By Matt Gibson and Erin Marissa Russell
The massive blooms of the amaryllis flower are native to the tropical climates of Central and South America, and are the result of the careful breeding of hybrids by crossbreeding several plants from the Hippeastrum genus. These plants are known for their long, strap-like leaves and large, exotic, trumpet-lily shaped flowers that bloom in shades of red, orange, white, pink, and salmon at the top of each stalk. Some amaryllis species produce flowers with multicolored, striped, or spotted designs, usually in various combinations of white, red, and pink.
The ornamental plant is popular both for its fabulous flowers, and for how easy it is to grow successfully. There are very few prospects in the garden that are more exciting than an amaryllis bud that is yet to open up for all to see. The blossoms can be single or double, and are simply huge, clocking in anywhere between four and ten inches across, depending on the cultivar.
It is quite easy to get amaryllis flowers to bloom when you want them to, even during the winter time, which is one of the main reasons why they have become a holiday fixture in recent years, like the poinsettia, and the christmas cactus. Due to their festive white and red blooms which are naturally paired with medium-green foliage, the amaryllis plant is quite simply, the perfect christmas decoration.
Amaryllis plants grow between one and two feet tall with a nine to 12 inch base. Hardy to USDA zones eight to ten. If you live in one of these zones, you can plant your amaryllis directly in the garden. If you live outside these climates, you can raise amaryllis in your home, or in a climate controlled greenhouse.
Varieties of Amaryllis
The many different varieties of amaryllis present a wide selection of flower colors and designs, with some containing multiple colors, stripes, and spots. Some cultivars produce single blooms, while others offer double. With over 500 varieties to sort through, choosing which amaryllis to grow can be a tough decision, because it’s basically a beauty contest between the different flowerheads available, and so many of them are too lovely to pass up on. It may be just as hard deciding which one’s not to grow than which to grow. But, no matter how difficult, decisions must eventually be made. Here’s 21 of our favorites to help you narrow down the list:
Alfresco – A double-blooming variety with pure white flowers with granny-smith apple green centers. Grows to a height of nearly 2 feet tall.
Amputo – Light, but pleasantly-sweet, white, lily-like flowers decorate this highly-coveted cultivar. At maturity, the Amputo amaryllis stands between 17 inches and two feet tall.
Apple Blossom – Perched atop one and a half to two foot stems, the Apple Blossom amaryllis flower head is white with pink streaks and a pale green center. Considered a delicate variety.
Black Pearl – There is nothing particularly black about the deep maroon flowers of the Black Pearl cultivar. Growing nearly two feet high, the flower’s silky-textured petals make it look strange in the sunlight.
Chico – The odd, beautiful, but rather ominous, spider-like blooms of the Chico varietal, make it one of the most distinctive cultivars available. Just under 20-inch-stems display the eerie green and fuchsia blooms.
Clown – The Clown is one of the most beautiful amaryllis blooms available. It displays a white flower that looks as if it was painted with red stripes with quick, haphazard brush strokes, and a green center, giving it every christmas color simultaneously, in just the bloom itself, which sits atop nearly two-foot-tall stems.
Emerald – Both elegant and eccentric, the Emerald variety of amaryllis is a work of art on a stem. The frilled white-green flower petals are highlighted by red edging. The flowers rest on stems that grow 15 to 18 inches high.
Exotic Star – At just under two feet in height, the Exotic Star shows off the reason why it got its name. It is a garden star, to be sure, and the white, raspberry-striped, star-shaped blooms it creates, are a sight for sore eyes.
Fairy Tale – The short but stunning Fairy Tale cultivar produces a white and red-veined bloom that’s beauty more than makes up for the variety’s short stature.
Faro – This plant has delicate, salmon pink and white flowers, which are much smaller than the majority of amaryllis flower heads.
Green Goddess – This variety’s white lily-like flowers have green centers and are smaller, and more dainty than most amaryllis blooms. The Green Goddess plant grows to about 17 inches high.
