In the Garden:
It's an easy process to plant amaryllis bulbs for beautiful flowers in six weeks or so.
A Winter of Flowers
Amaryllis is my mother's suggestion. Lots of amaryllis. She's normally reticent to ask for anything, so this is an important request. And it's a perfect idea for a shut-in. Start amaryllis bulbs every 10 to 14 days, then let the recipient watch them grow and bloom like Jack's beanstalk.
Actually, the person doesn't have to be a shut-in. You could give an extended Christmas present to a friend or even yourself. Whatever the situation, growing amaryllis bulbs during the winter is among the easiest of ways to have flowers indoors during those long, gray, seemingly endless winter days.
Amaryllis by Any Other Name
The giant-flowered bulbs that most everyone refers to by the common name amaryllis are really a member of the hippeastrum genus. The true amaryllis is Amaryllis belladonna, the sole member of its genus, with six to twelve lilylike flowers on a solid stem. Hippeastrum, on the other hand, bears four to six flowers on a hollow stem. Both are bulbous plants native to South Africa. For our discussion here, we'll continue to refer to hippeastrum as amaryllis.
Discount department stores, drug stores, hardware stores, groceries, and, yes, even garden centers sell amaryllis bulbs at this time of year, most of them boxed with a pot for holiday gifts. Mail-order catalogs also offer them. The widely available packaged bulbs are usually fairly inexpensive. They may not be top-size bulbs, but they almost always produce at least one flower stem. Larger, more expensive bulbs often produce two flower stems.
Certainly, you can use the plastic pot that is in the package with the amaryllis, but since the plants are top-heavy when in bloom, it's a good idea to set the plastic pot inside a clay one for stability. You may also want to use a short plant support stake. Another option is to dress up amaryllis by setting potted plants in a basket, cache pot, or other decorative container and covering the soil with Spanish moss. To create an especially stunning display, plant three bulbs together in a pot that's more broad than tall. For a different look, put pebbles in the base of a tall hurricane vase, set the bulb on top, then surround with more pebbles. Keep the water level just below the bulb.
Amaryllis are best placed in a pot that is only slightly larger in diameter than the bulb. Use a pot with drainage holes. Choose a good quality potting soil that drains well. Put a layer of potting soil into the pot and then position the bulb -- pointed end up -- in the pot so that the nose of the bulb will just stick up above the rim of the pot. Fill the space between the bulb and the side of the pot with potting soil and tap down the soil firmly but not enough to damage the roots. Do not fill the pot up completely with soil, as this makes watering difficult. The "neck" and "shoulders" of the bulb should be above the soil.
If desired, place the underside of the bulb, including its roots, in lukewarm water for a few hours before potting up. When you do not intend on potting up the bulbs right away, store them at around 50 degrees F in a dry, dark, well-ventilated place.
After planting, water the pot well and place it in a 68-degree F, sunny spot. Water sparingly at first, then in about two weeks, when the first sprouts appear, keep the soil evenly moist. In about six weeks, the amaryllis will have sent up a 16- to 24-inch flower stalk with flower buds beginning to open. Most amaryllis bear flowers up to 8 inches across. Miniature varieties bear flowers measuring about 4 or 5 inches across.
For information about getting amaryllis to bloom again next year, visit this Web page: http://www.bulb.com/aboutspring/rebloom.asp
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