that may be present in your area: the narcissus fly. The bumblebee-like buzzing adult is rarely seen, but if it lays its egg at the top of your bulb, its fat grub of a larva will hollow your bulb out, possibly killing it and certainly eliminating any chance of bloom. If you or your neighbors grow daffodils (Narcissus), the narcissus fly may well be around and is drawn to amaryllis bulbs like a magnet. So delay putting your amaryllis outdoors until daffodil leaves start to yellow. This spells the end of the adult narcissus fly’s season and you can therefore safely put your bulbs outdoors.

Do acclimatize your bulb gradually to outdoor sun by putting it in a shade for a few days, then in partial shade for a few more days before exposing its foliage to full sun. Bring the bulb indoors early in September, well before the first frost.

Dormant … or Not

If your amaryllis’s leaves start to turn yellow in fall, cut them off and put the bulb into dormancy. Source: http://www.ourhouseplants.com

Depending on the genetic background of your amaryllis, its foliage may start to look ratty by September … or it may not (there are evergreen Hippeastrum species and your plant may have them in its family tree). If the foliage of your plant does start to yellow, stop watering it: it’s telling you it wants to go dormant. When the leaves have died back entirely, cut them off. If yours still look fresh and green, keep watering your plant. It’s saying it wants to keep growing. Most hybrid amaryllis, though, will go dormant in the fall.

Although many authorities recommend you put your bulb in the darkness during its dormancy, in fact, that’s of no importance. Honestly, do you think a wild amaryllis moves to a dark cave during its dormancy? However, with neither leaves nor flowers, the bulb won’t look like much, so don’t hesitate to hide it from view … as long as you remember where you put it!

The same thing goes for temperature. Again, some authorities have you placing the bulb in the fridge while it’s dormant, but that isn’t necessary. Yes, you can place the bulb in a cool but frost-free spot while it is leafless, but you can also keep it at room temperature: it makes no difference. I prefer to put food in my fridge rather than fill it with amaryllis bulbs.

Out Of Dormancy, Into Bloom 

A flower bud or new leaves showing (here you can see both) tell you the plant is ready to start another growing—and, hopefully, blooming—season. Source: karenhancock.com

Sometime over the next 2 to 4 months, a flower bud or the points of new leaves will appear at the tip of the bulb, even if it has not been watered in all that time. This is the bulb telling you (amaryllises are very talkative plants!) it’s time to bring it into the light (if you stored it in darkness) and to start watering it. Water gradually at first, then more and more as it begins to grow. If you treated it correctly, it will soon be in flower again. Note though that, as noted at the beginning of this piece, it will likely bloom later in the season than the first time, from late January to late March. In fact, some hybrids will bloom a second or even third time, sometime during the spring or summer. An amaryllis bulb can live and bloom indoors for decades.

So, you can get your amaryllis bulb to rebloom … but don’t wait until fall: the time to stimulate next year’s bloom it is now!20180126A International Flower Bulb Centre

Christmas Plants Around the World

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Christmas plants differ according to region. Source; laidbackgardener.blog

The most popular Christmas plant in North America is certainly the poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima). There is scarcely a store that doesn’t sell them or a home that isn’t decorated with one. But there are other Christmas plants, including Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera spp.), Christmas kalanchoe (Kalanchoe blossfeldiana), amaryllis (Hippeastrum spp.), Christmas pepper (Capsicum annuum), Jerusalem cherry (Solanum pseudocapsicum), frosted fern (Selaginella martensii ‘Frosty’), Norfolk island pine (Araucaria heterophylla) and, more recently, wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens).

Christmas trees are popular all over North America, too. Fir trees (Abies spp.) are the biggest sellers, but Douglas firs (Pseudotsuga menziesii), spruces (Picea spp.) and pines (Pinus spp.) are widely used.

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Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides). Source: Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz

The Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) was once commonly used in Christmas wreathes, garlands and centerpieces in Eastern North America, as it has evergreen fronds that last all winter and are thus available at Christmastime, but its star has waned considerably. It’s just too easy to find longer-lasting artificial or preserved foliage for such use these days. The Christmas fern still makes a great garden plant for shady spots and is hardy to zone 3.