Ice Queen – The blooms of the Ice Queen cultivar are distinguished by strange, spider-like pure-white petals painted with green.
Matterhorn – If you want a predominately white amaryllis cultivar, Matterhorn’s large, pure-white flowers colored with yellow-green throats stand out from the pack.
Monaco – The Monaco cultivar’s blooms have candy-apple red petals with white and green centers
Mont Blanc – Another large flower head with white petals and green centers, the star-shaped blooms on the Mont Blanc cultivar rest nearly two feet high.
Papilio – Most amaryllis flowers are held up by a single stem. The Papilio cultivar’s red and white-veined blooms are instead held up by several stems, which reach about 20 inches high.
Red Lion – Growing nearly two feet high, the large, eye-catching deep-red blooms of the Red Lion variety are considered show-stoppers.
Royal Velvet – The velvety-textured, dark-red blooms of the Royal Velvet variety sit atop the 20 inch high spike.
Samba – The 20 inch tall Samba cultivar produces big, bright-red, ruffled flowers that have white markings and edging.
Sumatra – Sumatra’s double blooms are distinguished by its slender peach-green petals and apple-green throat. Reaches two-feet at maturity.
Summertime – This variety is known for its massive seven-inch blooms and their rare pink to deep rose-colored petals with green centers.
Growing Conditions for Amaryllis
Amaryllis thrives in full sun to partial shade locations. If you are growing the flower outside, the best choice is a spot with bright shade and a well-draining, nutrient rich soil. If you are growing amaryllis in planters kept indoors, they will appreciate morning sun exposure, bright afternoon shade, and a high-quality, well-draining potting mix. As a tropical plant, the amaryllis is partial to warm, humid environments. Outdoors, they grow well in zone eight, and in zone seven, they can be overwintered in their beds if provided with a thick mulch layer for added insulation.
The bulbs are just as easy to grow indoors as they are in the garden, as long as you live in the right climate. They make great outdoor plants as well, thriving in beds, borders, and containers alike. Amaryllis plants look stunning when planted in groups, but they can also be spread out randomly in naturalized areas. You shouldn’t have too much trouble with foragers, as amaryllis bulbs are rodent and deer resistant.
How to Plant Amaryllis
To get amaryllis bulbs ready to plant, soak the base of the bulb and the roots in lukewarm water for two to three hours. If you can’t plant them as soon as you get them, remember to keep them in cool temperatures until planting time, ideally between 40 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Being very careful not to injure the roots, gently plant your bulbs into a nutrient-rich potting compost. You should be able to find a pre-mixed potting compost at a nursery or garden center if you don’t make your own compost at home. Tamp the soil down firmly by hand to set the bulb into place right after planting.
Because heat is needed for stem development, you will need to plant the bulb, or place your planter in a warm location with a direct light source. Provide temperatures as close to 68 or 70 degrees F as possible and water occasionally until the stem sprouts up. Once the bud and leaves begin to appear, increase waterings. Soon, the stem will develop quickly and flowers will start to grow after the stem finishes growing.
New bulbs should be planted with the rest of your spring blooming ornamentals, during autumn. If you bought, or were given young amaryllis plants, they should be moved outside during the spring once threats of frost have passed. Wait until blooming ends, then gradually start to harden them off, introducing them to their new homes over the course of a week, increasing the amount of time spent outside each day.
Care for Amaryllis
Provide your amaryllis water when the top two inches of soil are dry to the touch. Just after flowering, cease watering so that the plant can enjoy a dry break to reset bulbs for upcoming blooms. Manipulating the watering schedule is a large part of forcing the flower into seasonal blooming, which we will in further detail below.
Feed your amaryllis every two to three weeks with a half-strength water-soluble fertilizer. Withhold food after flowering to help induce dormancy for bulb resetting. When the flowers fade back, cut the stalk back just above the bulb. Continue watering until the plant goes dormant in autumn. Feel free to move your plants to a part-shade location outdoors during the summer.
