Amaryllis Bulb Care
As temperatures drop outdoors, nothing’s better than watching tropical amaryllis bulbs grow and flower indoors. Their large papery-skinned orbs first come to life as bits of green peak from their tops. Stems and flower buds push upward gaining growth daily. Finally, in time for the holiday season, spectacular lilylike blooms unfold on one, two or even three stems. Their show delivers for weeks, outlasting any cut flower bouquets and bringing joy throughout the holidays. No wonder they’re such popular gifts!
Native to South America, amaryllis are tender bulbs about the size of a grapefruit. They are hardy to zone 8, so they won’t survive northern winters. However, they can be grown indoors for an impressive show. The common name, “amaryllis,” is Greek for “amarysso,” meaning to sparkle or scintillate. Living up to their name, these bulbs deliver 8-inch blooms. Premium amaryllis bulbs will sprout as many as three stems, each bearing two to four large blooms. Flowers come in two-tone, double flowering and solid colors ranging from red, pink and white to even green and orange. Try classic ‘Apple Blossom’ in pink and white, ‘Picotee’ in white with narrow red edges or ‘Lion King’ with regal red blooms. Bigger bulbs mean larger the flowers, so invest in premium sized bulbs for a grander show. Note: bulbs imported from South Africa normally take 3-5 weeks to bloom, while ones from Holland take 4-8 weeks.
Potting Up Bulbs
Purchase bulbs either potted or unpotted. If unpotted, start with a container that has a drainage hole and is wide enough to allow one to two inches between the bulb and the edge of the pot (typically a 6-7” pot). Fill the container one-third full of moistened potting soil. Place the bulb – tip up – in the center of the container; add enough soil to cover all but the top third, then finish by watering gently with lukewarm water.
Set the potted bulbs in a sunny warm location (ideally a south-facing window in a 70-80°F room). Keep the soil slightly moist but not soggy. Water sparingly until a flower stalk emerges then water weekly as the top third of the soil dries out. Bulbs that are overwatered will rot. Note: Waxed bulbs do not need water to grow.
Caring For Post-Blooms
After flowering, amaryllis bulbs can be tossed or cared for to rebloom the next year. To recycle, cut off the spent flower stalks leaving the leaves. Next, treat the bulbs as houseplants leaving them in a sunny location and watering as needed. After the threat of frost, move the pots outside to a sunny location or plant the bulbs in the ground in full sun for the summer. Water regularly and fertilize the plants monthly with a balanced fertilizer to help bulbs recharge for another season. In fall, cut off the foliage and move the bulbs to a dark, cool place (e.g., in a garage closet or basement) to rest dormant for two months. The bulbs can then be repotted and brought indoors to grow and flower again. Note: While you can wait until frost blackens the leaves to bring them indoors, the bulbs will rebloom later, typically around Valentine’s Day. If you prefer a holiday bloom, start the dormant phase by Sept. 1.
The National Garden Bureau named the amaryllis the 2023 Bulb of the Year and provides additional resources on its history and care.