Updated: Dec 30, 2022
It's funny that a spring-like South American flowering bulb has become a Christmas Flower! If you have never forced amaryllis you should start. Even the blackest thumb can grow an amaryllis like a master gardener with just a few tips. Kids will love the magic as a large brown bulb sends up a huge foot long flower stalk in just a few weeks followed by leaves. The flowers of the Christmas Amaryllis are dazzling as cold settles in around our homes and frost covers our gardens.
Flowers for Christmas
Amaryllis take about 6-8 weeks to flower so, if you have not already, get your bulbs started for blooming around the holidays. They flower best in temperatures of 70-75 degrees so place them in a warm spot with the bright, indirect light until they start to bloom. Then, remove them to a much cooler area. The flowers do best in night temperatures around 45-55 degrees as they will last much longer. Amaryllis come in many different colors and variations from solid red to striated red and white to pink and many others forms.
The bulb that we force at Christmas is truly called Hippeastrum and is native to South America. Another plant called Amaryllis is actually a South African bulb that is usually planted outside. So really, "Christmas Amaryllis" should be called Hippeastrums, but no one would know what you are taking about outside of horticulture circles. Go forth and wow your garden club with this factoid!
Planting and Forcing
When planting your amaryllis, plant the bulb tip up with the tip extended above soil level and the bulb entirely under the soil. Keep the bulb moderately moist, watering more frequently when the flowers appear. You can also force bulbs in water and stone by just covering the root and basal plate in water. Don't allow the bulb body to sit in water as it will rot.
When the flower stalk begins to appear make sure to rotate the plant to ensure a straight flower stalk. You may also want to stake the stalk for extra support.
Keeping Amaryllis (Hippeastrum)
If you intend to keep your bulb, don't force it in water but soil. Once it has flowered continue to fertilize and water until the foliage starts to die back. At this point you can water only as needed until the foliage dies. Allow the dormant plant to be dry through the summer and cut off any dry or yellow foliage near the top of the bulb. Then next year, reawaken the bulb by watering. You can also plant Hippeastrum in the semi-shade outdoors but you do have to lift them before first frost.
The Symbol of Hope - Huntington's Disease
The Amaryllis is not just a symbol for Christmas is has been adopted as the symbol of the Huntington's Disease Society of America to bring awareness to this neurological disease. For more information visit https://hdsa.org/about-hdsa/about/