Blackwelder column: Amaryllis can bloom again with care

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 23, 2011

SALISBURY — An amaryllis bulb is a Christmas favorite, especially for in-laws or for anyone who loves plants. There is an ample supply of amaryllis and other bulbs at local garden centers and retail outlets in Rowan County.
The question after the holidays is, “What do I do with this bulb now? Can I save it for next season?” These large, showy flower bulbs can be saved for next year’s holiday. Amaryllis bulbs can be enjoyed for years with proper care.
After the bloom fades, cut the flower and the stalk an inch or so above the base of the bulb. Place the bulb in a sunny location and water through the winter as you would a houseplant.
Thick, glossy leaves soon develop, which is very important for the formation of new flowers for next season’s display. Some bulbs may have developed leaves as they flowered.
When the danger of frost is past, usually the last of April or early May, bury the plant, pot and all in the flower garden or mulch heavily in a flower bed. Choose a protected location where light is filtered. Morning sunshine is best for this plant. Hot, afternoon sun will burn the leaves. The leaves will grow fast and tend to flop over, but become erect through the summer.
Continue watering and feeding the bulb with a complete liquid fertilizer every two weeks. Proper fertilization strengthens the bulb before going into dormancy. Under optimal growing conditions, the bulb should increase in size during the summer growing season. Unearth the pot in September and bring the pot and bulb indoors.
Place the potted bulb in a dark location on its side for six to eight weeks. The leaves will then wilt and die. With a sharp knife, carefully remove the leaves close to the bulb. The bulb should be stored in a cool, dry location, approximately 50-60 degrees. I dry my amaryllis in our basement. This is an excellent resting place for the bulb, but other locations will suffice. It is important not to water the bulb during this resting period.
After this period of rest, repot the bulb with fresh potting soil. The bulb may be too large for the previous pot, so plant the bulb in a pot one size larger than the previous pot. An ideal soil mixture contains one part houseplant soil, one part peat moss and one part vermiculite or perlite. All-purpose potting soils are acceptable. Place the bulb so that the top half is exposed. Firm the soil around the bulb, but don’t pack too tightly.
Keep the soil moist and place in a sunny, but cool location in the home, similar to locations for poinsettias. Ideal forcing temperatures are between 55 and 65 degrees, avoiding drafts and forced-air heating vents.
Keep the soil evenly moist but not damp. Excessive temperatures promote tall, weak, spindly growth. The flower stalk may flop over when temperatures are too high. Bulbs that fail to bloom usually do not have enough resting time (dormancy). Excessive storage and forcing temperatures may also affect the bloom initiation.
Darrell Blackwelder is County Extension Director, Rowan County Center, N.C. Cooperative Extension. Call 704-216-8970.