Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Amaryllis ~ Advent Botanicals

During December I will feature plants we love to have and use during Advent, starting today with the amaryllis.  I took the photo above this morning.  This may be the first year since I started growing them that I've had one this far along this early.

Every year I plan to start them by Halloween and every year I'm potting them up at Thanksgiving.  Then they get around to blooming some time around Valentine's Day!  I was able to give one to my Thanksgiving dinner guests as they left this year.  So, we should all have blooms during advent - it feels nearly triumphant.

You would guess Amaryllis is the genus name for this plant, wouldn't you? But it isn't. These plants are in the genus Hippeastrum. A true amaryllis is the belladonna lily -- which is an amaryllis, but isn't a true lily. Common names can really get on your nerves.  ;)

Hippeastrum cybister (as Amaryllis cybister ) 5.455
Hippeastrum cybister, via Wikimedia Commons
My mother-in-law gave me my first amaryllis sometime in the late 80s.  We had a toddler then, and we liked checking up on it each morning just before opening the next door on the advent calendar.  These plants are great for impressing children because they are bold, dramatic, and they grow very fast once the bud stalk gets going.

There are several species and many cultivars of amaryllis you can grow at home.  Mail order may be your best bet, but good garden centers often have unusual varieties, too.

I take my chances at Wal-Mart and Target because you can get bulbs there for $5.  Be sure to peek inside the boxes and make sure you get a reasonably healthy looking bulb.  It should be plump and firm.  Any leaves or buds starting to grow will green up as soon as they get in the sun, so don't worry if they are white. I probably wouldn't take one that has grown more than an inch or two in the box, though.

I have had only one cheap bulb dud in probably 20 years.  One drawback to buying at the discount stores is selection.  You will find red, red/white, white and pink. This year Wal-Mart didn't have white at all.  Red seems to make most people happy anyway (especially children).

After potting these up in peat in their green plastic pots, it is a good idea to put them into a ceramic or terracotta pot so they do not tip over when the stalks get tall.  You could just pot them in a heavy pot to begin with, but I like to be able to remove them and replace with something else after Christmas without having to scrub a clay pot.

You can control the speed of their growth somewhat with temperature.  Keep them cooler if you want to delay blooming a little bit, or if you want them to hold their blooms longer.  Otherwise, give them some sun and a temperature of around 68 degrees.

Water them occasionally -- they will get dry faster and faster as they get close to blooming.  Fertilize lightly if you want to try to get them to rebloom.  That is about all there is to it!

Hippeastrum papilio (1)
Hippeastrum papilio, via Wikimedia Commons 

Amaryllis stamens aka
Hippeastrum sp. stamens, via Wikimedia Commons

Bobby J. Ward included this unattributed poem about the amaryllis in his book, A Contemplation Upon Flowers:
When Amaryllis fair doth show the richness of her fiery glow,
The modest lily hides her head; the former seems so proudly spread
To win the gaze of human eye, which soonest brightest things doth spy.
Yet vainly is the honor won, since hastily her course is run;
She blossoms, blooms,--she fades,--she dies,--they who admired, now despise.

If you just can't wait for yours...