How to Plant, Grow and Care For Flowering Amaryllis Plants
Thinking of adding some Amaryllis to your garden but aren't sure where to start? These popular plants can bring some extra color into your indoor or outdoor garden. In this article, gardening expert Liessa Bowen examines all you need to know about Amaryllis and their care.
One of the most popular holiday gifts is a boxed amaryllis bulb. This popular flower makes a great gift for family, friends, and neighbors, but you can also treat yourself to your own indoor flowering bulb. Growing amaryllis in the winter months is a very rewarding indoor gardening activity that anyone can enjoy.
Amaryllis are very easy to grow. They bloom readily in the average home. They are commonly sold as a bare bulb or pre-planted bulb in a neat potted arrangement. In their natural environment, grown in natural conditions, amaryllis bloom in the spring or summer. As a holiday-themed bulb, however, they can easily be forced to grow and bloom indoors as container plants in the wintertime.
You get plenty of plant when growing amaryllis! They don’t need much space or a large pot. They don’t need any special treatment or pruning. Basically, you plant a big bulb in a slightly larger pot, give it a bit of sunlight and water, and a couple of months later, you have jumbo-sized flowers to enjoy in your home when it’s still cold and frosty outdoors.
So, if you’ve decided to add these beautiful flowers to your indoor or outdoor garden, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s dig in and take a deeper look at Amaryllis and all aspects of their care!
Amaryllis Plant Overview
Plant Type Bulb
Native Region South Africa, South America
Exposure Full sun to part shade
Pests & Diseases Red blotch or leaf scorch Bulb rot
Water Keep soil lightly moist
Hardiness Zones 8 to 10
Genus Amaryllis Hippeastrum
Bloom Season Winter, Spring
Soil Type Loose, well-drained
Height 2 to 3 feet
True amaryllis plants of the genus Amaryllis are native to South Africa. There are only two known species of true amaryllis. These original native plants were collected and brought to Europe in the 1700’s and began to be widely cultivated. These wild amaryllis have since naturalized in parts of both the United States and Australia.
The amaryllis plants we buy during the holidays are actually cultivars derived from the genus Hippeastrum and are native to South America.
There are about 90 species of Hippeastrum and hundreds of cultivars. These cultivars have been bred to produce a multitude of colorful, easy-to-grow bulbs which bloom readily indoors.
The common name “Amaryllis” is typically used with all of these plants, causing some confusion about their true origins. Both of the genus Amaryllis and Hippeastrum are in the amaryllis family (Amaryllidaceae). Although these plants look very similar to lilies, they are not related to the lily family (Liliaceae).
Flower Colors & Blooming Profile
Amaryllis come in many cheerful colors to brighten your winter days. The most popular bloom colors include white, pink, and red, with many variations in hue. There are also bi-color blooms with many attractive color combinations. Some are boldly striped, while others have solid color petals with a differently colored edge.
Many flowers are single blooms with six uniformly sized and shaped petals. Fancy varieties may produce double blooms with multiple layers of petals. Flower size is typically around 4 inches across but can be as large as a whopping 10 inches in diameter.
Larger bulbs tend to produce more flowers. Typically a single bulb will send up a single flowering stalk, but occasionally a larger single bulb will send up two or three flowering stalks. Each stalk will generally have between 2 and 4 flowers, although 5 to 6 flowers per stalk is also possible.
Perhaps you received amaryllis as a gift, or perhaps you bought one for yourself. Either way, you can look forward to growing your own beautiful flowers.
If your amaryllis bulb was a holiday gift, you obviously didn’t get to choose your plant. Similarly, if you bought a kit with a bulb enclosed in a box, you probably didn’t get to examine your options before buying.
If, however, you are choosing from a bin full of bare bulbs, you have the opportunity to select the exact bulb you want. The bigger the bulb, the more flowers it can produce. A small bulb may have a single flowering stem with only two or three flowers.
An extra-large bulb, however, may develop two blooming stalks with four or even up to six flowers per stalk. Assuming you are buying an amaryllis to enjoy its flowers, bigger bulbs will be a better choice.