For outdoor amaryllis, feed at least once upon seeing new growth in the early spring, though additional feedings can be given using a balancing fertilizer during the growing season. Keep your plants moist throughout the season, though they are pretty drought tolerant if you forget a watering or two. Once they are moved outside, amaryllis bulbs revert back to their natural cycle, blooming in the spring. Once flowers fade, cut back the stalks and enjoy the foliage through the summer. The plant will succumb to the fall frosts and will sprout back in the following spring.
Add a 2 inch mulch layer to improve moisture retention, reduce weeds and protect the plant’s roots from cold weather conditions. If provided with adequate care, you will see blooms every year. Once established, amaryllis doesn’t need much attention. When plants get overcrowded, divide the clumps and separate. Boost blooms with bone meal or a bloom-boosting fertilizer treatment.
For indoor amaryllis container gardening, bulbs will flower seven to ten weeks after planting. The winter will have longer bloom periods than the spring, so keep this in mind when you decide on your planting schedule between October and April. If you want continuous blooms, plant bulbs at 2 week intervals.
Once the amaryllis stops flowering, it can be forced into a second round of blooms by cutting the old flowers from the stem and cutting the stem back to the top of the bulb as it starts to sag. Continue to water and provide fertilizer throughout the summer as you normally would, at least until the leaves fully develop. When leaves start to yellow in the early fall, cut them back to two inches from the bulb’s top and remove the bulb from the ground.
Clean the bulb by brushing off any excess dirt with a dry washcloth. Store in a cool, dark location around 40 to 50 degrees F, like the crisper drawer of your refrigerator for at least six weeks. Do not store amaryllis bulbs in the fridge if you also have apples stored there, as the apples will sterilize the bulbs. After the six weeks have passed, pull the bulbs out and plant them wherever you like.
4 Ways to Manage Amaryllis Blooms
- Encouraging seasonal blooms with new indoor plants.
When planting amaryllis bulbs, plant them in a pot 10 to 12 weeks prior to the time you want them to begin blooming. Using a high-quality potting mix with ample drainage, plant amaryllis bulbs keeping the top one-third of the bulb above the soil.
Fill in the remainder of the pot with more potting mix and stake the planter with a bamboo stalk buried just next to the bulb. Amaryllis flowers are known for growing top-heavy. Putting your support brace in place early will keep you from damaging the roots and bulb when you stake it into the soil at a later date.
Keep the bulb planter in a bright spot with indirect sun, and water well to provide a steady moisture level in the soil, keeping it damp at all times, but not overly wet. A thick flower stalk should grow within two to three weeks. The flat foliage of the plant will come next as the stalk matures. Every few days, turn the pot so that the flower stalk gets a good amount of sun on all sides and grows straight, instead of leaning to try to face the sun.
- Forcing an existing plant into a holiday bloom machine
To make your amaryllis produce blooms during the holiday season, cut the flower stalk back after the blooming season wraps up but let the leaves keep growing. Move the planter outside for the summer and keep it in a partial shade location. Keep the soil slightly moist, but never soggy or wet.
Discontinue feeding in August. In September or October, when you normally drag plants indoors for winter storage, drag your amaryllis to a cool, dry location and discontinue watering. The leaves will be in the process of dying back. If you want blooms at a specific time during the holidays, like on Christmas, or Thanksgiving day, just count backwards about 10 to 12 weeks from the bloom day to find out when to stop watering your amaryllis.
The lack of leaves and the waterless period will make the plant send out a second flower stalk. When the second stalk goes up, begin supplying water again, and relocate the planter to a warm, sunny location. You should begin seeing leaves in no time, and blooms will follow suit. After the flowers die back naturally, start the whole process over again from the beginning, cutting the flower stalk back after the blooming season is complete, but allowing the leaves to continue to grow.
