“I would like to grow some amaryllis to brighten up my home this winter. Are they hard to grow?”
– Darius Underwood, North Chicago
The hybrid amaryllis (Hippeastrum) is a readily available tender bulb with large, showy flowers that is easily grown indoors in a container. This bulb will not overwinter outside in the Chicago region.
Most amaryllis plants are Dutch or African hybrids selected for flower size, color and ease of forcing. The usual flowering season is from February to April, but you can also get them to flower earlier in winter too.
To get started, choose a standard-size flower pot so the large bulb has approximately 1 to 2 inches around the sides and at the bottom. These bulbs do not need much space for their roots. Your container should have a hole in the bottom for drainage. Use a well-drained potting mix to plant the bulbs, and position the bulb so the top third or so of the bulb sticks up out of the soil. The final level of the growing medium should be approximately a ½-inch below the rim of the pot to facilitate watering.
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Place the container in a location where the temperature remains above 60 degrees Fahrenheit and bright light, such as a south-facing window with lots of sunlight. The warmer the temperature is, with 70 to 75 degrees for day and night being ideal, the faster the bulb will begin growing. Providing bottom heat by setting the pot on a propagation mat may help stimulate growth, especially if you keep your house temperatures cool.
Water the bulb in thoroughly after planting, and then water only when the top inch or so of potting mix is dry to the touch. It is better to err on the side of watering less frequently until roots have developed, as watering too much can cause the bulb to rot.
You will generally see growth begin in two to six weeks, with flowers developing in another six to eight weeks. Certain varieties of amaryllis may take more time to sprout, but typically you will see some leaf development in the first two weeks.
An application of a balanced fertilizer at intervals of 10 to 14 days is helpful after the new growth has emerged. Rotate the pot every two to three days to prevent the flower stalks from leaning toward the light. The flower stalks may require support to keep them from toppling over.
Check the bulb to see if it is still firm if you do not see signs of growth after three weeks. As long as the bulb remains firm, give it more time to grow and be careful not to overwater it. If the bulb is soft and squishy, then it is likely not viable so you will need to start over with a new amaryllis.
Another option for you to try is a waxed amaryllis bulb, which has all the water and energy the bulb needs to flower without requiring a pot with growing medium. These bulbs have a wax coating and typically have a coiled wire base so they will stand up straight on a level surface. Just place the waxed amaryllis bulb in a bright location and wait for it to grow and flower. The first one I tried took longer than I was expecting for it to start growing, so be sure to give it plenty of time to develop if you decide to try growing one.
For more plant advice, contact the Plant Information Service at the Chicago Botanic Garden at [email protected]. Tim Johnson is senior director of horticulture at the Chicago Botanic Garden.