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Caring for amaryllis bulbs after the holidays

Cheerful amaryllis plants provide vivid color and large blooms.
Cheerful amaryllis plants provide vivid color and large blooms.

Poinsettias may be the star of the holiday season, but there are other seasonal plants that can brighten the home.

Take the amaryllis, for instance. Perhaps you received an amaryllis bulb kit as a gift or bought one already planted to add a festive air to your home. Whatever the case, here’s what you can do after the holidays to make it last for years to come.

Amaryllis is a tender bulb and has the genus name Hippeastrum, which means “horse star,” an appropriate name for a plant that produces massive blooms as large as 8 to 10 inches across.

These plants can produce three to four blooms on a 1- to 2-foot stem. Often, a second flower stalk follows the first at about the time the flowers on the first stem fade. The leaves usually start to appear when the flowers begin to open.

Amaryllis bulbs can be huge. Size does matter as the larger the bulb, the larger the flowers. Larger bulbs also tend to be more expensive. Amaryllis likes tight quarters. Place in a pot only 1 to 2 inches larger in diameter than the bulb. About half of the bulb should remain exposed.

Hold the bulb so the roots hang down into the pot, and add potting mix. Firm the mix around the roots carefully so that they are not snapped off. Water thoroughly and place the plant in a warm, sunny location.

Potted bulbs can be saved and re-bloomed with a little extra care. Amaryllis likes day temperatures in the 70s and night temperatures in the 60s. The flower bud may start to appear right away, or the plant may remain dormant for a period of time, but eventually all mature bulbs bloom.

Move the plant to a cooler location and out of direct sunlight when the flower buds begin to show color so the flowers last longer. Amaryllis can remain in bloom for about a month.

Flowers should be cut off after blooming to keep the plant from expending energy to form seeds.

Place the plant in a sunny location until it is warm enough to be placed outside. In the spring, when there’s no threat of freezing, sink the pot in the soil in an area that has dappled shade. The plant can gradually be moved to sunnier locations until it receives full sun for a half day. Continue to fertilize with a balanced houseplant fertilizer as you would a normal houseplant.

Amaryllis must go through a resting or dormant period before they will re-bloom. Bring the pot in before first frost and place in a dark location. Withhold all water so the leaves have a chance to dry completely. Leaves can then be cut off close to the top of the bulb. Most varieties will require about eight weeks of dormancy. After that time they can be brought back into the light and the blooming process can start.

Amaryllis can often be left in the same pot for several years but will eventually need repotting. With proper care amaryllis will delight for many years to come.

Dennis Patton is a horticulture agent with the Kansas State University Research and Extension. To get your gardening questions answered on The Star’s KC Gardens blog by university extension experts, go to KCGardens.KansasCity.com.

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