Irene Virag's Garden Party

I'm Irene Virag -- a writer, a gardener, a cancer survivor. I think ideas are like plants. They need nurturing to grow. And gardeners share both. So welcome to my blog. It’s all about what’s happening in my garden and beyond.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Irresistible Amaryllis

I don’t know about you but I love amaryllis. Don’t worry if you didn’t pot one up to bloom for Christmas. You can plant them anytime. I usually stagger my planting every couple of weeks through January so I have waves of flowers to brighten dreary winter days. One year, I had so many flowers I made bouquets when the blooms got too heavy and the stems flopped over. It was like having an indoor cutting garden. And they lasted a long time in the vase – about two weeks.

These days there are so many varieties of amaryllis, which technically speaking is a cousin of the true amaryllis, a South African native named Amaryllis belladonna. What we know and love as amaryllis is actually a plant called Hippeastrum, pronounced hip-ee-ay-strum. But what’s in a name?

This year, I’m giving bare amaryllis bulbs as holiday hostess gifts and stocking stuffers. And I’m expanding my repertoire with miniature Gracilis varieties like Papillio and double-flowered ones like Blossom Peacock and trumpet types that look like little Easter lilies. I especially like Pink Floyd. And I’m having a real thing with the new Cybister amaryllis. Talk about exotic. These South American hybrids have long spidery petals and come in luscious colors. My favorites are dark coral star-shaped La Paz with green and white highlights (pictured at left) and greenish white Emerald with red streaks.

My friend Sally Ferguson with the Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center tells me I don’t even have to bother with staggered plantings. That’s because not all amaryllis varieties flower within the same timeframe – they each have their own natural bloom time. It’s just that their schedules aren’t as precise as say tulips or daffodils. So if you know that some varieties will flower in four to six weeks while others won’t do their thing for as many as 12 weeks, you can plant them all at one time and sit back and wait for the show.

Here, courtesy of Sally, are bloom times of the more predictable varieties.

Early-Season Varieties take 5 to 8 weeks to bloom
*Single-flowered: Orange Sovereign, Lucky Strike, Apple Blossom, Minerva, Roma, Vera, Mount Blanc
*Double-flowered: Lady Jane, Mary Lou, Aphrodite, Pasadena
*Miniature Gracillis varieties: Donau, Scarlet Baby, Giraffe, Amoretta, Pamela

Mid-Season Varieties take 7 to 10 weeks to bloom
*Single-flowered: Red Lion, Lemon Lime, Liberty, Royal Velvet, Hercules, Wonderland, Picotee
*Double-flowered: Double Record, Unique, Blossom Peacock, White Peacock
*Cybister varieties: Emerald, Ruby Meyer
*Miniature Gracilis varieties: Papillio
*Trumpet varieties: Pink Floyd

Late-Season Varieties take 9 to 12 weeks to bloom
*Single-flowered: Las Vegas, Clown, Piquant, Toronto, Vlammenspel, Happy Memory, Charisma
*Double-flowered: Promise, Dancing Queen, Flaming Peacock, Andes
*Cybister varieties: La Paz, Chico
*Trumpet varieties: Amputo, Misty

Down&Dirty with Amaryllis
Plant amaryllis in a pot just barely bigger than the bulb itself. Fill with soil to the bulb’s “shoulders,” where the bulb tapers inward, leaving the upper shoulders and neck exposed. If you’re planting more than one amaryllis in the same pot, choose a broad container and place bulbs shoulder to shoulder.

Water well, then sparingly until growth is underway. Place the pot in bright light and when the stem shows, keep the soil moist but not soggy. When flowers open, move the pot out of direct sunlight and away from heaters. Like poinsettias, they like temperatures of about 75 degrees in the day and around 55 degrees at night. Feed monthly with balanced liquid fertilizer.

And you don’t have to kiss them goodbye when the flowers fade. Cut down the stalk and enjoy amaryllis as a foliage houseplant. In the summer, move the potted bulbs to a lightly shaded spot outside. Fertilize every two weeks or so. In late August, curtail watering, then stop altogether until the foliage dies back. Remove the bulb from the soil and store it in a cool, dry place where it can rest until mid to late October. Then repot it in light, well-draining potting soil. Watering is like an alarm clock going off. As soon as you start, the bulb wakes and is on its blooming way again.


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