Why You Should save Your Amaryllis Bulbs for Years to Come
In the depths of winter, amaryllis are known for their breathtaking shows of large trumpet-shaped flowers. The stalks stand tall above the straps of leaves like a proud peacock. How many people toss these bulbs after they bloom around Christmas time? Stop! Don’t do it! I’ll show you how easy it is to get blooms nearly every year from these tropical bulbs, and it doesn’t really matter what growing zone you live in.
Easiest Houseplant Ever
These huge bulbs are at the top of my list for beginning gardeners. They are forgiving if you forget to water them. In fact I’ve never seen any of mine with a wilted leaf and I’m famous for neglecting all my plants!
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They are also stunning when they are in bloom. You can buy one on sale at the store for about five dollars and have a bloom in six to eight weeks. I have seven mature bulbs, five of which have already rebloomed. The two I bought this year each have two flower spikes emerging. If you have multiple bulbs, you can create a veritable jungle of color.
They can live anywhere in your house that you want to add color. Yes, you’ll want to put them in a window where they will get sun eventually, but when they are in bloom they really don’t care. Use them as a centerpiece in the dining room, or in a guest bathroom, even take them to your basement office.
If you’ve never grown anything in your life, I encourage you to start with this tough bulb that seems to flourish on inattention.
What About Next Year?
If it is your first year oohing and ahhing over your new amaryllis, my best advice is to get another two or three right now! I’m not kidding. Especially if you are in a northern zone, you can follow my advice to the letter and not every bulb will rebloom the next year. I’m in Zone 4 of the Rocky Mountains and I typically get about eighty percent of my bulbs to rebloom. Except for this year, I confess. This year one hundred percent of my bulbs bloomed. It was crazy!
I’ll go step by step of how I do this, but you need to understand a couple of rules first.
Rule Number One
The number one rule is that you will never get another bloom if you have no leaves. Let those leaves grow and never chop them off.
Each bulb will have a different number of leaves so don’t panic if yours only have a few leaves. The big thing to remember is that the leaves nourish the plant so that it can create the next flower. Also don’t panic if one or two of the leaves turn brown and fall off. This happens from time to time and isn’t something to worry about unless the bulb gets soft. If the bulb is turning mushy soft, which usually happens in my experience if the bulb has frozen, it’s time to toss it in the compost (or the garbage if you must).
So remember how important the leaves are. No leaves, no more flowers.
Rule Number Two
The second rule is that these are tropical plants. OK, maybe not technically “tropical” by the exact definition, but they are native to the Caribbean and tropical and sub-tropical regions of South America. The only reason I bring this up is because if you live in an area where you have an actual winter, don’t leave them buried in the ground. Yes, they are very tough plants or I could never have grown them for so long, but you can kill them.
One More Rule
OK, one more thing before I leave the rule-making pedestal. You can neglect them in the winter, but these plants are heavy feeders. They need light and they need fertilizer if you ever want them to rebloom. As with anything good, you can overdo the fertilizer, but I’ve never been able to overdo the light.
When I say they are heavy feeders, always think of light first. Lots of sunlight and just enough fertilizer.
After the Bloom
What happens after the bloom? You’ll want to cut the stalk off about an inch or two above the bulb. I will cut each bloom from the top of the stalk as they fade so that as each individual flower wilts and turns brown, it isn’t distracting to your eye when you look at it. After all, the other flowers are still putting on a show, why have something raggedy hanging around next to it?
Little by little, my flowers will dwindle from four or five per stalk, down to just one before I’m done. Then when the last one is wilting and not in prime condition, I hack off the entire stalk. Don’t even hesitate. Don’t ask your Aunt Tillie. Don’t ask the social media experts. Just take a good pair of scissors and cut that stalk off above the bulb.
The only thing to be prepared for when you start chopping, is that the stalk is hollow. When you cut it, the liquid sap will spill out. It won’t be much, probably about a tablespoon, but it will be a bit messy if you aren’t ready for it. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
At this point, remember the first rule. If the leaves are green, let them grow. Find a sunny window in your house if it’s still too cold outside. You can also put them under grow lights until the weather changes. Just remember that this is the time to get them as much light as you have available.
Now it is time to fertilize. Consistency is the key here, you don’t need to overdo it.
