by Rob Sproule
When it comes to raw, shameless flower power, Amaryllis is a heavy-weight contender. A holiday favourite thanks to its natural tendency to bloom in mid-winter, the finger-span wide red, scarlet, pink, white, or apricot flowers are a trumpet in the middle of the room. It’s impossible not to notice them.
Amaryllis are also one of the easiest plants to grow. The bulbs are geared up to bloom when you buy them, and you just need to provide the conditions. It will take 4-6 weeks from planting to bellowing blooms, and they’re a classic and unforgettable holiday look not soon forgotten.
One of the most photogenic plants in the world, Amaryllis are up there with orchids in how tantalizing they look on film. From broad, luminous petals that always seem to catch the light, to the architectural pistil and stamens that curve just enough to play with your aperture, they’re one of the most rewarding flowers to shoot. Every holiday season photography clubs and iPhone shooters alike huddle around them, clicking happily away.
What’s in a Name?
When I see Amaryllis on the shelf I always want to take my trusty Sharpie and put quotation marks around the genus name. Amaryllis are actually not amaryllis, but hippeastrum. Amaryllis are a South African genus, most known for their captivating Belladonna lily, and Hippeastrum hail from tropical South America.
For the sake of simplicity and our collective sanity, I’ll stick to calling them Amaryllis. The next time you’re at a friend’s house and there’s a lull in the conversation, try to resist the urge to point out that the amaryllis on the table is actually a hippeastrum.
Choosing Your Bulb and Planting
The old-school way to grow Amaryllis is to cool bulbs in the fridge for 6-8 weeks before planting to activate them. Almost all bulbs you buy now, especially those displayed as ready-to-grow gifts, have been pre-cooled.
Get touchy-feely with them, making sure your bulb is firm all around. As with all bulbs, size matters: bigger bulbs = bigger flowers.
Aim for a container that’s only 1 inch wider than the bulb itself. While claustrophobic to us, amaryllis prefer cramped conditions similar to the intense jungle competition its evolved with.
You’ll want a heavy pot, as the plant’s height and broad flowers make it quite top heavy. Make sure it’s deep enough to handle the rapid root growth and has ample drainage. Amaryllis spurn wet feet.
Plant the bulb in well-draining soil with a little yummy organic content, like Sea-Soil, blended in. You’ll want a third to a half of the bulb to be visible above the soil. Make sure the bulb is firmly in place and water sparingly until there’s about 2 inches of growth.
Once it starts growing, it’s important to fertilize with a high middle number (phosphorous). I usually recommend a flowering plant fertilizer. The goal is simple: you want big flowers and lots of them.
You may need a simple support stake once it starts blooming. Far from being a chore, this means that you’ve grown such a big, bad amaryllis it can’t even support the weight of its own beauty! A simple bamboo stick and twine works well, or you can go fancier.