Jean Kuehn, UM Extension Master Gardener in Anoka County, December 2014
Do you have an amaryllis that is just not performing as you had hoped? Let’s review how they should be handled. It is so wonderful to see those big vibrant blooms in mid-winter, which is why we grow these bulbs. Red is the most common color, but flowers can be white, pink and more. Usually purchased as bulbs, they can also be bought as plants ready to bloom. Despite our longing for sunlight the amaryllis plants should not be put in direct sunlight while in bloom; shade will prolong the bloom time.
Select large bulbs in good condition to insure your success. Large bulbs will produce more flower stalks and therefore, more blooms. As with any bulb they should be firm, with no signs of mold, decay or cuts.
The container for the amaryllis needs to be deep enough for the root growth but only about 1 inch wider than the actual bulb itself. This seems a little skimpy but that is what they like. Good drainage is needed to prevent root rot. The potting soil should drain well and have sufficient organic matter. Place the bulb so that one-half of the bulb is above the surface of the dirt. Pack the soil firmly around the bulb, water well ,and place the container in a warm, sunny window. Do not fertilize yet; wait until the bulb begins to show signs of growth. When you can see sprouting on the bulb, fertilize weekly. When the buds begin to have slight color, move the plant out of direct sunlight and enjoy the blooms.
Unlike many flowering plants amaryllis should be kept growing even after they are done blooming. Just like your garden flowers, fading amaryllis flowers should be removed to avoid seed formation. The flower stalk should be left until it turns yellow, as this creates food that will be stored in the bulb for the next years bloom. Lots of sunlight after they have finished blooming is critical for this food creation, so put the bulb in a bright spot and continue to water when the soil is dry to the touch. Do not let excess water sit in the bottom of the container. And remember to fertilize the regularly.
When the warmth of spring finally arrives, you can put your plant outside, making certain you take the time to let the plant adjust to the change in temperatures and light conditions. Start with an area of light shade and slowly move it to brighter areas of direct sun for at least 6 hours per day. Digging the pot into the soil will help with moisture retention. Continue to fertilize. As summer winds down remember to bring you amaryllis plant inside. If you want blooms in the winter, place the potted plant in a cool, dark place (like a basement) and do not water. Leave the foliage until it has dries then remove it. A dormant period is not essential for amaryllis but bulbs can be forced into bloom again after resting for 8 to 12 weeks. Force a bloom by moving your plant into bright light and begin watering. Generally blooms develop in 4-6 weeks from dormant bulbs. You could have blooms in March.
Amaryllis plants like to be root bound and so will need repotting only every 3 or 4 years. Repotting should be done after a dormant period. Like any plant the amaryllis requires some attention and care but the blooms in the gloom of winter are so worth it.