Gardening Tips: Forcing Amaryllis Bulbs

An Amaryllis bulb is gorgeous and a pick-me-up in the dead of winter. How to make your amaryllis blooms beautiful not just this year, but for many years to come.

At first glance, amaryllis bulbs seem to be expensive bulbs. After all, unlike tulips and daffodils you are only getting one bulb for your money. But think again. What other bulb can give you so much winter pleasure? And can you think of any more dramatic flowers?

And did you know that with the right treatment that amaryllis can bloom this year - and every year following. It may even divide and multiply so that you end up with lots of amaryllis bulbs.

Despite rumors to the contrary, amaryllis bulbs are quite eager to bloom for you. Have you ever noticed them in the supermarkets, the long bloom stalk trying to push the lid off of the package it is in? That is not a fluke. These guys love to flower!

When you get your bulbs, plant them in a pot that fits it rather snugly - there should be no more than about an inch of room between bulb and pot. Be sure there are at least 2-3 inches of soil beneath the base of the bulb, and leave the neck of the bulb exposed. Use a soil-less potting medium , because it is light and drains well - and most bulbs require excellent drainage.

Water the bulb in lightly. The mix should be damp, not wet. Then take the pot, bulb and all, and place it in a cool, dark place.

Keep an eye on it. Soon you will begin to see growth.

When that happens, bring the pot out into the light. To reduce any possible stress on the plant, do it gradually, doing from dark to dim and finally to light. At this point you can begin to water it again, adding a small amount of fertilizer. Once again - make sure the soil is moist but not wet.

Now - just stand back and watch. Pretty soon the bloom stalk should begin to grow taller and taller - and finally the bud will swell, and before you know it - your amaryllis is in bloom!

Enjoy it. Wrap some velvet fabric around the pot and tie it with a gold bow - amaryllis make great holiday gifts because they bring such cheer to winter.

When the blooms start to fade you will notice the foliage beginning to emerge. Now is when we start to prepare your plant for next year. Continue moderate watering and feeding. When the flowers wilt, cut the entire bloom stalk off - but leave the leaves. The plant gets the energy to flower because those leaves absorb nutrients and deliver them to the bulb. You want to pamper those leaves as if they were precious. Take them outside for the summer. Don't forget to feed them - but lightly.

By fall, the leaves should start to die back. Let them. Do not cut them off until they are yellow and quite ugly. (This is a good time to start returning them to their original dark hiding place.) Remove the leaves when they are completely shriveled. Then put the bulb and pot away and forget them.

Well - don't TOTALLY forget them. Give them a check every couple of weeks until you see signs of life. Do not water them. Let them stay in the dark. The bulb is resting, gathering energy. And when it has gathered enough it will signal you with emerging green growth.

And that's when you start the whole process again. Every year. If you have been faithful with your watering and feeding that bulb should reward you annually. Some may even surprise you by sending up a flower in mid-summer. And eventually they will produce small offset bulbs that you can detach and pot up. These baby bulbs won't be ready to bloom for about three years but hey - for all practical purposes they are free!

So that's all there is too it. A time in the dark, an hour in the spotlight and a summer of energy-gathering is all you need to keep that amaryllis going on and on and on.

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