Forcing a Holiday Favorite – The Amaryllis

Amaryllis-237x300 in Forcing a Holiday Favorite - The Amaryllis and gardeningtipsThe amaryllis has been a flowering staple of the Christmas holiday for many years.  This is quite evident as one walks through the stores during this time.  The bulbs can be found loose in boxes, pre-planted and in a combination of both.  This kit provides a container, potting medium, and a bulb.

When shopping for an amaryllis bulb, one must look at the materials, and skills one has available to them.  If giving the bulb as a gift, one must also look at the materials and skills of those who may receive the bulb.  Another consideration when purchasing a bulb is the color.  The easiest color to find is red but pink, white and variegated varieties do exist.

Once you have chosen your bulb style, the next step is to decide when to plant.  Bulbs that are going to be planted immediately will need to have its roots soaked a few hours in warm water before planting.  This step will help rehydrate the roots.  If the bulb is going to be planted later, then one must place the bulb in a cool environment that is kept between 40 and 50 degrees F.  This environment can be an unheated garage or the refrigerator.  If using the refrigerator though, do not store the bulb with apples.  Bulbs and apples do not mix due to the production of ethylene gas by the apples.  This gas will cause the bulb to not bloom.

The next step in this process is to prepare to plant one’s bulb.  This process starts with cleaning the container and drainage material, if using a potshard.  To do this, simply fill a bucket with water, add one capful of bleach, and then add the container.  Once this is done, scrub the container, rinse and let completely dry.

After the pot has dried, the next step is to begin the planting process.  If you have bought a kit, you have a planting medium available to you.  Most of these planting mediums are a simple compressed disk of a combination of peat moss and potting soil.  To use this medium, just place the disk in a bowl of warm water.  Let it sit until all the material is completely saturated.

If you are using a loose bulb or a kit without planting medium, just use an all-purpose potting soil.

The next step consists of the simple planting process.  Regardless of the type of planting medium you use, the next steps are universal.  To begin this process, place the drainage material in the bottom of the container.  If you do not have any potshards for drainage material consider using a paper coffee filter or packing peanuts.

After the drainage material has been placed in the pot, the next step is to add the potting medium.  This is done by filling the container ¼ full of soil using a hand trowel.  Unlike other bulbs, amaryllis bulbs do not like to be buried and if planted too deep will not bloom.  To prevent this, always check the height of the bulb.

Once the first layer of soil has been added to the container, the next step is to add the bulb.  This is done by loosening up the roots and placing the bulb in the container.  You want to make sure that the bulb sticks out above the rim of the pot or that only 1/2 of the bulb will be covered in soil.  After this check, add soil to the pot until the soil level reaches ½-inch from the top of the pot.  Check the height of the bulb and adjust accordingly.  Once the bulb is set to the correct height, water it in until moisture comes out the bottom of the pot.  Add additional soil if needed.

The next step in this process is to move the bulb to a location that receives direct sunlight and is kept at 68 to 79 degrees F.  Water the bulb sparingly until the stem begins to appear.  Once the stem appears, water again and the wait until the bud appears.  After the bud appears and leaves begin to poke their heads through the bulb, increase the amount of water that is given to the bulb.

Continue to monitor the soil moisture and water accordingly.  After the bulb has flowered and the flower is spent remove the flower from the very top of the stalk.  Once the flower stalk begins to sag, remove it from the bulb.

Maintain a watering and fertilizing schedule after the bulb has flowered.  Once the last chance of frost has passed, place your bulb outside either in its original container or plant in the ground.

Prior to a killing frost and when the leaves of the amaryllis have begun to die back, remove the bulb from the ground or its container.  Knock off any soil from the roots and cut the leaves back to within two inches of the bulb.  Place the bulb in a cool environment for six weeks.

Once the six weeks have past and you are ready to plant your bulb, simply repeat the process described above.

Another more unique way of forcing amaryllis bulbs is the water method.  This procedure requires an amaryllis bulb and a tall vase that is quite heavy.  To begin this process, pick a vase that is the diameter of the bulb and place decorative stones in the bottom.  This will add, not only a decorative touc,h but will also add weight to the container.  Due to the top heaviness of an amaryllis, this is a very important component of this forcing method.

Next, fill the vase with water and place the bulb in the top.  Make sure that the bulb itself is not sitting in water.  Amaryllis bulbs have a tendency to rot if the bottom of the bulb is allowed to sit in water.  The water level should encompass the roots, but not the bottom of the bulb.  After this is done, the care of the bulb is the same as described above except the water will need to be changed daily to prevent fungal and bacterial problems.

So this year, consider giving the individual that has everything a gift that keeps on giving through life and color.  One may wonder what that magical gift may be and the answer is the amaryllis.

Mindy McIntosh-Shetter has been an Agricultural Science educator, and is a horticulture and/or environmental blogger who earned a degree from Purdue University in Agriculture Education with a minor in biology, and natural resources. Presently she is finishing up her Masters in Environmental Education and Urban Planning for the University of Louisville while working on her own agriculture/environmental blog.

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