Amaryllis is synonymous with Christmas

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Amaryllis 'Christmas Star' Picture courtesy www.hadeco.co.zaAmaryllis 'Christmas Star' Picture courtesy www.hadeco.co.zaAmaryllis makes wonderful gifts for gardeners and never fails to delight, adding dramatic colour to homes and gardens. Traditionally they are grown in pots, but can easily be grown in garden beds. Learn all about growing these gorgeous bulbs at home.

Popular for their festive oversized flowers, amaryllis are commonly sold for the Christmas holiday season. Their magnificent trumpet-shaped blooms demand attention as they stand proudly facing outwards, atop tall thick stems, and come in fabulous shades of pink and magenta, to salmon, orange, red, and white.  Varieties include single flowered, and many with stripes or contrasting edges, and the double flowers from Japan are particularly beautiful.

New hybrids can produce huge flowers up to 22cm across, and a single stem will produce 4 flowers, and large bulbs may produce 2 stems. The latest (Sonatini hybrids) are true miniatures with blooms between 6 and 12cm across.  Although this may not sound small, for Amaryllis flowers it is, and  what these miniatures lack in stature they more than make up for in generosity, with each bulb giving as many as 3 flower spikes, crowned with up to 6 delightful blooms each!

AAmaryllis Symphony 'Rozetta' Picture courtesy www.hadeco.co.zaAmaryllis Symphony 'Rozetta' Picture courtesy www.hadeco.co.zamaryllis must be one of the easiest bulbs to grow, and most will bloom approximately five to six weeks after they are planted, and each bulb will generally produce at least four healthy leaves in order to bloom well next season.  Some species will grow leaves and bloom at the same time, while others will grow leaves only after they have bloomed. 

The plants we commonly call “Amaryllis” are actually Hippeastrum hybrids, and the name Amaryllis correctly belongs to our indigenous Amaryllis belladonna (Belladonna Lily) a genus with only one species, which can be found growing wild in the south-western Cape. Hippeastrums, on the other hand, hail from tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas, from Argentina north to Mexico and the Caribbean.

In the 18th century Dutch growers imported the first bulbs from South America to grow commercially, and this continued into the 19th century with even more botanists and explorers bringing back Hippeastrum species from South American countries. These magnificent blooms truly captured the imagination of plant breeders who worked diligently to create new hybrids and cultivars for the markets. Breeding developments continued throughout the second half of the 20th century, resulting in an explosion of new hybrids and types, in an expanded colour range. This period was also characterized by the establishment of many significant cultural research projects that resulted in the rapid expansion and professionalization of commercial hippeastrum cultivation.

In 1946 two Dutch growers moved to the Union of South Africa and began cultivation here, producing many beautiful hybrids for the world markets, and our bulb growers are still counted amongst the best in the world, with South African bred Hippeastrums being sought after across North and South America, all of Northern Europe, Japan, Russia and Iceland.

They never fail to delight and are certainly well worth investing in, and whether you are purchasing bulbs to plant out yourself, or those already in full bloom, these beauties are sure to steal your heart.

Amaryllis 'Sonatini Assorted' Picture courtesy www.hadeco.co.zaAmaryllis 'Sonatini Assorted' Picture courtesy www.hadeco.co.zaAmaryllis is a wonderful gift to give at any time of the year, but especially during the Christmas season, so spoil a friend, or yourself festive season with a selection of gorgeous Amaryllis - they are quite easy to grow if you understand their needs, and with good care you can enjoy their blooms year after year!

In the Garden & Home:

Amaryllis will add dramatic colour to homes and gardens, and make wonderful gifts for gardeners, from beginners to experts. Traditionally Amaryllis is grown in pots, but it can easily be grown in garden beds if you do not have problems with moles. For the best affect in the garden they need to be planted in groups.

Just like hyacinths, amaryllis bulbs can also be grown in a glass container filled with water , by simply placing the bulbs on top of pebbles or marbles, so the roots grow into the water, but the bulbs remain dry on top of the pebbles.

Cultivation/Propagation:

In the garden Amaryllis will grow in most good, well-drained soils, and enjoys sun to semi-shade. To make the flowers last longer in hot regions you need to plant them where the blooms are shaded at midday.  Water your plants regularly in summer, never allowing the soil to dry out totally, and feed every two weeks during the growing season with a special bulb food or liquid fertiliser for flowering plants.

