Amaryllis bulbs have become a fixture of Christmas gift-giving and holiday decor. It's such fun to watch their speedy development and they couldn't be easier to grow. Just add water, pop them in a sunny window and watch as the giant buds unfurl into massive blooms. So far, so good. But what do you do after the flowers wilt? Of course, you could toss the plant and start with new a bulb next year. But if you want your amaryllis to produce flowers every year, follow these fairly simple steps:
Pinch off faded flowers right behind the ovary (the bulge in the stem that appears slightly swollen with developing seeds). The larger you allow those seed-filled ovaries to grow, the more of the plant's energy will be squandered.
Though you should remove faded flowers immediately, wait to cut back the flower stalk. As long as it's green, it will capture light energy, which will help feed the bulb. When the flower stalk yellows pull it out with a swift tug.
Keep your amaryllis in bright sun in the house until mid-May or early June, when night temperatures are consistently well above freezing. Then you can move your amaryllis outdoors.
Once outdoors, you can keep the plant in its original container or sink the container up to its rims in the soil. Some people also remove the bulb and plant it directly into the garden. Just make sure it gets direct sunlight most of the day.
(You can grow amaryllis indoors year-round like a house plant. But if you do, you won't be able to regulate their bloom time. An amaryllis grown indoors will bloom in April or early May.)
Feed and water your plant regularly, whether it's indoors or out. Apply fertilizer designed for flowers or blooming plants every three or four weeks in spring and summer. Allow the soil to dry between waterings. (You can cut down on how frequently you water plants outdoors if the container is sunk in the ground or the bulbs are planted directly in the garden, but your soil must drain well.) Soggy soil can cause the thick, fleshy bulbs to rot.
Bring your amaryllis indoors when frost threatens in fall. Store it in a cool, dry, dark location such as a basement and do not water. Trim back the leaves after they've withered and turned brown.
After about two months, check for new growth. Sometimes leaves appear first, sometimes a flower stalk. Once you see either, return the plant to a sunny window and water it.
If after three months your bulb shows no signs of growth, jump-start it by moving it to a warmer location and watering it thoroughly. As soon as you see new growth, move it into the sun to renew the bloom cycle for another year.
Deb Brown is a horticulturist with the University of Minnesota Extension Service Yard and Garden Line. For help with garden, plant and insect questions, call the Yard and Garden Line at 612-624-4771.