Photo by: Lynn Whitt / Shutterstock

With their ability to produce large, vibrantly colored blooms indoors in the depths of winter, amaryllis rivals the poinsettia as one of the most popular holiday flowers. The spectacular trumpet-shaped blooms brighten the dreariest day and instantly banish the winter doldrums. And depending on when you plant it, amaryllis can actually flower through early spring, enhancing your home with its floral beauty until the outdoor planting season arrives.

Not only are these breathtaking plants easy to grow, they will often rebloom year after year. “One amaryllis lights up a room; a group of three or more creates a spectacular display. Yet for all the floral pyrotechnics they deliver, these blooms are simple to cultivate and will, given proper care, provide multiple years of pleasure," says Starr Ockenga, in her book Amaryllis, which is illustrated with photos of more than 90 different varieties.

On this page: Amaryllis Basics | How to Grow | Amaryllis Pictures | Bulb Buying Tips

AMARYLLIS BASICS

Botanical name:

Hippeastrum

Plant type:

A tropical bulb, native to South America.

When to plant:

October until the end of April. It usually takes six to eight weeks for amaryllis to bloom, so for New Year's showstoppers, plant the bulbs in November. If you want the lily-like blooms in time for Easter, plant in February.

Flowering period:

7 to 10 weeks

Height:

12 to 36 inches

Flower size:

Six to 10 inches across, usually produced three or four per stem.

Colors/varieties:

You'll typically find amaryllis in various shades of red, white, pink, peach, or apricot, but there are also many striped, multicolored, and picotee selections. More recent introductions include double-flowered and dwarf varieties.

Precautions:

All parts of the plant can be toxic if ingested, especially the bulb. Keep away from children and pets.

HOW TO GROW

Planting:

Place the bulb in potting mix pointed side up, with its "neck" and “shoulders" above the soil surface. Place in a warm, well-lit spot (such as a south-facing window) until the bulb sprouts. Growth generally begins in two to eight weeks. To enjoy a continuous season of bloom—from the winter holidays until early spring—Ockenga suggests staggering your bulb planting by storing some bulbs in a cool, dry place, such as a basement or garage, and bringing them out of their slumber a few at a time.

Container:

Choose a heavy pot, such as clay or ceramic, to counterbalance the weight of the large flowers. Amaryllis bloom best when they are pot-bound, so the container should only be an inch or two wider than the diameter of the bulb. Once your plant takes off, a support stake may be needed to hold the blooms upright, especially for long-stemmed varieties.

Soil:

Average potting soil works fine, but the addition of perlite or sand will help to improve drainage and prevent soggy soil.

Water:

Give the bulb a good watering at planting time, and then water sparingly until growth starts. Overwatering when you first pot an amaryllis can cause bulb rot and poor root development. After the plant begins to develop foliage, keep the soil slightly moist. Watering once a week should be sufficient, depending on the heat and humidity in your home.

Lighting/temperature:

Since amaryllis are native to the tropics, warmth and sunlight will encourage them to break dormancy. Place newly potted bulbs in a brightly lit room at 65° to 75° F. Once they begin blooming, move them out of direct sunlight and into a cooler location to prolong the blooming period. Turn the pot a little every day to prevent your plant from leaning toward the light source.

Fertilizer:

A healthy amaryllis bulb contains all the nutrients it needs to bloom. But if you plan to keep your plant for reblooming next year, feed it regularly with a water-soluble houseplant fertilizer.

Growing in water:

It’s also possible to grow an amaryllis in water in a clear glass container, to show off the beauty of the entire bulb. Nestle the roots around a base of pebbles and keep the water level no higher than the base of the bulb, changing it periodically. Be aware that this growing method can deplete the bulb’s reserves, so it may take several years for the plant to bloom again.

Growing outdoors:

In frost-free areas of the South and West (Zones 8-10), amaryllis can be grown outdoors in the garden as perennials. Plant the bulbs in early fall for blooms the following spring. The bulbs can stay in the ground untended, where they will continue to re-flower and multiply for years to come.

Aftercare:

After all the flowers have faded, remove the stalks but leave the foliage intact. It will produce the fuel the bulb needs to flower again next year. With proper care, an amaryllis bulb can last for decades, but it needs a period of rest to replenish its resources. The horticulturists at Iowa State University Extension and Outreach offer tips on getting your amaryllis to bloom again.

