By Bob Dailey
Resembling trumpets heralding the arrival of a king, amaryllis blooms are some of the most striking flowers in Montgomery County gardens.
Sold mostly as indoor plants, they fare well in outdoors in southeast Texas, jazzing up the spring garden, just after irises and before daylilies and crinums (which are also members of the amaryllis family).
These dramatic flowers originated in West Cape, South Africa. They have attractive strap-like leaves, which generally keep their shape and color all year round in Montgomery County.
All the varieties are showy. There are really bold colors – red, bright pink, orange. There are other cultivars that are more subdued, but equally dramatic. Subdued shades of salmon, rose, pink and white are available. Others are striped and multicolored.
Caring for and planting amaryllis outdoors
Amaryllis do not like their feet wet. They need well-drained soil. Build up a low area with compost to help drainage. The plants like sun, although they will grow in partial shade.
Amaryllis grow from bulbs. They can be planted from September through April. Set the amaryllis bulb in a hole and cover it so about an inch of the bulb is above the ground. To tell the difference between the top and the bottom of the bulb, look for a flat area, which probably has roots on it. Plant the bulb with that part down.
Water the bulb well after planting. Don’t flood it with water, but gently soak the soil around it. Then, slow down on the watering. Unless it’s sending up flower stems, it doesn’t need much water. Amaryllis foliage is evergreen in the county. The leaves are about 1.5 inches wide and can grow up to three feet long.
Before it blooms, the amaryllis plant will send up one or two stalks. Both stalks may not appear at the same time. At this point the plant will need about 1/2 “ – 1” of water. Again, water slowly and gently, letting the water soak in deeply.
The stalks are leafless, with a bulge at the top. The bulge will explode into three to four large flowers each of which can be up to eight inches across.
After blooming has ended, cut off the flower stalk at the neck of the bulb, but keep the leaves on the plant. It needs the foliage to produce food so the bulb can again offer beautiful flowers next spring. Add a handful of slow release fertilizer and water well again.
In late fall in the northern part of the county, add about 3 inches of mulch (leaves or pine straw work best) to protect the plant from freezing.
Many garden amaryllis started life as a “forced” Christmas flower. Once the “forced” bulb has finished blooming, it can be planted in the garden.
Amaryllis in planters
Amaryllis bulbs grow quite large. Additionally, the flowers and the stalks are heavy. Use a planter large enough and heavy enough to withstand the weight. If not, the pot may tip over in a wind.
Use good soil in the planter. Don’t use topsoil in any planter for any vegetation. Instead, use a lawn and garden soil, and add enough compost to take up about a third of the volume.
A good point to remember: amaryllis plants originate in the West Cape of South Africa. The climate there is Mediterranean-like: warm, dry summers and mild, wet winters. In their native habitat, they do not receive a great deal of water, so they should not be overwatered or over-fertilized. The soil should be well-drained.
Taken care of properly, amaryllis plants will provide years of beauty to the spring garden.