Amaryllis Outdoors

Almost everyone knows the Hippeastrum bulb by its common name, Amaryllis. These plants have large trumpet blooms on hollow stems above coarse, strap-like foliage.

               I’m not sure why Amaryllis bulbs have become a popular Christmas gift. Maybe it’s because they come in wonderful shades of red (and white, rose and pink), because they are easy to force into winter bloom, or maybe because they have the word Mary in the name. If you receive one as a holiday gift, just follow the directions provided. Try to place it in your sunniest window. Unless they receive plenty of light, the stems elongate and need to be staked to hold up the heavy flowers.

               I like to start forcing a new bulb every two weeks so that I have blooms through the long, dreary days of winter. Rather than throw them away after the show is over, I keep them alive indoors with a very little TLC. Once warm weather arrives and nights remain above 50 degrees, I plant them outside, directly in the ground in a protected area. The first year outdoors, they throw foliage but no blooms. Thereafter, they bloom about the same time as bearded Iris. (That is mid-may in the Mary Snoddy garden.) I’ve lost a few bulbs over the years, but most survive for many years.

               Many bulbs like deep holes. Traditional wisdom says to dig a hole three times the height of the bulb. Amaryllis is one of the exceptions. They prefer to be planted so that the top of the bulb is actually above ground level. This is known as “planting up to the shoulders.” When the blooms are spent, cut off the hollow stems at ground level, but allow the leaves to remain. Foliage may remain green year-round in mild-weather areas, or it may die down and then return. Don’t be alarmed by the erratic emergence of foliage. It has no impact on the success of the plant.

               We have outdoor pets, so I choose to fertilize with an extended-release pelletized product rather than bone meal. Give the bulbs a little water during the hottest, driest part of the year but don’t overdo the irrigation or they may rot. Once or twice during the summer, I slosh a little liquid fertilizer (the blue variety one dissolves in water) over the foliage.

               New Hope Farm is located in the Piedmont section of the Carolinas. If your garden is in a much colder area, you may not share my success with outdoor planting. But if you have any protected microclimate areas near your house foundation or on the sunny side of an outbuilding, it’s worth a try!