Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
December, 2009
Regional Report

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This amaryllis bulb was forgotten and inadvertantly left it its box for at least a year, if not longer.

Amaryllis Rescue

I was standing in line at the nursery last week. There, right in front of the register, were the largest amaryllis (Hippeastrum spp.) bulbs I had ever seen. They were as big as baby's heads and must have weighed 3 pounds each. I'm happy to say that I couldn't resist and put one up on the counter to be tallied in with the rest of my purchases: three one-gallon plants two seed packets. I was slightly shocked at the total amount. When I looked at the receipt I found that the amaryllis bulb cost over $20! Holy Cow!

I considered returning the bulb before I ever left the parking lot of the nursery, but it was such a glorious thing. I really didn't want to part with it. As I was driving up to Henry's to plant the sweet pea seeds I came up with the solution; I would plant it in a pot and give it as a gift to my friend Jean who has been so generous with me. She has some beautiful amaryllis growing in a container on her back deck that just keep blooming, over and over again. Who would better appreciate the gift than she?

I carried the bulb up to the deck at Henry's, intending on planting it as soon as I finished watering. Mrs. Henry stepped out to say "good morning" and so I showed her the amaryllis bulb. "Yuck, what is that?" she inquired. Obviously, she was not a fan of unusual life forms. I gave her the skinny and told her that although I thought it was a gorgeous thing, I was intending to pass it along to a dear friend.

I found a pot large enough to support the bulb as it developed and potted it up with nice fresh potting soil. Just as I was tamping down the roots, Mrs. Henry came out with a very tired looking box and said, "You can have this if you like. Somebody gave it to me and I never got around to planting it." It was an amaryllis bulb that had probably lived for the past year, or more, in the dark. As large and robust as the new amaryllis bulb was, this one was was as shriveled and dry. I peeled layers and layers of the dry paper-like covering from the body of the bulb, eventually reaching what remained of the firm center. I planted the withered bulb in a small pot with fresh soil and some slow-release fertilizer and then submerged the pot immediately. I allowed it to soak until the bubbles stopped rising to the surface.

It has been a week now and the tired little amaryllis bulb is just beginning to show some life. A tongue of green has emerged and is turning toward the light. Jean says that the bulb I gave her, by comparison, has grown 6 inches in the past week with the bud of the promised flower swelling and enlarging daily.

If you like to watch things grow, I heartily recommend planting an amaryllis. They make wonderful gifts that will bloom year after year if cared for correctly. Hippeastrum are native to the warm climates of Central and South America. In other words; no chilling is necessary. They can be grown indoors and then moved outside, as Jean has done. The bulbs are sold as amaryllis although they are actually Hippeastrum species, members of the same family of amaryllis.

To plant; select as large a bulb as you can afford, plant it in fast-draining, rich potting soil with the shoulders and neck of the bulb standing above the surface. There should be a 2-inch gap between the bulb and the rim of the pot. Water well and stand back.
The pot should be placed in a bright window and the soil should be kept evenly moist. If the flower stalk starts to topple, provide a stake for support. Once the flower fades, remove the stalk and allow the foliage to grow to strengthen the bulb for next year. Mid summer, lay the pot on its side and allow the soil to dry completely until the foliage fades and can be pulled away from the bulb easily. At that point, you can start the process all over again, potting in fresh soil each year.

I don't expect my little orphan to bloom this year, but if I care for it there is a possibility that it will bloom in the future, which it wouldn't have if it had stayed in that box forever...

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