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The giant amongst indoor bulbs

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Hippeastrum are popular gifts at Christmas. They are often commonly known as amaryllis and, by following a few easy tips, these beautiful flowers will bloom year after year for you.

Hippeastrums are giants among indoor bulbs. Their sturdy, leafless stems, more than half a metre in height, are topped with blaring trumpets of rich colour or cooler hues.

Easy to package and simple to coax into flower, amaryllis bulbs make popular gifts. Many of us will have received one, maybe for Christmas, because they can be forced to bloom early. They can be ordered from summer onwards for planting any time from October to January. They take around six to eight weeks to flower indoors.

Bulbs should flower about six to eight weeks after planting, and should be planted from October to January. Hippeastrum is a genus of about 90 species and over 600 hybrids and cultivars of perennial herbaceous bulbous plants. They generally have large fleshy bulbs and tall broad leaves, generally evergreen, and large red or purple flowers.

Here’s how to plant your bulbs:

Plant bulbs using John Innes No.2 or multipurpose compost into pots a little larger than the bulb itself. Two-thirds of the bulb should remain above the surface.

Place in a well-lit spot at 21°C (70°F).

Water sparingly until the new leaves develop and then start watering regularly. Do not let the compost dry out, but avoid excess water collecting in the saucer.

Turn the pot regularly to prevent the flower stalk growing towards the light. Cultivars with large flowers should be staked.

When in flower, move the plant to a cooler place, about 15–18°C (60-65°F), to extend the flowering period.

Many Hippeastrum bulbs are disposed of after they have flowered, which is a shame as keeping them going requires only a little effort. With the right care, amaryllis can be encouraged to re-flower for many years. If it is kept somewhere frost-free, it may flower again, this time in spring or early summer. This is the plant reverting to its normal behaviour, showing signs of its origin.

Q&A on Hippeastrum

What’s the difference between amaryllis and Hippeastrum?

The plant we commonly call ‘amaryllis’ is a South American native in the genus Hippeastrum, while the true amaryllis or belladonna lilies (Amaryllis spp.) are from South Africa. Both, however, are in the amaryllis family (Amaryllidaceae).

How do you get Hippeastrum to flower again?

Stop feeding your plant but continue watering once every two weeks to keep the soil just moist. After eight to ten weeks, return your hippeastrum to room temperature and cut off all the foliage to 6cm above the bulb. Resume watering and start feeding once the new growth appears.

Do Hippeastrums multiply?

Hippeastrums can be propagated by division the small plantlets or offsets growing from the mother plant called pups. After dividing the pups they can be transplanted into another pot around May or June and then you would expect these pups to flower within three years.

How do you look after Hippeastrum?

Hippeastrums thrive in full sun or light shade. Ideally, place near a wall or fence so that they’re protected from strong winds, but getting plenty of sunlight. They are drought-hardy, able to survive on virtually no rainfall for a year or two, although flowering may be affected.

Should I cut the leaves off my Hippeastrum?

Hippeastrum leaves will die down naturally after flowering.  Don’t remove the leaves before this time because they are supplying the plant with food for next years flowers. With regard to division, hippeastrums can be divided in the dormant period (early to mid winter) if they are congested.

Can I save my amaryllis bulb for next year?

Dig your bulb up and store it in a cool, dry, dark place (like a basement) for anywhere between four and 12 weeks. Amaryllis bulbs in winter go dormant, so they won’t need any water or attention. When you want to plant your bulb, place it in a pot not much bigger than the bulb, with its shoulders above the soil.

When should I put amaryllis in the dark?

In late summer, bring your amaryllis inside and place it in a sunny spot. Stop watering and feeding. The leaves, flowers, and stems will begin to fade. Once they have yellowed, cut them off and move the plant to a cool, dark place with temperatures between 55-60°F.

Do you water amaryllis from the top or bottom?

Water the potted bulb once thoroughly, from top and bottom of the pot. Do not water regularly until new green growth appears at the top of the neck. If the soil dries out before that time, water no more than once per week, preferably from the bottom of the pot. 

How many years will an amaryllis last?

With proper care, an amaryllis bulb will grow, bloom, and rebloom for decades. The average lifespan of a bulb is about 25 years, though it’s not unheard of for an heirloom amaryllis to be passed down through families for 50 years or more.

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