Amaryllis – a bulb for more than Christmas

By Kathy Conner Cornell VCE Southside Master Gardener If you were lucky enough to receive or treat yourself to an Amaryllis plant this past Christmas – don’t throw it away. Amaryllis can continue to bloom for years if you know the correct way to treat it. Amaryllis can bloom any time of the year not just at Christmas. To bloom the plant needs a dormancy period of a few months. My stepdaughter is coming for a visit next month so I plan to bring my Amaryllis out of hiding and start watering it so it will be blooming for her visit.
Amaryllis is a beautiful bulb that will give you some winter sunshine. Easy to grow and easy to rebloom with proper care. Amaryllis, Hippeastrum, is in the Lily or Liliaceae family. Its name comes from the Greek Hippo meaning horse because the flower of Hippeastrum puniceum looked horse-like. If you have a bulb, plant it in soil that is rich in organic manner, using composted cow manure works fine. Leave the top half of the bulb above the soil line. You will want to use a container that is heavy enough to support the long stemmed, top heavy perennial. It is best to use a container that is slightly wider than the bulb. Start watering and putting near a sunny window. You’ll soon start seeing green growth. Don’t fertilize during this time. If you have an Amaryllis that has finished blooming, cut off the spent flower stalk but do not cut off the leaves. Amaryllis is a bulb and, as with all bulbs, the foliage will feed the bulb for the next bloom. At this point, treat the plant like you would any other houseplant, watering every week and a half. 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” or dig a hole and plant 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. When the leaves show signs of dieback just put the amaryllis in a dark place for at least 60 days or up to a few months and do not water during this time. 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. In September, stop the watering and start the cycle all over. You can have this beautiful plant for years and years. Of course, there has to be an Amaryllis story. As I’ve mentioned, my husband is a wonderful cook. A dish we enjoy is called Sour Beef and Dumplings or Sauerbraten. As the name suggests, it is a German dish. He had stayed home that day to work on revamping the kitchen and it takes a few hours for the dish to simmer to get the real flavor of the ginger snaps. I get home from work and we sit down to eat. The meal was delicious. I looked at my husband and said “This is the best sour beef and dumplings I’ve ever had but I am going to get violently sick”. I run to the bathroom which fortunately was not far away and proceeded to eliminate my entire dinner. He followed right behind and it was concerning because he had blood in his vomit. We both felt absolutely fine after purging so we proceeded to clean up and go to bed. In the middle of the night, it dawned on my what the problem had been. I asked my husband if the bulb he used looked a bit unusual? He said yes it did. He had used an Amaryllis bulb instead of the onions that were in the same box. When I shared this story with my Interior Plants class, my instructor said he was amazed that I am still here to tell the story. Moral of the story, don’t use an Amaryllis bulb as a substitute for an onion! While we all are practicing ‘social distancing’ and Halifax County buildings are still closed to the public due to COVID-19, if you have gardening questions, you can reach an Extension Master Gardener or Extension staff member by sending an email to If you are unable to email, you can call and leave a message at the Halifax Extension Master Gardener Help Desk at (434) 830-3383. Be sure to give us your first and last name, telephone number and the nature of the call. The Help Desk phone is routinely checked. Someone will get back to you, although it may be from a different telephone number. Keep washing your hands, wear your mask, practice ‘social distancing’ and try reviving an Amaryllis.