Holiday staple can be kept alive for quite some time

By Bev Johnson

Master Gardener

Petunia got an amaryllis from her office pals last week. They weren’t aware that she kills plants almost as soon as they enter her house. This was a potted bulb with a picture on a card showing a beautiful blooming plant. Knowing her lack of gardening ability, and rather than kill this plant, she gave it to her mother. 

Her mother’s sister, Dotty says, “give Esther a horse apple and she will grow a pony. She can make anything grow.” If you got one of these beauties, here is how to care for it.

If it is a bulb, keep it in a warm sunny spot until the flower buds show color, then move it out of direct sunlight. Place it in a cooler area with lower light. This will help it bloom longer. 

Amaryllis are sensitive to cold so keep them out of cold drafts. When it is done blooming, dead head it. That is cut of the faded flowers. You don’t want it to go to seed as this depletes the energy in the bulb. You can leave the flower stalk as long as it is green as it will help feed the bulb. Remove it when it turns yellow. Put the plant in the brightest possible location. Water it thoroughly but let it get a bit dry before watering again. 

Don’t keep the soil always moist as this may rot the bulb. You now have a sun loving house plant. You may want to hide it among your other plants as the leaves get pretty ugly before spring.

If you really liked that flower, you could, if want to fuss with it, keep the plant alive to bloom again. Or, when it is done blooming, chuck it in the nearest trash can. The garden police won’t come for you. If you do decide to keep it for next fall, wait until it is warm enough to plant tomatoes, then sink the pot in the soil in dappled sun. gradually move it to a brighter location. 

Eventually it should be in an area that gets six hours of full sun a day. If the leaves get reddish scorch spot, don’t panic. They will fall off in the fall anyway.  Fertilize monthly to build up food for its next bloom.  Yes, this means you will be digging that pot into the soil in multiple locations, but the exercise helps you keep your sexy shape.

Bring the plant in in the fall before the first frost and stick it in a dark closet or basement and let it dry out. Remove the leaves as they turn brown. Start checking for new growth after two to three months. If there isn’t any, bring it out anyway. Put it in a sunny location and start watering it. Usually the flower stalks appear first, but sometimes you will see leaves first. 

These plants like to be pot-bound but after three or four years they will need repotting. The best time to do this is after they have gone through a dormant period. The pot should be only about an inch wider than the bulb. It should have drainage holes and the potting soil should drain well. Half the bulb should be above the soil line. 

After repotting, water well and keep watering when the soil feels dry. As soon as you see growth, fertilize then fertilize regularly. If you have gone though all this and the darn thing doesn’t start producing a stalk, it didn’t store enough nutrients after it bloomed. Is it worth it to start this all over? Or should you just chuck it and go buy an azalea.? Your choice.