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Winterberry (Ilex verticillata Berry Poppins®). Source: Proven Winners

The branches of winterberry (Ilex verticillata) have fared better over time and are still widely used. This deciduous holly, native to eastern North America, is leafless at Christmas, but its branches are covered with bright red berries that create great swaths of color in Christmas arrangements. You can grow them yourself (the shrub is hardy to zone 3 and you will need to include at least one male plant in your planting to pollinate the berry-bearing females), but you can also buy branches in florist shops … including fake ones, unfortunately.

That covers most of the plants associated with Christmas in North America, but Christmas plants differ around the world. Let’s take a look at what’s going on elsewhere.

Europe

In general, the plants featured in the first paragraph—poinsettias, Christmas cactus, Christmas kalanchoe, etc.—are also popular in Europe, although the poinsettia, even though it is not rare per se, is not as popular as on this side of the Atlantic. But there are other plants associated with Christmas (and New Year’s Day) that are more specific to Europe.

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Holly (Ilex aquifolium): more popular in Europe than in North America. Source: AnemoneProjectors, Wikiimedia Commons

For example, holly (Ilex aquifolium) is a European shrub or tree with spiny-edged, shiny, leathery, evergreen leaves and red berries and is grown in many Old World gardens. True enough, holly is available on a limited basis in North America too (although are mostly seem either on Christmas cards or as sprigs of plastic leaves), but nothing to the extent to which it is used in Europe, where, in some countries, sprigs of holly are found on nearly every window ledge and doorway. This tradition has come to be seen as a sign of welcome, but is in fact based a centuries-old belief that putting holly on all possible entranceways would prevent evil spirits from invading the home.

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Mistletoe is no longer as common as it once was. Source: mistletoematters.wordpress.com

Kissing under the mistletoe during the Christmas season is a very old European tradition and can be traced back to the time of the Druids, who laid down arms and exchanged greetings under the mistletoe, considered to be a very sacred plant. Mistletoe is a parasitic plant that grows on tree branches, counting on sap it absorbs from its host for its survival. European mistletoe (Viscum album)—with its translucent round white berries—is the original variety to kiss under.

The tradition of kissing under the mistletoe was brought over to the New World and thrived for awhile, but now appears to be dying out. Certainly mistletoe is now only available very locally in North America: I haven’t seen a sprig of it in years! It’s still widely used in Europe during the holiday season.

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English ivy (Hedera helix) used in a wreath. Source: bcinvasives.ca

English ivy (Hedera helix) is a traditional Christmas plant in Europe, widely used in holiday garlands and wreaths. Think of the carol The Holly and the Ivy, for example. And why not, since this evergreen climber grows abundantly everywhere on that continent and so is readily available! The tradition of using ivy as a Christmas decoration never caught on in North America, probably because ivy is neither native nor widely grown, though it has escaped from culture to become abundant in a few areas. Harvesting ivy for Christmas decorations is something that could be encouraged as a control measure in areas (mostly on the US West Coast) where ivy is proving to be a pernicious weed.

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The Christmas rose (Helleborus niger) is a stunning early bloomer… but only blooms at Christmas in mild climates. Source: 4028mdk09, Wikimedia Commons

The Christmas rose (Helleborus niger) is not a rose (Rosa spp.) at all, of course, but a perennial. It’s a traditional Christmas plant in southeastern Europe, notably in areas where Orthodox Church is the common religion. Orthodox Christmas takes place about two weeks later than in Western rites, around January 7. And this very early perennial is usually in bloom by then. Although mainly used in flower beds or naturalized in woodlands, it’s also sold as a gift plant at that season.

Elsewhere in Europe and pretty much everywhere in North America, this plant flowers too late to be a Christmas plant. Where I live, it isn’t even in bloom at Easter … it’s more like a Mother’s Day plant!