PICTURES

Swipe to view slides

Photo: Yundengogo / Shutterstock

Giant Amadeusbuy now on Amazon
(Hippeastrum ‘Giant Amadeus’)

Best assets: Double-blooming, with enormous frilly white flowers enhanced by rose-colored veining and pale green throats.

Height: 1 to 2 feet

Flower size: 10 inches

Time from planting to flowering: 6 to 10 weeks

Photo: Catherine M Hollander / Shutterstock

Red Lionbuy now on Amazon
(Hippeastrum ‘Red Lion’)

Best assets: Velvety crimson petals create a breathtaking holiday display.

Also try:Hippeastrum ‘Ferrari’, another holiday classic with deep red blooms, set off by white anthers.

Height: 18 to 24 inches

Flower size: to 8 inches

Time from planting to flowering: 6 to 10 weeks

Photo: Sarycheva Olesia / Shutterstock

Minervabuy now on Amazon
(Hippeastrum ‘Minerva’)

Best assets: Extra-large lipstick-red petals with prominent white markings forming the shape of a star. Grows up to 2 feet tall.

Also try:Hippeastrum ‘Stargazer’, another bright-red bloomer with well-defined white stars.

Height: 18 to 24 inches

Flower size:8 inches

Time from planting to flowering: 6 to 8 weeks

Photo: Anne Kitzman / Shutterstock

Apple Blossombuy now on Amazon
(Hippeastrum ‘Apple Blossom’)

Best assets: A midwinter breath of spring, with creamy white blossoms, soft pink veining, and lime green throats. Each flower stalk produces four or more blooms.

Height: 18 to 24 inches

Flower size:7 to 8 inches

Time from planting to flowering: 6 to 8 weeks

Photo: george photo cm / Shutterstock

Alfrescobuy now on Amazon
(Hippeastrum ‘Alfresco’)

Best assets: Sumptuous double white flowers accented by chartreuse-green eyes. Shorter, stouter stems provide good proportional balance and support.

Height: 12 to 14 inches

Flower size:6 inches

Time from planting to flowering: 4 to 6 weeks

Photo: Flying Mouse / Shutterstock

Picoteebuy now on Amazon
(Hippeastrum ‘Picotee’)

Best assets: Pure lily-white petals crisply outlined in red. Elegant and sophisticated.

Height: 20 to 24 inches

Flower size:6 inches

Time from planting to flowering: 7 weeks

BULB BUYING TIPS

  • Amaryllis are sold as dormant bulbs, pre-potted bulbs ready for bloom, or plants already in flower. Bulbs, which are typically available in autumn for winter or spring flowering, are the most economical option and offer the greatest color selection. Mail-order suppliers generally offer a greater variety than local garden centers.
  • Think big when buying a bulb because the larger the bulb, the more flower stalks and blooms it will produce. Many amaryllis bulbs are imports from countries that use the metric system, so they are measured in centimeters at their widest circumference. An average-sized bulb is typically 26 to 28 centimeters, or just a bit larger than a baseball. Bulbs labeled as “giant" or “jumbo" may be even larger (34 to 36 centimeters) and will usually produce multiple flower stalks and thus more flowers.
  • If you are purchasing bulbs from a local garden center, make sure the bulbs are firm, like an onion, and free of soft spots and discoloration. Avoid any that feel squishy or have dark spots on the surface, which could be signs of rot.
  • Store newly purchased bulbs in a cool place (about 40° to 50° F) until you plant them. If you’ve purchased bulbs by mail, check them upon arrival. If the pointed tip of the flower spathe is emerging, your bulb is already growing and should be planted right away.
  • Before the holidays, you’ll often find amaryllis bulbs sold in a decorative casing of brightly colored wax. Completely self-sustaining, they don’t need water or soil to flower. Simply place them in a brightly lit room. The downside is that they have a short shelf life and will bloom only once. Get your own waxed amaryllis from Terrain.
  • Dwarf amaryllis have all the wonderful qualities of their larger cousins but are often more prolific and longer lasting. Expect each bulb to produce a larger number of smaller flowers per stem and more stems per plant

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