University of Illinois Extension

Amaryllis for Indoor Color

Brighten up your home and chase away the winter doldrums by potting up amaryllis, Susan Grupp, University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator, recommends.

“For indoor color, Amaryllis (Hippeastrum) is one of the easiest bulbs to grow,” said Grupp. “I look forward to planting one of these bulbs every winter. When we think of them, we probably envision enormous red flowers sitting atop a long, leafless stem. But there are many choices. In the last decade, hybridizers have been busy introducing many new and unusual varieties.”

Depending on where you shop, you may find flower colors such as raspberry, peach, salmon, and orange along with the traditional red, pink, and white, she noted.

“Flowers may be solid colors or brightened up with a stripe of white,” she said. “Some have petal edges or throats with a contrasting color.

“In addition to the single forms, there are doubles, too, which have more layers of overlapping flower petals or their centers are frilled.”

One example, she added, is ‘Dancing Queen’, a double with up to five layers of ruffled red and white petals which look like a petticoat.

A new class of amaryllis is Cybister, which has slender, exotic, spidery flowers. An example of this is ‘Ruby Meyer’ with its thin, ruby-red petals with chartreuse markings.

“Another group, Trumpet Amaryllis, has flowers that resemble an Easter lily, though with smaller flowers, and may also have a light fragrance,” said Grupp. “Other new choices include miniatures, which are smaller, shorter plants.”

Amaryllis can be purchased as bare bulbs, or in easy-to-use kits with the pot and potting mix included, or even as potted plants that have already sprouted. They can be found in garden centers, florists, home improvement stores, mail order, and even supermarkets.

“For the best selection, shop early,” she said. “You may want to buy several to enjoy. I like to plant the biggest bulbs I can find. They are more expensive, but larger bulbs usually mean more flowers.”

If you plant more than one, it is a good idea to stagger the planting dates a few weeks apart so they come into bloom throughout the winter. Another method is to plant varieties that are listed as early, mid- or late-season blooming amaryllis.

An early season amaryllis such as ‘Apple Blossom’ or ‘Vera’ should bloom first; the mid-season amaryllis such as ‘Red Lion’ or ‘Double Record’ should bloom one to two weeks later; and then finally, the late-season ones, ‘Las Vegas’ or ‘Piquant’, should bloom last.

“But remember, plant growth and development are influenced by environmental factors, too, such as the amount of light and temperature, so bloom times may still be hard to predict,” Grupp said.

For a big splash, she recommended planting three, four, or five bulbs of the same variety, all at the same time, in one large pot.

While it is true you can plant amaryllis bulbs in soil or water, probably the most reliable method is soil. For the soil planting method, choose a pot with drainage holes that is just a little bigger than the bulb. Amaryllis like to be pot-bound.

“Bulbs have thick, fleshy roots and you may want to soak them in a shallow container of tepid water for several hours before planting,” she said. “It is not necessary, but if you do this, be sure the bulb itself stays dry and only the roots are immersed in water.

“Purchase a soil-less mix or make your own by combining equal parts of peat moss, perlite or sharp sand and potting soil. Then carefully plant the bulb so the upper third to half--the shoulders and neck--are above the soil line. Water well and never let the pot stand in water. Be sure to drain the excess water from the saucer.”

The pot should be placed in a well-lit spot and the soil kept on the dry side until growth starts.

“Once you see green growth, keep evenly moist but not wet,” Grupp said. “Turn the plant regularly, so it grows straight upward and not toward the light. Give it a quarter turn every day. If plants are allowed to bend toward the light, they tend to topple over.”

You may want to stake your amaryllis, but be careful not to injure the bulb, she noted.

“Once in bloom, move it out of direct sunlight and keep it evenly moist,” she said. “This will help prolong the life of the beautiful blooms.”