In Europe, the tradition of Christmas trees is well established and often spruce or pine, or even a juniper or other conifer, are used, depending on what is available locally.

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The Yule log tradition has trouble surviving in modern homes, as so many no longer have a functioning fireplace. Source: maeclair.net

The tradition of the Yule log has largely died out in Britain and Central Europe as it has in North America, but in many parts of Europe, notably in Scandanavia and Eastern Europe, it remains deeply entrenched. A Yule log is a very large hardwood log, the idea being to light it on Christmas Eve and have it burn through the night and Christmas Day. In the Balkans, the Yule log is called a badnjak (or budnik, according to the local language) and it is usually an oak, a symbol of longevity. Those who do not have a fireplace to burn a log in often decorate their apartment with twigs of oak.

In France, Belgium and Switzerland, the Yule log (bûche de Noël) has morphed into a log-shaped cake, traditionally served at Christmas … you don’t need a fireplace for that!

Mediterranean and Middle East

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A wreath decorated with pomegranates (Punica granatum). Source: www.clubbotanic.com

The main Christmas plant in this region is the pomegranate (Punica granatum): a perfect choice, as it matures at just the right time of year. Doors, fireplaces, tables, etc. are decorated with pomegranate fruits, both fresh and artificial.

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Butcher’s broom (Ruscus aculeatus). Source: Dominicus Johannes Bergsma, Wikimedia Commons

Two other plants often used in Christmas decorations are the shrubs butcher’s broom (Ruscus aculeatus) and firethorn (Pyracantha spp.), both bearing evergreen foliage and red berries.

In Israel, olive branches (Olea europaea) are offered at Christmas to friends as a symbol of peace.

Mexico

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Flower market full of poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) in Mexico just before Christmas. Source: casita-colibri.blog

The poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) is native to Mexico and is popular in there, where it’s known as flor de Nochebuena (Christmas Eve flower). Butcher’s broom and firethorn, brought over from Spain, are also popular, as well as are several local plants that bloom at Christmas.

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Traditional Mexican Christmas punch with floating manzanitas (Crataegus mexicana). Source: http://www.goya.com

Manzanita, also called tejocote or manzanilla (Crataegus mexicana), a large-berried hawthorn, is another plant traditionally used as a Christmas decoration in many parts of Mexico and Central America. The orange fruits may be threaded onto a garland and are also used to make Christmas punch.

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Display of radishes on the Noche de Los Rábanos. Source: AlejandroLinaresGarcia, Wikimedia Commons

One of Mexico’s most curious Christmas traditions, however, is the Night of the Radishes (Noche de Los Rábanos), celebrated in the region of Oaxaca on December 23rd. In it, radishes are carved and arranged into some very impressive displays.

South America

Since most of this continent lies south of the equator, the seasons are inverted and Christmas takes place in summer, not winter. That means traditional Christmas plants of the Northern Hemisphere bloom six months too late for Christmas. As a result, the poinsettia is called “Easter flower” (flor de pascua) in many South American countries, because it blooms at Easter, while our Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera) is called “flor de maio” (May flower) in its country of origin, Brazil. Yet there is a Christmas cactus in these countries. The plant we call Easter cactus (Hatiora gaertneri, formerly Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri) in the North is the “cactus de Navidad” and blooms at Christmas in much of South America.

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Colored berries of the Brazilian peppertree (Schinus terebinthifolius). Source: Javier Alejandro, flickr.

South Americans tend to use native plants as cut flowers or holiday plants at the Christmas season. Branches of the Brazilian peppertree (Schinus terebinthifolius) and its cousin, Peruvian peppertree (S. mollis), known in the north for the pink peppercorns they produce, are often used to decorate churches and houses during the holiday season, as they are loaded with small red berries at that time of year.

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Venezuelan Christmas orchid (Cattleya percivaliana). Source: QuazDelaCruz, Wikimedia Commons

Venezuela has its own Christmas orchid that blooms for the holidays: Cattleya perciviliana. Elsewhere in South America, the usual “orquídea de navidad” is Angraecum sesquipedale, actually native to Madagascar, but widely grown for its large white star-shaped flowers. It’s also called estrella of Belén (star of Bethlehem), but then, so are many other white, star-shaped flowers, including bulbs of the genus Ornithogalum.

