Amaryllis and Paperwhites

23 November 2022

At this time of the year many stores stock kits to grow amaryllis or paperwhite plants at home. They come equipped with everything you need but water. You get the bulb, pot, and growing medium. If you want them to bloom in time for Christmas, you may want to plant them now.

Amaryllis

The plant name is Hippeastrum, which translates to “horse star”. Depending on the size of the bulb you can get blooms as large as 8 or 10 inches in diameter. They will produce three or four blooms on a stem that grows to one or two feet. Frequently a second stalk will push through about the time the first blooms open. The larger the bulb, the more expensive the plant will be.

While most plants like a lot of room for its roots, the amaryllis prefers a tight area. The pot should only be an inch or two larger than the diameter of the bulb. Hold it so that the roots will hang into the pot and add the soil. About half the bulb should remain on top of the soil. When pressing the soil into the pot, be sure to avoid breaking any of the roots. Water well and place the pot in a warm, sunny spot.

Ideal temperatures should be 70s during the day and 60s at night. When the blooms appear, move the plant to a cooler spot and away from direct sunlight so that the flowers will last longer. You may be enjoying the flowers for at least a month.

After the bloom is spent, remove it from the plant. In that way the plant will direct energy to more blooms rather than trying to form seeds. Once it has bloomed out, keep it in a sunnly location. In the spring, when it is able to be moved outdoors, place the pot and all into soil that gets some shade. As it acclimates to the location, it can be moved to sunnier places until it receives full sun for half a day. Fertilize as you would for a houseplant. Prior to the first frost, bring it back into the house and place it in a dark place.

Inside withhold water so the leaves can dry completely. Then you can cut off the leaves close to the top of the bulb. An amaryllis can live in the same pot for several years. Offshoots can be placed in their own pots, but be sure to keep them in a container only an inch or so larger than the bulb. Don’t worry if the offshoot has one side that is pushed in (concave), it will develop into a full orb. Then it will bloom in a couple of years.

Paperwhites

This is a narcissus plant, a relative of the daffodil. It will produce clusters of flowers in white, yellow, or orange that produce a wonderful aroma, with the yellow as the most fragrant.

If you are going to try on your own without a kit, select bulbs that are firm and don’t have any apparent blemishes. This will give you a healthy bulb to begin with. Select a clean pot about 3 to 5 inches deep with drainage holes. Use a non-soil potting mix that will drain well. Plant the bulbs pointy ends up and fill the space but don’t let the bulbs touch each other. The tips should be exposed and the level of the mix should be around a half inch to inch from the rim.

Keeping the bulbs in a location at around 40 to 55 degrees will help them stay fresh until you plant them. At that point, in temperatures around 68 or 70, they will root in about two to three weeks and then bloom in around another three, or about six weeks from planting. When the shoots are about 3 inches tall, place the pot in a sunny but cool spot. If it is too warm or not enough light, you will end up with tall, gangly stalks and the blooms will cause tipping over. After a month or two, you should have flowers. Too much sun will cause the flowers to die quickly.

Water so that the bottom of the plants (where the roots are) will be moist. Use a probe to be sure you are giving them sufficient water, but don’t overwater. Be sure any excess water drains from the pot. If the bulbs begin to heave or rise from the soil/pot surface, you can gently push them down so that they are back to the suggested depth. Sadly, they won’t bloom again.

Enjoy throughout the holiday season.

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