“Christmas isn’t a season. It’s a feeling.”
– Edna Ferber
We’re starting to feel that tell-tale chill in our Iowa air that warns us that winter is on its way, with the holiday season in tow. While the poinsettia might be the most well-known classic Christmas plant, the Amaryllis is the champion of holiday blooms. These striking, statement-making flowers aren’t just a delightful pop of color when everything outside is frosty and bleak, they’re also simple to grow, making them perfect for gifting. Blooming for nearly a decade, an Amaryllis is the gift that keeps on giving, whether you gift them to yourself or a loved one.
A Flower By Any Other Name: Amaryllis or Hippeastrum?
Most of us only know this flower by the name of Amaryllis, even though that’s not technically what they are at all! The centuries of name confusion was cleared up in the 1980s when Hippeastrum and Amaryllis were classified as different plants but, these days, we almost exclusively use the name Amaryllis, even if that isn’t entirely accurate.
Both gorgeous blooms are part of the same family and have a lot in common – which, understandably, fuelled the long-standing confusion over names. What sets these plants apart, though, is where they grow and their blooming habits. True amaryllis is from South Africa and is known as “Naked Lady” for its strange habit of blooming before its leaves appear. Hippeastrums, on the other hand, are from South America and bloom after their foliage is already established.
Although the variety we look for in stores is actually a Hippeastrum, there’s not much we can do to fight years of calling it by another name, so everyone typically uses the names interchangeably. Amaryllis is the name that this fantastic plant came to fame under, so that’s how you’ll find them labelled in stores.
Growing Amaryllis in a Pot
Amaryllis give us an exceptional trade of fabulous blooms and striking aesthetic for minimal effort. These flowers are easy to grow if you follow a few ground rules, making your gorgeous holiday blooms as effortless as they look.
Growing amaryllis starts with picking a good bulb. Search for something that is big and heavy, promising a spectacular holiday display that smaller bulbs can’t match.
With bulb in-hand, it’s time to plant. Amaryllises don’t actually need to be covered in soil to grow, so only bury them about halfway into the soil, leaving the rest of the pointed end exposed at the top. Find a location by a sunny window to display your pretty plant so that you can have the best view and your bloom can take advantage of all the sunshine it craves. Once your amaryllis sprouts, it’ll reach for the sun, so you’ll want to rotate it gently every once in a while to prevent it from toppling under its own weight.
Amaryllises do not like to be wet, which is part of their appeal as easy blooms to take care of. Once you’ve planted, soak the soil through once and wait for the bulb to sprout. After you see promising shades of green emerging from the top, you can water regularly, allowing to dry in between until your plant’s spectacular blooming season ends.
Growing Amaryllis in Water
For a plant that doesn’t like to be soaked, it can seem counter-intuitive to grow it in water. However, growing your Amaryllis without soil is just as good at producing stunning flowers – with less mess and more display designs possible.
Fill a clear vase with some gravel, stones, or pebbles of whatever style and design you desire. Set your bulb in the vase with the top exposed and add water until it barely reaches the roots of the bulb and maintain it at that level throughout the season.
Tips for the Most Amazing Amaryllis Every Year
Whether you grow in soil or water, how you take care of your bloom makes the difference between flowers that are just pleasant and those that are statement-making.
When your Amaryllis is done blooming, cut off the tips of the flower stalks and leave the rest of the stem to help gather energy for the bulb. For the rest of the winter and throughout the spring, treat it like a typical houseplant. Once summer arrives, bring it outside in a shady spot.
In October, you’ll notice your Amaryllis’ leaves slowly turning yellow, which is a sign that it is going dormant. At this time, trim back all the leaves – green or otherwise – and place it in a warm, dark space to go dormant, ensuring that the temperatures stay above 40℉. You can keep them dormant through until January, but not any later than that.
To bring back their beautiful, colorful blooms, move your plant back into the sunlight and begin regular watering. Within 4-6 short weeks, you’ll see new blooms bursting to life, ready for another year of picture-perfect performance.
Amaryllises are the best combination of big, showy blooms for very little effort, and they certainly make the bleak and cold winter season a little easier to survive. They’re a promise of spring in the middle of winter and the perfect gift that keeps on giving – for anyone that needs a little winter cheer.