- Letting potted amaryllis reflower naturally
To encourage your potted flower to re-bloom, cut the flower stalk off after initial flowering stops but let the leaves keep growing as long as possible. Keep the planter in bright light, whether outside or in, and keep the soil in the planter slightly moist, but not soggy, or wet.
Discontinue feeding in August and bring it inside before the frosts come. Place the planter in a cool location with bright, indirect light. Foliage will begin to turn yellow and fall off near December. Keep up regular waterings and new flower stalks will sprout up in a month or two.
When new flower stalks return, resume feeding and move the plant into direct sunlight. Leaves will sprout next, then flower buds will appear. Once these flowers fade, it’s time to restart the cycle. Allowing reblooming will help the plant grow larger and produce more blooms.
- Managing amaryllis blooms in the garden
Amaryllis bulbs are hardy to zones eight through ten, and can be planted directly into the garden in those zones. If your garden is in a frost-free climate, plant your amaryllis bulbs with their necks just at, or just above ground level. In areas prone to frosts, give the bulbs five to six good inches of soil above them for insulation and an additional five to six inches of organic mulch on top of the soil for even more insulation to keep them protected from the expected freezes. Water deeply just after planting to help plants adjust to their new surroundings. After first watering, only provide water once the top two inches of soil have dried out.
When the plant starts to produce new leaves, feed it with a balanced fertilizer, and refeed once per month until April. Amaryllis typically flowers in March, April, and May. When flowering ends, remove the stalks but allow the leaves to keep growing. Cut off any leaves that turn yellow as you notice them. From the month of June until September, water only during especially dry periods in which the plant is receiving no rainfall. In autumn put down a layer of winter mulch if you expect frosts. Amaryllis usually goes into dormancy during the winter.
How to Propagate Amaryllis
Propagation of Amaryllis is very simple. The bulbs will produce side bulbs just like daffodils, which can be carefully removed and potted in separate containers to supply additional plants. Allow the plant several seasons before expecting flowers, as the plants can take several years before maturing enough to start producing blooms.
Garden Pests and Diseases of Amaryllis
When amaryllis plants are raised in greenhouses, they tend to deal with more plant diseases and insect infestations than when they grow outside the greenhouse in gardens or homes. The amaryllis flowers you buy at nurseries and garden centers will almost always have been raised in a greenhouse, so before introducing a new amaryllis to your collection, give the plant a good once-over to make sure it is healthy before making your purchase. Inspect bulbs for signs of bugs or illness when you purchase them, too. Below you’ll find basic information on the pests and diseases a gardener of amaryllis should be familiar with.
Aphids & Other Phloem Feeders: Phloem feeders, such as aphids, mealybugs, and spider mites, sustain themselves by feasting on the leaves of amaryllis plants. If left untreated, aphids and mealybugs can cause yellowing and wilting, as well as a decline in plant vigor. If you notice sooty mold growth or the presence of ants on your amaryllis plants, it could mean you have aphid or mealybug infestations on your hands. Yellow leaf stippling is a sign of spider mites. Remove aphids, mealybugs, and mites from your plants by blasting them with a forceful spray of water from the garden hose. Repeat this dousing as many times as is necessary to rid the plants of all tiny flying bugs. If knocking the pests off with water isn’t cutting the mustard, you might want to look into insecticidal soap.
Bulb Mites: Though you may not notice the damage that bulb mites are doing to your amaryllis at first, it doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem. The tiny, oval, spider-like creatures enter damaged amaryllis bulbs and feed on both damaged and healthy bulb tissue alike. Bulb mites often come with bacterial and fungal diseases. Stunted growth is a sign of bulb mite presence. Prevent bulb mites by keeping plants healthy with proper previsions and careful handling. There is no effective treatment options for bulb mites other than prevention techniques.
