Christmas bulbs can live on

By Kathy Conner Cornell
Amaryllis are a beautiful bulb that will give you some winter sunshine.  Easy to grow and easy to rebloom with proper care.

            At a recent family reunion my cousin asked me why I was allowing one of my plants to die.  I consider Grace a seasoned gardener so I thought that if she didn’t know that Amaryllis need a dormant period, maybe others didn’t either.  I am going to share with the secret of getting these beautiful bulbs to rebloom year after year.
            Cyclamens are a common Christmas plant.  Although there are hardy varieties that can grow outside, the varieties available at Christmas will not survive.  I have always considered Poinsettias as disposal plants.  Yeah, I know the whole thing about cutting it back, growing it outside and then putting it in darkness but I’ve never seen one rebloom.  But Amaryllis, Hippeastrum hybrids, are bulbs and if treated correctly, will rebloom for years.  I have one that my boss gave to me in a former life and I’ve been retired for over thirteen years. 
            September is the time to stop watering and feeding your Amaryllis plant.  When the leaves show signs of dieback just put it in a dark place for a few
months. Don’t cut off the leaves however because those dying leaves are feeding the bulb.  I have mine growing in a pot so I just leave it but it is ok to just store the bulb itself.  I like to bring it back out in January so I can have something in bloom during February but if you want it for Christmas, bring it out at Thanksgiving.  Repot if necessary, place the plant where it will receive some sunlight and start weekly watering.  You will soon notice fresh green growth and then the emergence of the flower stalk.  Continue watering but do not fertilize.  In a few weeks the beautiful flower will open. 
            After flowering, cut off the spent flower stalk but do not cut off the leaves.  Treat it like you would any other houseplant.  As with all houseplants, resume fertilizing in March.  It is a good practice to hold off fertilizing during December to the end of February.  This gives the plants a rest period and they will be refreshed when the daylight lengthens.  After danger of frost is past you can take the Amaryllis outside for the summer.  It is ok to “plunge it” into the garden.  I generally just keep mine in the pot so I don’t have to bother to dig it up in the fall. Then in September stop the watering and start the cycle all over.  You can have this beautiful plant for years and years.
            This Christmas season (and my gracious WalMart already has Christmas decorations out) when you see the little box with the Amaryllis bulb, don’t be afraid to try one out.  They are reliable plants, come in a variety of colors, don’t require much attention and will bring you pleasure during those cold February days.