In Paraguay, house and Christmas displays are often decorated with “flores de coco,” the long, fragrant inflorescences of a local palm tree, the coyol (Acrocomia aculeata). This pre-Christian tradition comes from the indigenous Guarani people.

Asia

In general, the concept of Christmas is relatively new to this continent and the celebration is mostly a commercial one of American inspiration, so there are often no traditional plants associated with the holiday, at least not long-standing ones. Most are the same Christmas plants seen in North America (poinsettias, Christmas cacti, etc.). Christmas trees, almost nonexistent only 30 years ago, for example, are now seen everywhere, although more often in shopping centers than in private homes. Usually artificial trees are used.

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Heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica). Source: http://www.mailordertrees.co.uk

The Christian population in Japan is more firmly established than most in Asia and has solidly adopted the tradition of the Christmas tree, usually a real fir or spruce tree. Heavenly bamboo, Nandina domestica, which is not a bamboo at all, but a shrub, is the second-best-known Christmas plant, with its scarlet fruits and red winter leaves. Chrysanthemums (Chrysanthemum morifolium), popular in all seasons in Japan, are widely used at Christmas too.

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Apples stamped with seasonal messages are common Christmas Eve gifts in China. Source: gbtimes.com

In China, an apple wrapped in colored paper or stamped with an appropriate seasonal message is often offered as a gift on Christmas Eve because the word “Christmas Eve,” translated as “night of peace” (Ping’an Ye) in Mandarin, sounds like the word apple (píngguǒ).

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Christmas palm (Adonidia merrillii). Source: palmpedia.ne

In the tropical regions of Asia, the Christmas palm (Adonidia merrillii), better known by its old name, Veitchia merrillii, is widely grown. With its stocky trunk and relatively short fronds, it looks like a dwarf royal palm … and bears bright red fruit at Christmas. Originally from the Philippines and Malaysia, this palm is now grown throughout the tropics.

Finally, in India, the golden Monterey cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Goldcrest’) is growing in popularity as a Christmas tree, but otherwise, Christmas is little celebrated in India.

Africa

The traditions of using Christmas plants are more firmly established in South Africa than in the center and north of the continent, brought to this region by European settlers (notably the Dutch and English).

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To Northeners, hortensias (Hydrangea macrophylla) just don’t say Christmas, but it warms the cockles of the heart of South Africans. Source: pxhere

Again, though, with the seasons being inverted, the South African Christmas plants are very different from those in the Northern Hemisphere. Notably, the hortensia (Hydrangea macrophylla), well-known in the North for its summer bloom, is called “Christmas flower” and is by far the most popular Christmas plant!

On the other hand, poinsettias are catching on as well. They have to be specially prepared in order to bloom at Christmas rather than in May, which is when they’d bloom if left on their own. Local nurserymen manage to do this by covering their production greenhouses with black cloth after 4 pm to ensure the short days necessary to stimulate bloom.

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Christmas bells (Sandersonia aurantiaca) are bulbs native to South Africa. Source: http://www.alanjolliffe.com

Various native plants also serve as Christmas plants, such as Christmas bush (Pavetta spp.), Christmas bells (Sandersonia aurantiaca) and Christmas berry (Chironia baccifera). Several plants imported from Australia, which has a similar climate, are also appreciated for their winter bloom. You’ll read more about those below. Africans also celebrate Christmas with many plants that are for us just typical summer flowers, like daisies, roses and zinnias.

Christmas trees are very popular in South Africa, but they use as subjects conifers adapted to local conditions, such as cypress (Cupressus spp., including C. macrocarpa), Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica) and various pines (Pinus spp., including P. radiata).