Chewing Insects: Caterpillars and grasshoppers are both known to chew holes through the leaves and flowers of the amaryllis plant. grasshoppers and caterpillars both tend to be present in high numbers when their natural predators (such as parasitic wasps) are not able to control their populations. Insecticides for large populations of grasshoppers and caterpillars are a waste of time in small garden scenarios. Instead, pick grasshoppers and caterpillars off your plants by hand and drop them into a bucket of soapy water.
Fungus Gnats: These relatives of the fruit fly are common in gardens that stay too damp due to poor drainage, excessive rainfall, or over watering from the gardener. You may encounter these tiny flying insects wherever organic materials are decomposing, such as in soggy soil, around bags of potting soil, or near the compost pile. They can especially be a challenge in indoor gardens, greenhouses, container gardens, nurseries, and greenhouses but are uncommon in the outdoor garen. If your garden is severely infested, you may see silvery, slimy trails across the soil’s surface in addition to spotting the winged adults and white or clear larvae with black heads.
A normal amount of fungus gnats is more annoying than dangerous for plants, but when the population of these insects rises, the larvae can damage plants they feed on by harming the root system. Affected plants may have stunted growth or wilted foliage, especially young plants and seedlings, and if the infestation is especially severe, it can be fatal. Treat a fungus gnat problem by correcting overly wet conditions. Gardeners should make sure not to overwater and reduce the amount of organic material in the soil they are using to resolve the issue.
Narcissus Bulb Fly: When amaryllis plants are kept outside during warm weather, sometimes a narcissus bulb fly will choose the bulbs as a spot to lay its eggs. Once the eggs hatch, maggots emerge that will consume the scales on the surface of the bulb for nourishment, tunneling into the bulb’s interior. A plant with narcissus bulb flies will display symptoms such as distorted, yellowed, or wilted foliage, and the infestation can eventually be fatal if left untreated. Infested bulbs may look healthy, but if you squeeze or press the outside of the bulb, its texture will show that it has rotten tissue inside. Narcissus bulb flies are difficult to chase off, even with insecticide, once they take hold, so destroy infested bulbs as soon as you can—hopefully before the insects can spread.
Nematodes: If your amaryllis begins to look thirsty or depleted out of nowhere, it could be because the plants are infested with the tiny, wormlike pests known as nematodes. Prevention is the most effective way to defend your plants against nematodes. Select disease resistant crops when possible and keep unhealthy plants isolated. Marigolds planted nearby will help to protect surrounding plants and deter nematodes naturally.
Red Blotch/Leaf Scorch: This fungal disease caused by Stagonospora curtisii is common on amaryllis and is not normally fatal. Infected plants have red lesions that eventually form longer canker sores that have red edges. These spots tend to appear at the base of the flower stem or on new leaf shoots. It can be difficult to differentiate this symptom from the pink or red areas you may see on healthy amaryllis bulbs. However, in healthy plants the tissue under the discolored area should be pale and clear. Plants with red blotch may have distorted leaves that grow larger and longer with sunken areas. Weakened foliage can allow flower stems to easily break and collapse.
Prevent red blotch in your garden by choosing amaryllis bulbs carefully to select those that do not have cankers or other damaged areas. Use new potting soil every time you pot a plant or transplant it to a new container, and ensure your potting soil is sterile. Clean and sterilize gardening tools such as pruners or stakes with rubbing alcohol before and after use as well as between every plant you work with to avoid spreading diseases. Combined with proper plant care, these precautions are often sufficient to keep red blotch at bay, but particularly difficult infections can be treated with a systemic fungicide if needed.
Amaryllis is a gorgeous flower and a must-have for ornamental gardeners who live in the proper zones. For those that live outside of the sweet spot for growing amaryllis outdoors, growing these flowers in the house will add color and beauty, and can help decorate your home for the holidays like never before. If you haven’t grown amaryllis and felt the excitement of awaiting the opening of their bursting buds, it’s time to change that.