Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Amaryllis: A Flower Born of Heart's Blood

Certainly, one of the most dramatic flowers you can grow indoors this winter is an Amaryllis. 

Last week three cherry-red trumpets opened on the Amaryllis in my kitchen. Each flower must be at least three or four inches across. Then, this morning, I was excited to see that there is going to be an encore performance with three more blooms on a second stem. Such a glorious display with so little effort on my part!

The name "Amaryllis" finds origins in a Greek tale of love and sacrifice. While walking on a mountainside, a young maiden named Amaryllis happens upon Alteo, a handsome shepherd. For Amaryllis, it was love at first sight, but in Alteo's heart, there was only a passion for flowers. For Alteo love needed to be truly magical, so he rebuffs Amaryllis, telling her he could only love a maiden who could bring him a flower that the world has never seen before.

Determined to win Alteo's love, Amaryllis travels to the Oracle of Delphi for guidance. The Oracle advises she must find a way to create the flower Alteo seeks from her heart's own blood. On this advice, Amaryllis appears at Alteo's door for twenty-nine nights, each time piercing her heart with a golden arrow. Finally, on the thirtieth night, Alteo opens his door to find Amaryllis holding a crimson flower that has sprung up from the drops of blood spilling from her heart. He kisses her. At last the beautiful Amaryllis has won Alteo's love!

Today no blood needs to be spilt to enjoy an Amaryllis. Growing this magnificent flower is easy. 

Planting an Amaryllis

Amaryllis is a bulbous plant that produces tall stems which bear clusters of two to as many as twelve flowers.

Amaryllis bulbs prefer to be somewhat snug and even a little pot-bound in a container, so choose your plant pot accordingly. Unlike bulbs like daffodils and tulips, you don't bury an Amaryllis bulb. Instead, plant the bulb up to the base of its neck in good potting soil. You can expect an Amaryllis to flower about 6-8 weeks after it has been planted.

Heat is essential for the development of the flower stems, so place your freshly potted Amaryllis in a warm spot (68-70 degrees F) with direct light. Water it sparingly until the first flower stem appears. When the leaves and flower buds appear, water the pot regularly. The flower will open when the stem has reached its full height.

Once the first of the flowers have opened, you may find that the top-heavy Amaryllis needs a bit of support. I used a simple bit of twine and a branch of dogwood as support. A bamboo cane would work nicely too. Just remember to be careful when pushing your support into the soil. You don't want to damage the bulb.

A cool, shaded room will prolong the life of each bloom.

After it Blooms

An Amaryllis can be kept from year to year with a little bit of effort.

Once your amaryllis has faded, cut the flower's stem back to the top of the bulb. Think of your Amaryllis as another houseplant. Water it regularly and allow the leaves to develop normally.

Once all danger of frost has passed, you can move the potted bulb outdoors. Don't transplant it into the garden. Just leave it in its pot (you can partially bury the pot if you choose).

Place the Amaryllis in a spot with light shade. Too much sun will do it no favours (I speak from experience here!). Continue to water and fertilize the bulb's leaves all summer. A good water-soluble fertilizer should produce nice, healthy growth. Good strong foliage will help the bulb store the energy needed for re-blooming.

Getting an Amaryllis to Re-bloom

In early fall, the foliage on an Amaryllis will begin to yellow and that is a sign that it is time to bring the bulb indoors. Cut the leaves to a height of about 2" above the bulb and remove the bulb from the soil.

Clean away any remaining soil and place the bulb in a cool dark place (a refrigerator or anywhere else that the temperature remains around 40-50 degrees F will do). Leave the bulb to rest for the next six to eight weeks. After a minimum of six weeks, you can re-pot your Amaryllis and begin the whole cycle again.

Possible Problems with Re-blooming

If an Amaryllis fails to produce blooms, it is a sign that the leaves did not store enough energy to produce a flower.

A lack of both flowers and foliage may be a sign that the bulb has rotted. Squeeze the potted bulb just below the surface of the soil. If it's soft, the bulb has rotted and will need to be discarded.

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  1. What a helpful post, Jennifer. I never knew the legend of Amaryllis before, fascinating! Alteo was definitely hard to please, wasn't he? (I hope it was worth all of her suffering.) :-) I've never had luck with reblooming, but now I see the reason behind the failure since I didn't take all the steps outlined above. I do know they are a glorious sight blooming in mid-winter!

  2. What perfect timing, Jennifer!!
    I just bought a pink Amaryllis this morning. :-)
    I've had pretty good luck with them in the past, but the information here is so helpful.
    It truly is such a gorgeous flower.
    Thank you, my friend!

  3. Your post is so informative! Amaryllis are such a wonderful flower and I enjoy watching them bloom on the windowsill each winter. I never really thought much about keeping them as a houseplant afterwards and will have to try that to see if I can get it to rebloom year after year. I enjoyed your post and the legend behind these plant as well!


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