You will also want to choose a bulb that is healthy. The first thing you’ll want to look for is a bulb that feels firm, with no mushy spots. Check to be sure the bulb looks healthy. It will have a brown papery covering and should look fleshy and green underneath the brown.
Avoid buying any bulbs that have mold or areas that look diseased or discolored. If you can, choose one with long, fleshy roots, avoiding those with no roots, blackened roots, or shriveled roots.
Forcing bulbs is a way to trick a bulb into blooming out of its natural season. Many bulbs can be forced to bloom indoors in the winter.
Amaryllis is a popular forced bulb, as are paper-white narcissus, daffodils, and some varieties of hyacinth. Just about anyone with a sunny window and a little bit of patience can force bulbs indoors and enjoy fresh spring flowers in the middle of winter.
If you are going to grow an amaryllis bulb indoors, plant it anytime between October through the end of April. Plants started within this timeframe will bloom between approximately December and late June, approximately eight weeks after planting. If you acquire a bulb but can’t plant it right away, store it in a cool, dry location until you are able to plant it.
If you have multiple amaryllis bulbs, try planting them at different times. Staggering the plantings of your bulbs by planting one bulb each week or two, you can prolong the blooming season.
You can have multiple bulbs, or multiple varieties, growing in individual pots. Each will then have a slightly different blooming period. If you have enough space, you can have amaryllis blooming throughout the entire winter and spring!
It is very easy to plant an amaryllis bulb in a pot. You will need a healthy amaryllis bulb, a pot, some potting soil, water, and a place to set your plant while it grows. Then you’ll need to provide a little bit of your own patience while you await the flowers.
Amaryllis like to be snug in their pots. Choose a pot that fits your bulb well, with approximately 1 to 2 inches of space around the edge of the bulb, but not more than this.
Note that amaryllis can become top-heavy, so choose a pot with a relatively broad base (not narrow) or made of ceramic, or simply be prepared to prop up your plant if necessary.
Always be sure your chosen pot has good drainage holes so the plant will never be sitting in wet soil. Put a saucer under the pot to catch any water that drains out the bottom.
If you bought an amaryllis bulb kit, you can simply use the soil that came with the kit. Some bulb planting kits come with special soilless mixtures, and this is fine too.
Just be sure to follow the directions that came with your plant. The entire planting process with a kit should be very quick and easy because everything is provided for you.
If you have a bulb without a kit, you can use any well-drained potting soil mixture developed for bulbs or houseplants.
You can also mix your own soil using a general potting soil, peat for moisture retention, and pearlite for drainage. Whichever soil you decide to use, just remember that it should be loose, and water should drain quickly rather than staying soggy.
When planting your amaryllis bulb, pay attention to how much of the bulb is above and below the soil surface. You will want the roots and lower ½ to ⅔ of the bulb in the soil and leave the top ½ to ⅓ of the bulb above the soil line. Do not bury the entire bulb in the soil.
Make sure the roots are on the bottom and the more pointed end is upright. If the roots are relatively loose and flexible, spread them out under the bulb before filling the pot with soil. Put a few inches of soil into the bottom of the pot.
Set the bulb on the soil and spread out the roots across the surface. Fill in around the edges of the bulb with soil so the soil level is uniform on all sides, and press the soil until it’s fairly firm. Leave about an inch of space between the soil surface and the rim of the pot.
Place your plant in a bright spot, such as a sunny window. It doesn’t need full sun, but it will do best in a brightly lit location. When the flower buds start to open, you can move your amaryllis to anywhere you would like to enjoy its colorful blooming phase.
Even if it spends a few weeks as a table centerpiece and away from the window, it will continue to bloom.
If you are growing your plant in a sunny window, chances are it will start to lean towards the sunlight. In order to encourage your amaryllis to grow in a more centered and well-balanced way, rotate the pot every couple of days so each side of the plant gets some more direct sun exposure. This will also keep it growing upright with less of a tendency to lean to one side.
