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Save that Amaryllis for Next Christmas

Amaryllis has almost taken over the market in holiday plants. They get bigger and more colorful, and are foolproof, dramatic, and drop-dead gorgeous. What we call amaryllis is really Hippeastrum. The true Amaryllis genus is the belladonna lily. But common usage has tagged this gorgeous bulb with the name, so that is what we call it.

If you received an amaryllis for Christmas, it may have arrived as a large potted bulb with nothing showing, or as a half-grown stem supporting an enlarged flower bud. Or someone may have given you a bulb in full flower, spectacular in its size and color. You have followed the directions for care, and been rewarded with one of the most glorious blossoms in the world!

Keeping it Alive

But once the flower fades, what to do? The answer is to bring it back again. Since not all the flowers will die off at the same time, just clip away each individual flower as it fades, leaving the healthy ones still on the stem. It may look a little lopsided, but it will be pretty and colorful. When the last of the flowers droops and wilts, however, begin the process of aftercare that will ensure another show next season.

Remove the flower head, but leave the stalk on the bulb for a while. Continue to water it and feed it once every two weeks with half-strength balanced fertilizer (20-20-20), just as if it were still blooming. Actually this is the most important time in the life cycle of the plant, as the bulb is beginning the internal process of forming its flower for the following season, and that needs nourishment. This process may take several months, so that it might be mid to late summer before the foliage finally yellows and dies off. It might be a good idea to move the plant to a location where it is not obvious, as the leaves will get increasingly unattractive. When this happens, cut off the remaining foliage and give the bulb a total rest, without food or water and in a cool place, for at least a month or two. This can take place in the shade outdoors, or in a cool cellar.

Waking it Up

When you are ready to trigger the next blooming season, ideally in early November, move the bulb into a warmer location, remove a layer of the topsoil, and give it a new dressing of soil and a light feeding of bone meal. Water it generously, and then leave it alone until the first sign of new life appears at the tip of the bulb. You then may begin the process of feeding, watering and rotating the bulb to bring it into full bloom once again.

An amaryllis does not like to be repotted. In fact, it does not like to be disturbed at all. If a season’s growth seems weak, or a pot has cracked, or if the bulb is being pressed by numerous offsets, repot it in the middle of its dormant period when the roots may not realize what is happening to them. This is the time to pot up any offsets in smaller individual pots, and grow them on for a few years until they begin to bloom.

Warning! Amaryllis has a mind of its own. You may think that you’re doing everything right, but the bulb may take its own sweet time. But never mind. You’ll be glad you tried when it finally wakes up.

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