Your bulb has leaves, your flowers have gone by, consider what fertilizer you want to use. I have been using 10-10-10 fertilizer for several years. This is what people term, “a well-balanced” fertilizer because all of the components, Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium in the same concentration. The 10-10-10 fertilizer has worked well and resulted in about four out of five bulbs reblooming.
This year I went to a bloom booster fertilizer and had all of my bulbs rebloom. So guess what I’m going to stick with? I’ve gone to Jack’s brand fertilizer which you can buy in most garden stores now. If you want to help out this site, you can always use the Amazon link below and I will be grateful.
How often do you need to fertilize? Since I never water my amaryllis any more than once a week, that would be the maximum. But I also think you would be wasting fertilizer if you did that. The minimum would be once a month, I would suggest the maximum would be twice a month. Out of four waterings per month, consider fertilizing every other time.
Once the nighttime temperatures in your region are consistently above forty degrees Fahrenheit, consider putting them outside. In full sun.
I have found that amaryllis bulbs are not all that sensitive to low temperatures as long as it isn’t a hard frost. A frost will kill them if the bulb is allowed to freeze. Also because I live in Zone 4, I can’t wait for nighttime temperatures to get up into the fifties, or heavens above, the sixties, or I’d never get them outside.
Now it is time to make a decision. Are you a container gardener or do you have a spot in the garden where a nice fat bulb could bask in the sunshine? Either way will work, but I have found better success if I place them in the ground.
Buried in the Ground
If at all possible, bury your bulb deeply in the ground. Right up to the top of the neck of the bulb where the leaves start. You can even bury a bit of the leaves underground if you can manage it. You will see why this is important when you read on. Make sure to choose the sunniest spot you have available. This also goes double if you are keeping your bulb in a container (though I would recommend placing the bulb in a larger container so it has room to grow roots).
As with any other plant, be sure to liberate the roots a bit when you place it in the ground so the roots are no longer swirled around the pot (because they will be). At this point, I’ll check that all the roots are healthy and I’ll cut off any that look brown and rotten. I also have nothing against trimming the roots so they can fit in the hole I’ve prepared. Don’t worry, they will grow copious roots during the summer even if you trim them all back to four or five inches long.
Because I’m always conscious of that last rule about them being heavy feeders, I’ll even add some good compost to the hole when I plant. Of course this is a good application for my worm compost. If I still have some of this black gold available when I plant my amaryllis, I’ll add quite a bit. You won’t burn the roots with good quality compost and you can mix it with the soil as you plant.
Summer Care and Feeding
The best “food” your bulb can get is lots of sun. So if you’ve chosen the right spot, you’re more than halfway there. I’ve had success placing my bulbs where they get full southern exposure, receiving sixteen to seventeen hours of daylight depending on the time of year. I’ve also had success planting them on the eastern side of my house where they may get only ten to twelve hours of direct sun. I’ve seen success with both so just do the best you can.
Then go ahead and fertilize the same number of times as you have been. Once or twice a month will work. I believe I only averaged once a month during the growing season. Mainly because of my negligence. Be sure to check the package instructions for the concentration required for outdoor plants because it will be different than what you were using when they were in a pot.
This is about the time I want to warn you again. Don’t panic if some strong winds damage the leaves. Mine have been damaged by hail and wind and the plant still did fine. I did not cut off any leaves even though they had holes and rips from the hail. They were truly ragged looking. If the leaves were still green, I left them alone.
When is the best time to dig up your bulbs and bring them back inside? Well, that depends.
Here in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, I’ve dug them in either October or November. I wait as long as I can because I want a good hard frost. I know what you’re thinking, these bulbs are not hardy. But this is where the depth of your planting comes into play.
The first hard frost does not penetrate deeply into the soil, it mostly affects the plants above ground. Since I plant my bulbs slightly past their necks, the frost does not affect the bulb. But it does kill the leaves. Which is what I want.
The easiest way to prevent tag-along pests from the garden is to minimize what you are bringing indoors. No leaves on the plant means there is nowhere for the pests to hide. I also peel away the brown “skin” on the bulb for the same reason. Pests can hide in the dead layers of the bulb but when I peel those layers away similar to an onion, it once again minimizes the chances of having an unwanted passenger.