Water your bulb immediately after planting it in fresh soil. This will help trigger it to awaken from dormancy and start growing. Then water it sparingly until the plant sprouts.
At this point, your plant is still trying to wake up from its dormancy phase. Once the fresh new sprout appears and starts to grow, water it regularly whenever the soil is dry.
Do allow the soil to dry slightly between waterings. If you keep your bulb too wet, it will rot. If you allow it to dry out for too long after it starts to grow, it will get too dry and die. A good rule of thumb is when you feel the surface of the soil is dry, it’s time to give your bulb some water.
While growing your amaryllis bulbs indoors, the average indoor ambient temperature is usually fine for them to grow. Anywhere between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal for growing and flowering.
When the plant dies back in the fall, you will need to store the bulb at a cooler temperature to give it a chance to rest.
You can grow an amaryllis from seed, but you won’t know the color until it blooms, and this process may take between 3 and 5 years. That’s a long time to wait! The quickest and most reliable way to propagate an amaryllis is by growing the offsets, or smaller bulbs produced from the base of the “mother” bulb.
At the end of the growing season, when you remove your bulb from the pot and place it in storage, you may notice there are a few baby bulbs clinging to the base of the main bulb. These are offsets.
Offsets can be carefully separated from the mother bulb and planted in new pots of their own. It will probably take a couple of years for them to grow large enough to produce their own flowers, but when they do, the flower color and form should be the same as the mother bulb.
The most common issue you may encounter with your amaryllis is probably overwatering. Whether you are growing it indoors or outdoors, be sure to use well-drained soil and don’t allow your plant to sit in soggy soil. Constantly wet roots can easily lead to root rot and then bulb rot. If the roots and bulb rot, there is nothing you can do to salvage your plant.
Red blotch, otherwise known as leaf scorch, is a fungal disease that attacks the leaves. Red blotch causes reddish or brownish, faded-looking areas along the leaves. Infected leaves will eventually appear deformed and withered.
The best way to prevent red blotch is to avoid buying bulbs that appear damaged, rotten or discolored. If a plant develops red blotch, you can try to control by soaking bulbs in hot water (between 104 and 114 degrees Fahrenheit) for 30 minutes. Badly-infested plants are difficult to save and should be discarded.
Amaryllis grown indoors typically do not suffer from insect pests. It is possible to encounter aphids, mealy bugs, or spider mites. If your bulb has these pests, they can often be controlled by spraying with insecticidal soap.
Amaryllis bulbs that are growing outdoors may be subject to more pests, including moles, rabbits, and squirrels. Planting your bulbs within protected cages can help if any of these browsing mammals become a nuisance. Snails may be an occasional problem. Typically, however, amaryllis are not bothered by many pests.
One of the biggest questions you may have is, “What do I do with my amaryllis after it finishes blooming?” Many people discard the entire plant when it has finished flowering, but there’s no need to do that! If you want to keep your amaryllis around, there’s a very good chance you can get it to bloom for many years to come.
After the flowers fade and die, remove the dead flowerheads to prevent any seed formation, as this will direct energy away from active plant growth. You can leave the flower stalk until it turns yellow and dies back as well. If the flower stalk is green, it is still helping the plant collect and store energy for future growth.
As long as the leaves stay green, keep your plant growing in its pot in a sunny window. Leaves will continue to grow for several more months. It’s important to allow the leaves to keep growing because this is how the plant gathers and stores energy for the next blooming cycle.
Water amaryllis regularly, allowing the soil to dry slightly between waterings. You can use a general-purpose houseplant fertilizer during this time to give your plant some extra nutrients. Fertilize once or twice each month during the actively-growing post-flowering phase, following the directions on your fertilizer.
Keep the plant growing until the leaves turn yellow and die, typically sometime in early fall. At this point, trim off the leaves to 2 or 3 inches above the top of the bulb.
