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Plant Amaryllis Now

Amaryllis bulb production has more than doubled worldwide since the late 1990s, which is good news for gardeners. The colorful large-flowered native of the southern hemisphere has become North America's flower of choice to take the gray chill out of winter in northern states. Here in Florida we can grow them outdoors where they take little care and multiply nicely. "People can't seem to get enough of amaryllis," said Sally Ferguson, director of the Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center in Danby, VT. "These big bulbs offer audacious, tropical-looking flowers. They're incredibly easy, nearly foolproof to grow and provide weeks and even months of bloom."

Holland has long been the primary source of amaryllis bulbs, but lately a huge amount of production has moved to South America, their native continent.

Brazil, which had little or no production in the late 90s, now has nearly 500 acres under production. Wouldn't that be something to see! Other amaryllis production areas, South Africa and Israel, remain stable, each have about 62 acres in cultivation, he said, while Holland cultivates another 173 acres just for cut flower production besides 150 acres for commercial production of bulbs. Amaryllis belladonna, the actual true amaryllis, is a South African native, a very large plant. Hippeastrum is its South American cousin, a fellow member of the Amaryllidaceae family, and the flower most of us know as amaryllis. The name is a shortened version of its popular name, Dutch amaryllis. These smaller, more elegant flowers are much more widely grown than the belladonna type (which has the popular name belladonna lily). It is the

White amaryllis are particularly showy
Hippeastrum or Dutch amaryllis that so many know and love as the winter wonder flower.

Planting amaryllis is easy. Plant in improved soil in a sunny spot in the garden. The upper shoulders and neck of the bulb should be left exposed in theory, but after either squirrels or grasshoppers ate many right out of my garden, I have buried them all the way. Water well and keep the soil barely moist until growth begins. After the green shoot appears, water regularly to keep soil moist but not soggy.

A single amaryllis bulb produces multiple stems, each stem with three to six lily-shaped flowers. It takes only a single bulb to make an excellent display and a single stem makes a fine bouquet. Cut the flowers in the opening bud stage or after one or two of the flowers on a stem have opened. Split the stem ends. If conditioned in deep, cold water for several hours, amaryllis will last a day or two without water, so they make lovely wedding bouquets or corsages. In a vase each flower lasts 4 to 7 days. The whole stem lasts longer as some of the flowers fade but others open. Leave the foliage on the plant to make next year's blooms.

If one bulb is excellent, then grouping several bulbs together is spectacular. Try planting two, three, even five or more amaryllis bulbs. The bulbs have been known to last for 75 years, passing down from generation to generation. Plants are also easy to start from seed.

There are miniture and full sized types with stems from 18 to 26 inches tall. The miniatures tend to have smaller flowers and more of them. Doubles are recently becoming popular. Flower colors range through red, burgundy, orange, peach, pink, and white with some bicolors and picotee edges.

When your clumps get overcrowded, dig and separate the bulbs during their nearly dormant period in late summer or early fall. If given room to grow, the smaller offsets will reach full size in a few years. Amaryllis bulbs can be left in the ground here or else lifted in the fall and replanted at intervals from November to February for a succession of bloom. Some bulbs will bloom just four to six weeks after planting, some can take as long as nine to twelve weeks, depending on the variety. Fertilize when new growth begins and again after bloom stops.

The large bare bulb holds next year's flower folded in its center.

The various stages of amaryllis growth.

Miniature amaryllis have smaller flowers but more of them.