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MASTER GARDENERS: How to care for amaryllis blooms and bulbs

Amaryllis, hippeastrum species, bulbs are known for their spectacular blooms. They produce stems that are 1-2 feet tall with 6-10 inch trumpet blooms. Amaryllis are popular holiday gifts, often already planted with a bud stalk growing. The trick is to keep your amaryllis happy and to get it to re-bloom.

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Amaryllis, hippeastrum species, bulbs are known for their spectacular blooms. They produce stems that are 1-2 feet tall with 6-10 inch trumpet blooms. Amaryllis are popular holiday gifts, often already planted with a bud stalk growing. The trick is to keep your amaryllis happy and to get it to re-bloom.

Last December I purchased an amaryllis bulb from a big box store on a whim. I didn’t hold out a lot of hope for it, but the bulb looked healthy, so I planted it up in the pot and medium provided and set it under my LED lights. It quickly shot up a stalk with four huge blooms in time for Christmas. Then it shot up another stalk of four blooms right after the first one. I was impressed!

After it finished blooming I put it back under the lights and it continued to shoot up new growth. In June I put it outside in a mostly sunny area and it had another stalk of four blooms in September. Wow! It is now in a dormant state in a dark closet waiting to be awakened again in time for the holidays. I hope it blooms again.

Careful selection of the bulb is important because the plant’s performance is influenced by its size and condition. Choose the largest bulb and make sure it's firm, dry and has no sign of mold or injury. When potting the bulb, select a pot with good drainage and a diameter about one inch larger than the bulb. Amaryllis prefer to be nestled into a smaller container.

Make sure you use good potting soil that is high in organic matter. Position the bulb so at least one-third to one-half of the bulb sits above the soil line. Firm the soil around the bulb, water and put the pot in a warm, sunny spot. Since they prefer to be pot-bound, replanting is necessary only every three to four years. I prefer to put mine under my grow lights with other annuals that I am wintering over. Only fertilize the bulb with a high phosphorous fertilizer once growth has started. When blooms appear, move out of direct sunlight to prolong the bloom life.

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The trick to successful subsequent blooms is to keep the plant actively growing after the bud stem dies back. Cut the flower off once it starts to fade, but leave the stalk to die back on its own before removing it. The stalk provides nutrients to the bulb for the next bloom. Once the bloom is gone, place the pot in the sunniest spot available and keep it watered regularly.

When all danger of frost is past, it's time to move your amaryllis outdoors. Start by placing it in a shady spot and gradually move it to a place where it will get full sun, about six hours a day. I like to sink the pot into the soil, fertilize regularly to give the plant nutrients to produce another bloom. Bring the pot in when nighttime temperatures start to drop into the 40s. Remember these are tropical plants.

Amaryllis don’t require a resting period after being brought indoors. However, if you want to control the bloom time, say to have it bloom for the holidays, let the pot dry out and the foliage die back. Store the pot for about 8-12 weeks. They can be forced into bloom by bringing them into bright light and watering well. Usually, the flower stalk will appear about 4-6 weeks after dormancy. Sometimes leaves will appear before the flower stalk.

Amaryllis do require some care to get them to continually bloom year after year, but those spectacular blooms certainly do brighten a cold winter day. As I have noted, it’s not necessary to spend a lot of money and effort to keep the bulbs happy and blooming.

These local garden articles will reach you each week throughout the gardening season, but gardening information can be found year-round by clicking on "Yard and Garden” at the University of Minnesota Extension website, www.extension.umn.edu , or by visiting our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Beltramicountymastergardeners .

Local Master Gardeners will respond to questions via voicemail. Call (218) 444-7916 , and leave your name, number and question.

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