Friday, January 9, 2015

Sparkling Shepherdess

I have a sparkling shepherdess living on my dining room table and it’s not as messy as it sounds.  It’s an Amaryllis – pronounced “am-uh-RIL-us” and the name comes from Greek mythology.   The horticultural name is Hippeastrum.

I’ve bought Amaryllis bulbs for years in colors of reds, pinks, peach and combinations.  This year I have a delicious icy lime green and it’s stunning.

I’ve found cheap Amaryllis bulbs most always bloom and the blooms are wonderful.  This year I bought a huge healthy bulb from Green View Nursery in Dunlap.  When I talk cheap and expensive for Amaryllis bulbs I’m talking a range of $5 to $20.  There are Amaryllis bulbs for hundreds of dollars if that’s your thing. 

Here’s how the Sparkling Shepherdess goes:

The bulb:  The larger the bulb (typically from a nursery) the taller the stem, the more stems, the more flowers and the more varied flower choices.  The bulb must not be dried out, should be healthy and heavy;  like a firm healthy onion.  Do not knock off the dried looking roots at the bottom or the papery covering.  If you buy a more inexpensive bulb, make sure you can see and touch it first.  It’s OK if it’s already sprouted.

The pot:  Often it’s recommended you plant the bulb in a small shallow pot.  Do not do it even if you get that little plastic one in the box.  It’s how you place the bulb that is the key to success.  This year I used a pot that was 8 inches tall and wide.   It must have a drainage hole and sit on some kind of a saucer.  Overwatering or sitting in water will rot the bulb.  I placed a round coffee filter in the bottom of the pot.  Next I added about 2 inches of glass marbles, then two inches of potting soil.  I gently placed the bulb on the soil and gently spooned more potting soil around the bulb until 2/3 of the bulb was covered; tapping it to firm.  Do not cover top third of the bulb or it will rot.   The reason I chose a big heavy weighted-bottom pot is because the plant will be very top heavy when it blooms.

The Watering:  Sit the pot over the drain of your sink or other waterproof site.  Gently pour water over the soil – not the bulb.  I use the word gently because if you dump a whole hard stream of water all at once, you’ll have a mess and the bulb will rot.  Gently poor water over the soil until it is wet to the bottom.  Let it totally drain and place on the saucer in good light.  Do not water again until it has dried.  Empty any water that flows into the saucer.  Repeat through it’s life cycle.  Do not overwater and never water the top of the bulb! 

The other stuff:  I kept my bulb beside my kitchen sink, which has a west window, and this worked perfectly for light and monitoring.  Finally three leaves sprouted and then three stems started upward; reaching 18 inches.  Last week the top of one stem blossomed out into three stunning flowers.  Tomorrow there will be another stem with flowers.  In another week, the third stem will flower.   Because the stems reach for the light, I turned the pot every day.   

The Flowers:  It takes an Amaryllis bulb from 6-8 weeks to sprout and bloom.  The leaves are inconsequential to the plant’s beauty. The flowers have the shape of a lily and no matter the cost it will have beautiful flowers.  Some folks plant several bulbs in pot.

The after party:  Don’t throw the finished plant away.   Continue to treat it like any other houseplant.  Do not over water.  This is where you do everything right or be like me and forget you have the bulb because you put it in the basement and when you go down for the Christmas decorations and you happily start again.

The right way:  Give it a little fertilizer in the winter and keep in bright winter sun.  When the temps are over 50 degrees in the late spring, move outside.  Some put the pot outside and others plant the bulb in the ground (plant same depth.)  The more sun, fertilizer and water it gets in the ground, the more leaves it will grow, the more photosynthesis occurs and the bigger the bulb grows.  Lift the bulb before it freezes in the fall.  Brush off soil, cut off the leaves to about 2 inches and let the bulb’s roots dry.  Keep in a cool dark place (brown paper bag hung on the basement works for me.)   Pot up about 8 weeks before you want blooms. 

The bottom line:  Don’t be intimidated by the few rules for Amaryllis plants, they are well worth it for these spectacular sparkling winter flowers.

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