Amaryllis: A gift that keeps on giving

Amaryllis, a popular holiday plant, is cherished for its showy flowers in hues ranging from stark white to dazzling red.

This species was discovered in 1828 by a German botanist in Chile and classified as Hippeastrum, a genus of the Amaryllidacaea family. Growers hybridized them over the years into more than 300 cultivars.

Amaryllis, with its stunning, trumpet-shaped flowers, is a popular indoor plant that will brighten any home for the holidays. Photo by Nadie VanZandt
Amaryllis, with its stunning, trumpet-shaped flowers, is a popular indoor plant that will brighten any home for the holidays. Photo by Nadie VanZandt.

As natives of South America, these perennial herbaceous bulbs thrive in a warm and humid environment. Although they bloom in spring in their natural habitat, in our northern climate, amaryllis bulbs are grown as indoor plants, offering welcome cheer during the dreary days of winter.

With the holidays fast approaching, many of us may have received or even purchased an amaryllis as a gift. But did you know that you don’t need to throw out the plant when it stops flowering?

Your amaryllis will bloom in the next few weeks and grace your home with its spectacular blooms for several days. Watching the flowers emerge and the petals unfold is fascinating.

But don’t discard the plant when its last petals wither and fall. This stunning specimen deserves another chance at showcasing its lasting beauty. Like most perennials, it can reward you for many years to come with proper care and attention.

The leaves of the amaryllis play an important role in generating food for its storage organ, its bulb. So, once the flowers have faded, the plant needs time to rebuild its energy.

Cutting the flower stalk at the top of the bulb after it turns yellow expedites this process. It ensures that the plant does not spend its energy developing seeds.

With the flowers removed, your job is to help the plant grow leaves. These tall, thick and glossy leaves make the amaryllis an attractive houseplant even without flowers.

First, ensure that your pot has a drainage hole. You may need to repot the plant if it does not.

Place the potted bulb indoors in a sunny location that gets at least four hours of sunlight daily. A window with southern exposure is ideal.
When the top inch of soil is dry, water to keep the soil slightly moist, taking care not to wet the crown. In addition, you will need to fertilize your plant twice a month with a general-purpose indoor plant fertilizer.

In the spring after the danger of frost has passed, move your amaryllis outside, taking time to slowly acclimate it to a location in full sun. Start by placing the bulb in a shady spot, gradually increasing its exposure to more sunlight each day for a week. Continue to water and fertilize.

Next—and this is critical to reblooming—give your amaryllis a period of dormancy. To do this, you will need to stop watering and feeding it in late summer. Once the leaves have withered and died, you can cut them off.

Move your potted amaryllis (or just the bare-root bulb) to a cool, dark location away from freezing temperatures for 8 to 10 weeks. Leave it until you are ready for another show.

To break its dormancy period, place in a sunny, indoor location and begin watering again to encourage your plant to repeat its growth cycle and bloom again.

Members of the Amaryllidacaea family are not only stunning but are widely used for their medicinal benefits. According to scientists, their leaves and bulb contain an alkaloid, a chemical known to exhibit antitumoral, antiviral, antiparasitic and other healing properties.

As a note of caution to pet owners, ingesting amaryllis leaves may cause your pet to have mild indigestion. Nibbling on the bulb may have more severe consequences.

This winter, why not save your amaryllis to rebloom next year? With little effort, you will get much reward.

Nadie VanZandt is a UVM Extension master gardener intern.