Central Virginia Organic Gardener

"And 'tis my faith that every flower enjoys the air it breathes." - William Wordsworth, 1798

Monday, October 12, 2009


[Photo: pink amaryllis at the US Botanic Garden in DC]
It is just about that time of year to start forcing your amaryllis (you know, those lush, tropical flowers in pinks, whites and reds we see around Christmas time). I find it a deep pleasure to have something blooming indoors in the winter and have forced amaryllis and paperwhite narcissus for years. They are really easy to grow and you do not need a green thumb to do so.

Pick out an amaryllis that you like. I usually go to a plant nursery, a botanical garden gift shop or order one line, but you can get decent bulbs at chain discount stores (not the fanciest varieties, but pretty all the same- and they come with a pot, planting medium and instructions!). Pot the bulb so that the top third of the bulb is above the soil. This ensures that no water placed on the surface of the soil will go down into the bulb's neck and rot the bulb. You can use a general purpose bulb fertilizer under the bulb, but I never do this. Put a stake in the pot at planting time- some flowers are so large they may flop without support (if they do, you can just cut them off and enjoy them as a cut flower, though they won’t last as long). Water thoroughly this one time, then water sparingly about once per week, until the flower bud shoots up- then water once the top inch of soil is dry, say ever 3-4 days. Keep the plant at room temperature (it does not like the cold). You will be rewarded with a lovely bloom!

After bloom, I cut back the flower stalk and leave the plant inside, watering and fertilizing with an organic fertilizer occasionally. After the first frost, the plants live on my porch, gathering sunshine and building up the bulb. In early September, I cut back the leaves to about an inch, and tuck the pots under boxes in my garage to mimic dormancy-no water at this time! Around mid to late October, I begin bringing some of them inside to start forcing them (usually 6 to 8 weeks before you wan them to bloom) and I stagger the dates I start forcing, to have a lovely blooming plant through much of the winter (I have about 10 currently and recently ordered 3 more).

If your bulb does not produce flowers one season, it may need another season outside to build the bulb back up. Don’t give up! I have had plants like these successfully re-bloom the next season.

Happy gardening!

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