The last thing I do is remove all the soil from the roots. And there will be a lot of roots, trust me. I would recommend this even if you are growing in a container. This would be the time to once again inspect the roots, trim away any that are dead, and then give the bulb a hard “haircut” trim to leave the healthy roots at one to two inches long. This would be similar to how you received the bulb from the store.
I’ve heard lots of people say never to trim the roots, but my method proves there is no harm in being tidy at this point. If you keep all of the roots, you’ll never be able to fit them in a container again. And if you’re like me, space is a valuable commodity.
Place the bulbs in a container that allows for about one to two inches of room around each bulb. I place mine in individual containers rather than placing them together in a larger one. The main reason for this is because it allows me more options. If one bulb is lagging behind the others, I’ll keep it under lights until it produces a flower stalk. Then once it does, IF it does, I’ll bring it upstairs for everyone to enjoy.
Timing the Weather
Sometimes the weather has its own ideas and can ruin your best laid plans. In 2021, I was planning to be away for a week and we were going to have a hard frost when we were gone. At that point, we had only had light frosts but I wanted to wait.
Unfortunately, I just couldn’t wait. I dug the bulbs up before I left and while the leaves were damaged from the light frosts, they weren’t completely dead. The section of leaves closest to the bulb were still green. In this case, I did everything as I’ve suggested above, and then cut off the damaged part of the leaves.
So instead of cutting the leaves all the way down to the neck, I had a few inches of green still sticking up. The bits of leaves ended up either fading, turning brown, and sloughing off a little later, or they just started to grow again.
If you have issues with what the weather is going to be, my advice is to not worry about when you dig up your bulbs. The leaves can be completely green just do your due diligence and inspect carefully for pests.
When Negligence is Your Friend
At this point, people ask about forcing a period of dormancy. I will say right now that it isn’t necessary. Commercial growers will force bulbs into dormancy so that they bloom when you want them to. I’ve never cared when I see blooms as long as they show up sometime before summer.
The only time I am not happy about seeing a bloom is when they make a show in the garden. Sounds silly, right? I would rather have my amaryllis bloom indoors for a couple of reasons. First, they last longer indoors where there is no wind and strong sun to fade them quickly. Second, it always seems that the thrips find the flowers and they aren’t as spectacular. I certainly don’t hate it enough to chop off the stalk, though. I tell myself to stop complaining and enjoy the extra flowers outdoors.
When you do bring them back indoors, my point is that you don’t have to worry about dormancy. They don’t require a dormancy period to rebloom. It does help, I’ve found, if you neglect your bulbs for a while. As in don’t water them for a month or more.
The lack of water can sometimes shock them into thinking it’s time to bloom. It hasn’t always worked for me but sometimes it does.
The most frequent chain of events I’ve seen is that the leaves sprout first and the bud comes later. If my bulbs start sprouting leaves, I’ll water them at around four weeks after they come indoors. If they don’t sprout leaves, I’ll wait until they do. It truly depends on the bulb.
When To Expect Reblooming
I’ve been growing and reblooming amaryllis for so long, I think I’ve seen it all.
This year, I was careful about my fertilizing regimen (or more careful than usual), and also didn’t water for four weeks after I brought them back indoors. I ended up with blooms right away. Most of them were blooming for Thanksgiving. Since each bulb is different, this year I’ll end up with something blooming from about Thanksgiving all the way into January. I can’t stress enough that this is unusual for me so don’t panic if you don’t experience the same schedule. Some bulbs put up multiple flower stalks which also helped to extend the blooming “season.”
What I’ve seen more often, is that the leaves sprout within a few weeks of coming indoors. Then nothing else happens for months. By around early to mid-spring, the flower stalks start showing up and I’ll have flowers until it’s time to put them outdoors again. If I have a bulb that hasn’t flowered by spring, that will be the one that blooms outdoors.
Give It a Try
I hope I haven’t scared you away from giving your amaryllis a long life in your home and garden. These plants are so worth the bit of trouble it takes to keep them blooming every year. One small order of fertilizer and a little digging twice a year and you could see success.
Please comment below or ask any questions. I would love to hear your successes or your failures and who knows? Maybe I can help turn your failure into a gorgeous victory!