multi-colored amaryllis against a snowy background

Amaryllis: Pride and Bewitching Beauty

When the Victorians chose the amaryllis to represent pride and bewitching beauty, they chose wisely. The amaryllis stands proudly in the winter months with a strong, one- to two-foot tall, thick stalk which produces three or four gorgeous red, white, pink, salmon and orange blooms that are also often times patterned or multi-colored. The word amaryllis comes from the Greek word amarysso, which means “to sparkle,” and this flower is sure to brighten the gray days ahead.

Blood and sugar: for the love of amaryllis

We have the 16th Century explorers of Portugal, Spain, and Italy to thank for the large flower blooming in the windowsill this winter. Originally from the tropics of South America, this plant traveled all over the world, reputedly along the sugar trade routes, stopping off like a tourist on a cruise to take root in the hearts of all who encountered it.

The amaryllis got its name from a story about a shepherdess in Greek mythology with the same name. Trying to prove her love for a shepherd who had declared he would only love a girl who could produce a flower, she wounded herself night after night at his doorstep until her blood turned into a flower. She got her man, and we got our flower. (Tinder doesn’t seem so bad anymore, does it?)


Easy grow, easy to love

Fortunately, growing an amaryllis will not require you to shed any blood. One of the easiest flowers to force a bloom out of in wintertime, you still have time to plant an amaryllis and have flowers by the December holidays. You can plant them anytime between October and the end of April, and they should flower between December and June, depending on when you plant them. The shortest time we know of for the blooms to appear is 5 weeks, but it could take as long as 10 weeks. If you love this flower like we do, consider planting a new bulb every 4 or 5 weeks over the winter, so you can enjoy them all year long. Try all the different colors and varieties!

Easy to find

Start by heading over to your local greenhouse and perusing the bulbs they have. The amaryllis is so popular, you should be able to find them just about anywhere this time of year–flower shops, hardware stores with a garden department, online–you get the idea. If the bulb is not prepackaged, and we recommend you try to find a fresh bulb, look for bulbs that are firm, but not hard to the touch, Definitely pass on any that are soft. And know that the larger the bulb, the more flowers you will get. (Sometimes size does matter!)

If you can’t find a bulb on it’s own, you will certainly be able to find a amaryllis bulb kit. The kits often come with the bulb, some planting material (you usually have to reconstitute it with some warm water), and the bulb. This is a great way to go for a beginner. The only drawback is you don’t get to inspect the bulb before purchasing it, and occasionally, they have already produced a bud.

Easy to plant

These bulbs do like to be snug in their pots, so be sure to find container that will keep it cozy. Six to eight inches around and deep will usually do the trick. For a happy bulb that will give you plenty of joy this winter, start by soaking it in lukewarm water for a few hours before you plant it. Using a well-draining potting mix with plenty of organic matter, plant the bulb in its pot with about one-third of the top of the bulb exposed (the neck and shoulders).

amaryllis bulbs

May the days be warm and bright

Water it well, and put it in a warm, sunny spot. Then you shouldn’t need to water it again until the stem starts to grow. From there, be careful not to over-water your amaryllis. Only water the soil–avoid getting water on the bulb. Since most of us have dry winter air, especially when we are using the heat, be sure to check the soil often. Water it only when the soil is dry.

The amaryllis especially loves areas that are about 70 to 75 degrees during the day, which makes this a popular kitchen friend, if you have plenty of light and do a little wintertime baking in yours. Once the plant starts producing blooms, however, you will need to keep it out of direct sunlight, or your flowers won’t last long. Also, a word of caution about your fruit bowl–keep the plant and the bulbs away from the fruit bowl! The gas fruit releases as it is ripening with kill the flowers and sterilize the bulb.

And one of the best things about the amaryllis is it gives back! When the flowers fade, clip them at the top of the stem, and when the stem starts to sag, cut it down about two inches above the root, put the bulb in the fridge for 6 weeks (sans apples), and start again! With stories of these plants blooming again for over 20 years, some people even pass it on as a family heirloom! You can even plant the bulb outside in the spring. Some people also say they bloom it again until August when they let the bulb dry out, dig it up, and put it in the fridge for six to eight weeks before starting again in time for the holidays.

Amaryllis–blood, sugar, sparkle!

With months between now and the first crocus, the amaryllis can fill that void of longing for something to plant and watch grow this winter. If you love Christmas, go for the bright red flowers. Celebrate something else in December? There are lots of gorgeous colors to brighten any celebration and any ordinary day. If you give gifts this time of year, why not plant an amaryllis and add some sparkle to someone else’s winter days?