Australia

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The Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla) is Australia’s favorite Christmas tree, AlfredSin, flickr

In Australia, the traditional Christmas tree is the native Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla). Grown in mostly as a houseplant in the northern hemisphere, where it rarely exceeds 5 feet (1.5 m) in height, in Australia, it can eventually reach up to 250 feet (65 m) in height, about 20 floors! Other mild-climate conifers from various parts of the world are also used as Christmas trees, including various pines.

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The Australian Christmas tree (Nuytsia floribunda). Source:  JarrahTree, Wikimedia Commons

And Australians have their own Ozzie Christmas tree, Nuytsia floribunda … but it’s not a conifer, but rather a broad-leaved tree. Moreover, it’s a parasitic tree (or rather hemiparasitic tree, since it does carry out its own photosynthesis) that steals most of its water and minerals from nearby plants! The Australian Christmas tree produces frothy spikes of orange-yellow flowers just in time for the holidays.

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One of many Christmas bushes in Australia: Ceratopetalum gummiferum. Source: gdaymateowyagoin, flickr

To add to this, each Australian state seems to have its own “Christmas bush,” always a shrub that produces masses of either flowers or colorful fruits at the right season, including Correa spp., Chromolaena odorata, Ceratopetalum gummiferum and Prosanthera laisanthos. Also, there are many bulbs that bloom at Christmas, including various species of Blandfordia, called “Christmas bells.” And Australia also has its own Christmas orchid: Calanthe triplicata, native to the north of the country

New Zealand

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New Zealand Christmas tree (Meterosideros excelsa). Source: Ed323, Wikimedia Commons

Mention Christmas tree to any New Zealander and they’ll immediately think of Meterosideros excelsa, a rounded broadleaf tree with feathery red flowers at Christmas. It’s called the New Zealand Christmas tree or pōhutukawa. And an introduced bulb from South America (Alstroemeria psittacina), with green-tipped red tubular flowers, has “gone native” and is well-known by locals as New Zealand Christmas bells.


So, wherever you travel around the world, there are always interesting Christmas plants to discover!

If you know of other Christmas plants, do not hesitate to let me know about them at laidbackgardener@gmail.com.20171224A HC.jpg

Why Do We Plant Amaryllis Bulbs with Their Neck Exposed?

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20171117A Centre d'information des bulbes à fleurs Netherlands Flowerbulb Information Centre .jpgYou’ve probably always been told that you have to plant an amaryllis (Hippeastrum) leaving the top third of the bulb exposed. Thus many gardeners are convinced that this is absolutely required, that the plant will rot if ever it were to be covered completely. However, wild amaryllis bulbs grow completely underground, like most bulbs. Why the difference?

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When you grow an amaryllis in a pot, leave its neck exposed so its roots have room to grow. Source: www.americanmeadows.com

The idea that the bulb has to be planted with its neck exposed comes from the fact that the amaryllis is largely grown as an indoor bulb. The bulb is so large that, if you did bury it completely when you plant it in a standard pot, there would be no room for the roots. By planting the bulb with the top third of the bulb exposed, you’ll be leaving plenty of room for its roots to develop underneath. And indoors, with no predators out to eat any bulb part that is exposed, this unusual way of planting the bulb does no harm.

However, if ever you do plant your amaryllis bulb in an extra deep pot while leaving the neck exposed, you’ll discover it will actually pull itself underground over the next year or so, thanks to its contractile roots.

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Amaryllis planted outdoors in a mild climate. Source: beulahacres.wordpress.com

If you live in a mild climate where you can plant amaryllis bulbs in the outdoor garden (zones 9 to 12), you’ll find they do much better when the bulb is completely buried. Plant it in a rich, well-drained soil, just barely covering the bulb. Depending on the cultivar, it may stay at that depth or “dig itself deeper” over time.

Some gardeners even manage to grow amaryllis in zone 8 or 7b, but if so, plant the bulb more deeply, with up to 3 inches (8 cm) of soil covering it, and mulch it heavily in the autumn as well, as you’ll want to keep the bulb frost-free.

Amaryllis: the planting depth depends on root growth and cold protection. Who knew?Amaryllis Stages of Growth

It’s Amaryllis Time!

