If you’re looking for living color to light up your life in the new year and poinsettias are not your cup of tea, consider growing amaryllis bulbs. Discovered in the Andes mountains in the early 1800s, these gorgeous tropical bulbs are a snap to grow and the flowers can last 10 days or more.
Research shows the blossoms may last even longer when used as cut flowers – a great solution should the blossoms become so top heavy they flop. To extend their vase life re-trim their stem ends on an angle every couple of days and replace them in fresh water. Removing the anthers from the flowers also extends their bloom time. The anthers are the yellow pollen sacs that emerge from the center of the blossoms. Take care not to get the pollen on your clothes as it may stain.
There are more than 50 varieties of amaryllis currently available. The plants are often sold as kits in drug stores and big boxes, and include a pot and potting soil as well as the bulb. These are small-sized bulbs that produce a single stalk with one or two red or pink flowers. You can often find them on drastic markdown just after Christmas. If you corner the market on these bargains, you can stagger the bloom time by planting them on two-week intervals. Store unplanted bulbs in a cool dark basement or in the vegetable crisper of you refrigerator. However, do not store them with apples as they give of ethylene gas that will damage the bulbs.
When purchasing amaryllis bulbs, size counts. The larger the bulb the more and larger flowers they will produce. Garden centers sell large-size amaryllis that come in a variety of colors including chartreuse, yellow and cream and green petals with burgundy stripes. Perfect for the mid-century modern style that is all the rage.
To grow in soil, choose a pot that is no more than an inch larger than the diameter of the plant. Plant the bulb so the the top inch of the shoulders of the bulb stick out of the soil. Water to keep the soil moderately moist and give it bright light. Giving the pot a quarter turn weekly will keep the stem straight up by preventing it from following the light. You can cover the top of the bulb with Spanish moss.
Depending on the size of the bulbs, amaryllis takes about eight weeks to bloom after the green tips emerge. Google “how to save an amaryllis bulb from year to year.”
Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to Yardener.com and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at detroitnewscom/homestyle.