Butterfly amaryllis blooming in February 2002Hippeastrum, commonly called amaryllis, is regarded as a holiday plant. Bulbs and pots show up in the nurserys and stores about 8 to 12 weeks before Christmas and Easter. If you buy one or receive one as a gift, plant the bulb with the pointed end up and the top just above the soil surface. Water thoroughly and place in a warm room, avoiding direct sunlight. Keep the soil moist and water more frequently as leaves grow and flowers open. Turn the plant when stems lean toward the light and support the plant with stakes. That bulb will turn into a lovely plant in full bloom in 8 to 12 weeks.

After flowering, water and fertilize regularly. Those big bulbs need a lot of food to produce the next crop of flowers. When the leaves begin to turn yellow, water only as needed until foliage dies. You can keep your pot indoors or bury it in the semi-shade outside when the frost danger has passed. Let dormant amaryllis remain dry through summer. Cut off dry, yellowed foliage just above the bulb and repot every 2-3 years.

You can also plant them in your gardens and they will grow and bloom just fine. Amaryllis will grow in almost any good garden soil as long as it is well-drained. They prefer the south side of the house or wall and where they can get morning and early afternoon sun. The second day after planting, add a 2-inch layer of cow manure. Keep them watered and weed free through the summer. Ideally, late September or early October is the recommended time for planting outdoors. If you are moving bulbs from older crowded beds, transplant them in fall when the foliage turns yellow and begins drooping (a natural process at the end of the growing season). Plant bulbs about a foot apart leaving the tops barely covered with soil. Mulch the planting to conserve moisture and to help control weeds. When grown outdoors, flowers bloom in the spring. The amaryllis pictured above is called Christmas and is blooming now, the first part of February, and I noticed in another area where I have several amaryllis bulbs planted, that a tiny tip of a flower bud is just pushing through.

Red, white and pale green amaryllisOnce they are done blooming, broad, strap-shaped leaves will appear and grow through the summer. When amaryllis leaves get ugly or grow out of control, it's time to prune. They can be trimmed back to within a few inches of the top of the bulb during colder weather.

The foliage is evergreen and many plants will overwinter in the ground. I did cover mine during our January freeze and they came through just fine. I have noticed that one bulb does not have any leaves. That clump has to be dug up and spread out this fall, so I can check at that time to see if it's a dead bulb.

The amaryllis is a tender, flowering bulb, originally from the Andes Mountains of Chile and Peru. The plant was named after a shepherdess in Greek mythology. The word actually means “sparkling” and refers to the lovely blooms. In the language of flowers, the amaryllis represents pride, timidity and splendid beauty. The amaryllis was discovered in 1828 by Eduard Frederich Poeppig, a young physician from Leipzig, on a plant hunting expedition in Chile.