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20151110AYes, it’s that time of year: head into any store, even a supermarket, and you’re likely to find displays of amaryllis bulbs (botanical name: Hippeastrum). This huge bulb produces trumpet-shaped flowers and is very easy to grow and flower… the first time, at any rate. Since they take about three to eight weeks to bloom from the time you pot them up, if you want amaryllis flowers for Christmas, this is a good time to start.

Amaryllis bulbs already contain the buds of the flowers to come when you buy them, so even black thumbs will have no trouble getting them to bloom. In fact, even if you don’t pot the bulb up and just leave it lying on a shelf somewhere, it will still bloom. How easy is that?

Growing an amaryllis is also a great little project for introducing children to gardening. Even 5-year olds will be impressed by the speed at which the plant grows.

Picking a Winning Bulb

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Amaryllis kits are practical, widely available, and great for teaching kids about gardening.

An amaryllis bulb is most often sold in a kit that includes a pot, potting soil and the bulb itself. And that does work, but… the bulbs sold in kits are usually lesser-quality bulbs that give fewer and smaller flowers compared to dry bulbs. Also, kits often include pots that are too small to adequately support the bulb, don’t have drainage holes (which makes watering tricky) or are so light the top-heavy plant tends to flop over. So even if you do purchase a kit (and they’re all you’re likely find in supermarkets, box stores, and other non-specialized venues), you’d do better to at least pot the bulb up in a more appropriate pot. More about that below.

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The best bulbs are kept for bulk sales.

The best quality bulbs are kept for bulk sale – open displays of dry bulbs – for obvious reasons. Rather than dealing with a closed box where you can’t even see the bulb you’re buying, you actually get to hand pick your bulb… and would you pick a skinny, weak-looking, second-quality bulb over a huge, heavy, robust, top-quality one? In spite of its superior quality, a dry bulb will usually cost less than a kit, at least in most stores. Locally you aren’t likely to find dry bulbs anywhere but in nurseries and garden centers. Mail-order nurseries will also ship them to your home if you order early enough.

Choose the color and shape of the flower from the photo that accompanies the display: amaryllis flowers can be red, pink, salmon, white, yellow, green or bi- or tricolor, single or double, large or small.

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Look for a bulb with multiple flower buds showing.

Look for a big bulb, firm to the touch: it will produce the most flowers. A very large bulb will surely give two flower stalks, sometimes three. Also, take a good look at the bulb at the time of purchase: if you see not one but two or three flower buds just poking out of the bulb (see photo), you have a winner! Each visible bud is the first sign of a future flower stalk,

Of course, you can also buy an amaryllis that is already potted and in the process of flowering, but that will cost you more… and you’ll be paying top dollar for a plant whose flowering is perhaps already in decline.

Potting It Up

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Two weeks after potting up, the flower stalks are ready shooting for the sky!

Once you have a bulb on hand, look for an appropriate pot. The belief that the amaryllis likes to be pot-bound is a myth. They have a substantial root system and it needs room to grow, choose a pot at least 2 to 3 inches larger than the bulb. It should also have one or more drainage holes. If it’s made of a heavier material, like clay, that will help hold the plant up. If not, don’t worry: you can insert a lighter pot into a heavy cache-pot later.

Half fill the pot with houseplant potting mix (if you moisten it ahead of time, it will be easier to work with) and center the bulb on the mix, spreading its thick roots out somewhat. Now fill the pot with more mix to about 1 inch (2 cm) or so below the rim and press down firmly to settle the bulb in its pot. This will result in the bulb being only half-buried, which is great because that leaves more space in the potting mix for the bulb’s future root development. Place the pot on a saucer or in a heavier cache-pot and water lightly.


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Amaryllis vase.

You can also grow amaryllis without soil, in stones, gravel, or marbles, typically using a transparent container. If so, you’ll need a pot without a drainage hole so the pot’s bottom can act as a water reservoir, as the substrates mentioned hold no moisture. There are even special amaryllis vases designed to hold an amaryllis bulb above water using no stones at all. Be aware, though, that if you don’t use potting soil, this will weaken the bulb and it will only be good for the compost bin after it has bloomed.