Remove the bulb from the soil, carefully brush off any loose soil and place the bulb in a cool, dark place for at least 8 to 10 weeks. After this dormancy phase, bulbs have gathered enough energy for another growth and bloom cycle.
You can store bulbs in a refrigerator or unheated garage or basement for their dormancy period. Note: Do not store amaryllis in the fruit drawer with apples. Gasses released from the apples may prevent the amaryllis bulb from growing or flowering.
After storing the bulbs for at least 8 to 10 weeks, you can repot them whenever you are ready. You can use the instructions provided here for choosing a pot, providing the right soil blend, and giving your plant enough water and sunlight for optimum growth.
Plant them approximately eight weeks before you want them to bloom. Amaryllis bulbs may take anywhere from 7 to 10 weeks from planting until blooming.
If you live in climate zones 7 through 10, it’s possible to plant your amaryllis bulb outdoors. These plants are cold-hardy from zones 8 to 10, although they can usually overwinter in zone 7 if given a hearty layer of mulch through the winter months. If the bulbs are left in pots outdoors without mulch when freezing temperatures hit, they will most certainly die.
If you want to try planting your amaryllis outside after it blooms, wait until after danger of frost. Choose a sunny garden location with loose, well-drained soil. Plant your bulb to the same depth it was planted in the pot. Just remember that before the first frost, you should cover the bulb with mulch to protect it from freezing.
If you live in a warmer climate and want to grow amaryllis outdoors, they make a beautiful addition to the home garden or landscape. You can grow them in clusters of solid colors or mixed colors, and when they bloom, you will have a multitude of large and showy flowers.
Plant them with other bulbs or interspersed with perennials to enjoy colorful flowers throughout the growing season. Assuming your amaryllis survives the winter outdoors, you can expect it to develop a fresh new set of leaves the following spring. Flowers will follow by mid-summer.
Plants growing outside will also be subject to different pests and diseases than plants growing inside. Keep an eye out for snails and slugs that like to feast on the leaves. In general, try to keep your plant in a well-ventilated area and be sure the bulb is never sitting in soggy soil, as this can invite rot, mildew, and fungus.
What if my amaryllis doesn’t bloom?
If your amaryllis grows green leaves but doesn’t bloom, there could be many reasons why. Check the following possibilities that can influence amaryllis blooming success:
- Check to be sure that your plant is allowed to go dormant.
- During dormancy, store it and stored for at least 8 to 10 weeks.
- While storing, ensure the temperature is between 40 and 55 degrees.
- Fertilize regularly during the leaf-growing phase.
- Make sure your plant is allowed to grow and die back naturally.
- Don’t over-fertilize.
What is a “waxed” bulb, and how does it grow?
Some gift catalogs will sell something called “waxed amaryllis bulbs.” These are regular amaryllis bulbs that have been dipped in a colorful wax coating. They are intended to be grown without need of extra pots, soil, or even water. The plant simply uses its stored reserves to grow a stalk and produce a flower. Waxed bulbs are intended to be used as one-time-blooming plants.
After blooming, you can discard the bulb. If you want to compost it, you will need to remove the wax layer first. When saving the bulb to regrow, you will need to carefully remove the wax layer, with minimal damage to the bulb or roots. If you successfully remove the wax layer, treat the bulb as described above and store it in a cool place until the next growing season.
What are the most popular colors?
Red is probably the most commonly encountered amaryllis color. Red and white bicolor blooms are also quite popular. Amaryllis also come in many shades of pink, salmon, and white. Flowers may be bi-color, striped, or edged with contrasting colors. There’s no way to tell which color your plant will be, just by looking at the bulb. The only way to find out for sure is to plant it, and wait for it to grow and bloom.
If you have the chance to grow an amaryllis in your home, it can be extremely rewarding. Not only are these beautiful flowers easy to grow, but they can also be saved from year to year. If you receive this popular holiday themed plant as a gift, don’t just let it go after the holidays.
With proper care, they re-bloom reliably each year and will even grow larger and multiply over time. The flowers are large, showy, and long-lasting and a wonderful way to brighten the winter months.