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Gardening: Amaryllis bulbs for holiday blooms

Amaryllis make wonderful gifts to gardeners from beginners to experts. They provide entertainment to watch the stem grow daily and anyone confined to indoors in our winter weather would enjoy watching the amaryllis grow. They may be purchased as bare or planted bulbs. Amaryllis flowers range from 4 to 10 inches in size, and can be either single or double blooms.

Select the largest bulbs available to produce more stalks and blooms the first year. The bulb should be firm and dry without signs of mold, decay or injury.

Select a container that has holes in the bottom and drains easily. They grow best in narrow containers. Containers may be made of plastic, metal, ceramic or terracotta. The diameter of the pot should be about 1 inch wider than the widest part of the bulb and twice as tall as the bulb to allow space for good root development.

Fill the pot ½ full of sterile, new potting soil high in organic matter such as peat moss. Set the bulb in the pot so the roots rest on the potting soil and add more soil, tapping it down. There should be 1/3 to ½ of bulb visible above potting soil.

Set the pot in sink where it can drain freely and water until the potting soil is thoroughly moist. Allow to drain and set in a saucer and place in a sunny location. Water the plant when the top 2 inches of soil feels dry, allowing the container to drain freely each time. The plant should not sit in water.

Fertilize amaryllis each time you water at half the recommended strength when new growth is visible. To promote blooming, use a houseplant fertilizer with a high phosphorus content. Phosphorus is the middle number of the three numbers showing fertilizer content analysis. (example: 10-20-10). Continue fertilizing even after the bloom has faded.

Move the plant out of direct sunlight when the flower buds have begun to open. After the flowers have faded, cut off the bloom to prevent seed formation, but leave the flower stalk until it has turned yellow. The green leaves and stem will continue to store energy for next season’s bloom.

If the pot is plastic or of a light material, you may need to set it in a heavier decorative pot or basket to give it some stability. At times, it may be necessary to add a dowel or some type of support to hold the flower stalk erect as most cultivars grow quite tall. If leaves are floppy, they can be tied up with raffia (or like material) toward the middle of the plant. It helps to turn the plant if it is leaning toward the light source. If for some reason, the bloom gets broken off, just put the bloom in a vase of water and the buds continue to open.

Information taken from Mary Meyer, Extension Horticulturalist and Julie Weisenhorn, Extension Educator.

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