Finally, a quick note for our friends in the South: in zones 9 to 11, you can simply plant amaryllis bulbs in the garden, just barely covering the bulb, and they will then act like perennials, coming back year after year and sometimes even blooming several times a year.


Simple Care

Water sparingly at first, then more abundantly as the flower stem grows. Let the soil guide you: water thoroughly when it is dry to the touch.

Curiously, the long, narrow, strap-shaped leaves often don’t appear until the plant is in bloom or even after it has finished flowering.

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Hippeastrum ‘Red Lion’

Amaryllis are perfectly adapted to average indoor temperatures of between 15 and 80˚F (18-27˚C) and can even tolerate temperatures down to 40˚C (5˚C) if necessary. The soil should be slightly moist at all times. A sunny location is ideal, since intense light will lead to a shorter, stronger flower stalk less likely to need staking.

The bulb will start to flower in as little as three weeks, but more likely five to eight. If its flowering is coming along too quickly for your liking, you can delay it by placing the bulb in a cool spot. If you want to speed up its bloom, increase the temperature.

While the plant is blooming, don’t hesitate to move it to a spot where it is more visible, even if gets less light for a while. A few weeks of lower light won’t hurt the plant too much.

After plant stops blooming, though, move it back into the sunniest spot possible, at least if you want to see it bloom next year. You can cut the flower stalk after the blooms fade if it bothers you, but for the health of the plant, it’s better to leave it standing until it dies back on its own. Then you can remove it. That’s because, as long as it’s still green, it will carry on photosynthesis and thus helps feed the bulb.

Note that it is possible that your amaryllis blooms again out of season, maybe later in the winter or spring or even summer. If so, just enjoy the repeat performance!

Getting Your Amaryllis to Bloom Again

Let me be brutally honest and say that, while getting an amaryllis to bloom the first time is almost a sure thing, the same can’t be said of future blooms. So if you just want to toss the bulb into the compost bin after it blooms and buy a new one, that’s perfectly all right. Still, most people can get their amaryllis to rebloom if they put a little effort into it. Your goal will be to try and get the bulb, which will have shrunk considerably in size after it blooms, to plump up again.

To do so, you’ll need plenty of sun, regular feedings, and a modicum of other care. Here’s a link that shows what to do when your amaryllis stops blooming.

Laidback Gardener Tip of the Day

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Should You Plant an Amaryllis Bulb with its Neck Exposed?

Amaryllis Stages of GrowthYou’e probably always been told that you have to plant an amaryllis (Hippeastrum) leaving the top third of the bulb exposed. Thus many gardeners are convinced that this is absolutely required, that the plant will rot if ever it were to be covered completely. However, wild amaryllis bulbs grow completely underground, like most bulbs. Why the difference?

The idea that the bulb has to be planted with its neck exposed comes from the fact that the amaryllis is largely grown as an indoor bulb. The bulb is so large that, if you did bury it completely when you plant it in a standard pot, there would be no room for the roots. By planting the bulb with the top third of the bulb exposed, you’ll be leaving plenty of room for its roots to develop. And indoors, with no predators to find any bulb that is so exposed, this unusual way of planting the bulb doesn’t harm it. However, if ever you do plant your amaryllis bulb in an extra deep pot while leaving the neck exposed, you’ll discover it will actually pull itself underground over the next year or so, thanks to its contractile roots.

If you live in a mild climate, you’ll find an amaryllis does much better when the bulb is planted completely underground. Plant it in a rich, well-drained soil, just barely covering the bulb (zones 9 to 12). Depending on the cultivar, it may stay at that depth or “dig itself deeper” over time.

Some gardeners even manage to grow amaryllis in zone 8 ou 7b, but if so, plant the bulb more deeply, with up to 3 inches (15 cm) of soil covering it, and mulch it heavily in the autumn as well, as you’ll want to keep the bulb frost-free.