YARD AND GARDEN: Change up your holiday plant tradition with amaryllis | Home & Garden

Master Gardener Juanita Sherwood introduces you to amaryllis.

By now, Thanksgiving is over and your focus is on Christmas. Maybe you are one of those people who regularly buy a poinsettia or two for yourself, and some as gifts for friends and family. I like at least one for myself and have sometimes bought one of the newer varieties just for a change. I especially like the one that looks like it has been splattered with paint.

While poinsettias are a great tradition, there is another holiday plant that you might not want to overlook, both for yourself and as gifts, and that is the amaryllis. Amaryllis bulbs were brought to Europe from Africa in the 1700s, but our current amaryllis originated in Central and South America.

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Amaryllis grows from a bulb. Bulbs can be purchased as a loose bulb in a bin at a garden center, in a box with an enclosed pot and potting medium, or from a catalog or online with a decorative pot that complements the bloom and also includes a potting medium. Select the largest bulbs available for more flowers. Make sure bulbs are firm and dry with no signs of damage, mold, or decay.

I was thrilled a few years back to find a bulb in a bin at a reputable garden center that displayed a lovely light pink bloom on a picture over the bin. Brought it home, potted it, lovingly cared for it, and waited for the plant to do its thing.

Guess what—when it bloomed, it was the same old red. It was a lovely plant, but a disappointment because I was expecting it to be a delicate shell pink. Guess loose bulbs can get mixed up from bin to bin.

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Amaryllis can come in white or many shades in the red/pink spectrum. Blooms can be trumpet-shaped, or in the case of double varieties, very showy blooms with extra petals and a variety of shapes. A few blooms have narrow petals that are tendril-like. Some blooms called picotee have a thin line of contrasting color outlining petals—think white outlined in red. Many blooms feature two colors such as burgundy and white.

Plant amaryllis bulbs in a container that has drainage holes to minimize root rot. The pot should be about one inch wider than the bulb and twice as tall. The potting medium that is sold in the boxed kits or that comes with a bulb and decorative pot is finely shredded peat. Avoid letting that dry out as it is difficult to rehydrate. When to top two inches of soil feels dry, water and let it drain freely.

A problem in making the plant its utmost in appearance is the stem handling the blooms, which get top heavy, can fall over. This can be taken care of in several ways: by purchasing a small diameter dowel rod and cutting it to size, by purchasing a commercially made amaryllis stake, or by using one of those arched bamboo pieces that come in vining plant pots from the nursery.

A clever stake in a catalog that I received this year looked like a ladder with Santa or a snowman ascending. That would likely put a smile on someone’s face.

To maximize the appearance of your amaryllis, you will need to turn it a quarter turn daily to encourage the stem to grow straight. Otherwise, the plant will seek the sun and grow toward it. Once the flower buds have begun to open, move the plant out of direct sunlight. Also, a houseplant fertilizer with high phosphorus content will promote blooming.

If you want to have amaryllis blooming during this Christmas season, you should be putting the bulb in a pot now as it generally takes 4 to 8 weeks for the growth/blooming process to reach fruition. You can get amaryllis to bloom again, but that’s a topic for another column. In the meantime, keep your amaryllis watered and enjoy their beauty.

If you have questions about your garden or landscape, contact a master gardener at the University of Illinois Extension office in Mattoon at 217-345-7034 or through our online hotline at https://forms.illinois.edu/sec/1523725. Be sure to visit U of I Extension’s horticulture website http://web.extension.illinois.edu/ccdms/ and like the Master Gardeners’ Facebook page www.facebook.com/ColesCountyMasterGardeners.