BAmaryllis Sonata Double 'Alfresco' Picture courtesy www.hadeco.co.zaAmaryllis Sonata Double 'Alfresco' Picture courtesy www.hadeco.co.zaulbs grown in the garden can be left in the soil while dormant provided it is free draining and temperatures don’t drop below freezing in winter. The bulbs will continue to multiply and will only require dividing when they become overcrowded. The mother bulb will produce small ‘bulblets’ and these can be gently teased off and potted, but they will take two or three years to flower again. It is not necessary to water dormant bulbs left in the soil from April to the end of August - wait for the new spring growth to emerge before feeding and watering again. However, if the soil has good drainage, the bulbs will not be damaged if watered lightly, together with other actively growing plants.

If you live in the winter rainfall regions, or have a small garden, you may wish to lift and store the bulbs at the end of summer. Do this only once the foliage has died down naturally in autumn, as this is when the bulb is storing up reserves for the new flowers forming inside.

If you are planting bulbs into containers, it is best to do so before they begin to sprout, and if they are already showing signs of growth, it is important to plant them immediately. Amaryllis do not like big pots, preferring to fit snugly into smaller ones, so select a pot only 3cm larger in diameter than the bulb. Use a good potting mixture that drains very well, and plant so that the top third of the bulb is visible above the potting mixture. Place the pot in a warm location and to prevent root rot, water sparingly until the flower stem appears, then increase watering. Check your plants regularly, because flowering plants are thirsty. Because Amaryllis do not like standing in water, empty excess water from drip trays, and turn the pot regularly so that the plant grows straight.  Deadhead individual spent flowers, and when all the flowers on a stalk are spent, cut it off at the base and allow the plant to continue growing.

When your potted plants are in full bloom, you may prefer to move them indoors to enjoy, or you may move then into a more shady and secluded spot outdoors, which will keep the blooms looking good for longer. Once the leaves have died down naturally at the end of summer, the containers can be moved into a sheltered part of the garden where it is relatively dry and warm, to over-winter.

Amaryllis 'Miracle' Picture courtesy www.hadeco.co.zaAmaryllis 'Miracle' Picture courtesy www.hadeco.co.zaAmaryllis bulbs take approximately 6 to 8 weeks to bloom once planted out, and if you want blooms at Christmas time, plant them out around the 10th of November. This can be done by manipulating the bulbs to flower at a specific time, by placing them in a paper packet and storing them in the refrigerator. This tricks the bulbs into thinking that it is still winter and they remain dormant. Check the stored bulbs regularly, and if they do start shooting, plant them out immediately.

During summer, allow the leaves to continue to grow and nourish the bulb, and continue to water and fertilise the plant. Towards the end of summer gradually reduce watering so that the leaves die back naturally. Once all the leaves are brown, cut them off and allow the bulb to rest by either leaving it in its pot without watering it, or by lifting and storing the bulb in a paper bag placed in a cool, dry place, for at least 2 months. When the bulb is ready to grow again it will start to produce a green leaf or stem, and can then be planted again in fresh soil.

If you are growing your amaryllis indoors, planting and caring for them is the same as for potted specimens growing outdoors. Indoors they will require very good, bright light, and although they don’t need sun, a little sunlight won’t harm them either.  To prevent root rot, water sparingly until the flower stem appears, but when it starts to grow, increase the amount of water you give, and check your plants regularly, because flowering plants are thirsty.

Like hyacinths, amaryllis bulbs can be grown on water. Place the bulbs on top of pebbles or marbles in a glass container and fill with water until just beneath the bulb, and the roots will grow into the water. Amaryllis bulbs grown this way should be discarded once they have finished blooming.

Good amaryllis care will ensure that you enjoy beautiful blooms year after year.

Amaryllis 'Blushing Bride' Picture courtesy www.hadeco.co.zaAmaryllis 'Blushing Bride' Picture courtesy www.hadeco.co.zaProblems, Pests & Diseases:

Long stems and flower heads that fall over could be the result of the plant not getting enough light, overwatering, or being exposed to temperatures that are too low. Next year, place your potted amaryllis in a sunnier, warmer position, hold back on water and try rotating the container every few days.

Hand-pick and destroy snails and slugs as well as the black and yellow amaryllis caterpillar or lily borer which eats the leaves and bores down into the bulb.

Red blotches on the leaves are caused by fungi known as Stagonospora curtisii. Try cutting off the affected part of the leaf as soon as you spot signs of this disease.

Warning:

Amaryllis contains the toxic alkaloid lycorine, which can cause symptoms in pets ranging from vomiting, depression, diarrhoea and abdominal pain to excessive drooling, anorexia and tremors. If your cat or dog is showing symptoms of lycorine poisoning, call your local vet. In humans, eating an amaryllis bulb may cause symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, salivation and diarrhoea. North Carolina State University claims that the plant is toxic only if large quantities are ingested.