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How to keep an amaryllis flowering for years

The National Garden Bureau has declared 2023 to be the Year of the Amaryllis. Celebrate the occasion with these amaryllis tips from gardening columnist Don Kinzler.

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Amaryllis bulbs make great Christmas gifts such as these from Baker Garden & Gift in south Fargo. David Samson / The Forum
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When anyone gives me directions and follows with the phrase “You can’t miss it,” my heart sinks, because if anyone can miss it, I will. The same goes with “no fail fudge.”

Naturally then, years ago I was hesitant when I was gifted my first amaryllis-in-a-box kit, with the directions “Just add water and watch it bloom!” Lo and behold, it worked!

Amaryllis bulbs produce the largest flowers that can be grown indoors, and if you’ve never tried one, you should. It’s fascinating to watch the huge, trumpet-shaped flowers sprout from the large bulbs, and it’s hard to believe something so dramatic can be so simple. Let’s investigate.

Because of the flower’s popularity, the National Garden Bureau has declared 2023 the Year of the Amaryllis. These bulbs that have become so popular around the holiday are natives to tropical climates, which provides clues to their care.

The word “amaryllis” originated from the Greek word meaning to sparkle. The amaryllis bulbs we enjoy today produce flowers ranging from four to ten inches in diameter, either single or double, in red, white, pink, salmon, apricot, rose or deep burgundy.

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An amaryllis blooms in this Dec. 31 photo. Getting an amaryllis to bloom a second time can be a challenge. Dave Wallis / The Forum

There are two ways to buy amaryllis bulbs. Some are packaged in kits that contain bulb, pot, potting mix and instructions. Bulbs are also sold alone.

Select the largest bulbs available, because the larger the bulb, the more flowers and stalks. Blooming-size bulbs range from 26 to 28 centimeters in circumference to huge bulbs measuring 34 to 36 centimeters.

How to plant

  • Select a pot that’s only about one inch wider than the widest part of the bulb, because amaryllis bulbs like to be crowded in the pot.  
  • Fill the pot half full with a potting mix that’s high in peat moss. If the mix is dry, pre-moisten before adding to the pot.  
  • Set the bulb in the pot so the roots rest on the potting mix. The bulb should sit up above the edge of the container.  
  • Fill around the edges of the bulb with pre-moistened mix and when finished, about one-third of the bulb should be visible above soil level. Amaryllis bulbs should not be totally buried in potting mix.  
  • Water until a little drains out the pot’s bottom, discard excess, and set the pot on a saucer and place in a sunny window.
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Amaryllis bulbs are a fun gift that can be re-bloomed for many years. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

How to grow

  • Water when the top two inches of potting mix feels dry and discard any drainage. 
  • Fertilize each time you water, using water-soluble blossom booster-type fertilizer at half the recommended strength, when new growth is visible. 
  • Move the plant out of direct sunshine when flower buds begin to open. At that stage, sunshine would shorten the blossoms’ longevity. 

After-flowering care

  • The secret to future flowering is to keep the plants actively growing and healthy after they’ve finished blooming.  
  • After flowers fade, cut off the flowers, but do not remove the green stalk to which the blossoms are attached until the stalk turns yellow, then remove it also. 
  • Keep the plant growing in a window receiving direct sunshine. Continue to water as you would other houseplants and fertilize regularly.  

Move the plant outdoors

  • For the amaryllis to bloom again, the plant must be kept healthy and growing throughout summer.  
  • Move the amaryllis outdoors in late May to a location where it will receive full sunshine for at least six hours. The potted amaryllis can be kept on a patio or deck, or the entire pot can be sunk into a sunny flowerbed. It’s not necessary to remove the bulb from the pot.  
  • Continue to fertilize at least monthly with an all-purpose water-soluble fertilizer.  
  • Bring indoors when temperatures drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. They won’t survive a frost.  

Reblooming

  • Unlike some bulbs, a rest or dormant period is not a necessity. Amaryllis will bloom again if kept growing, when the plant stores enough energy to produce a flower bud.   
  • If desired, though, bloom time can be controlled by letting the bulb go dormant by storing the potted plant in a cool, dry, dark location between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Do not water, and leave for about 10 weeks. Move to a sunny spot and resume water and fertilizer. Growth should start soon after. 
  • If an amaryllis fails to bloom and produces only leaves, it means the bulb hasn’t yet received what it needs to form an interior flower bud. Provide plenty of sunshine, fertilize regularly, give it a summer vacation outdoors and the amaryllis will flower, usually once a year. 
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Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, is the horticulturist with North Dakota State University Extension for Cass County. Readers can reach him at donald.kinzler@ndsu.edu.
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