Sometimes an amaryllis will co-operate. Sometimes it won’t, because plants are like people — full of quirks and individual traits. None of us ever acts in exactly the same way. Nor do they.
• A quality bulb helps — preferably a big, fat one, from a good bulb supplier (like GardenImport in Richmond Hill) or garden centre. Boxed amaryllis sold in supermarkets before the holidays are OK (and amazingly cheap) but most should be treated as one-hit wonders.
• After blooming, cut the long flower stem off, where it meets the bulb. Some people, for mystifying reasons, leave this appendage to wither and look hideous. But get rid of it. Its glory days are over.
• Water the plant regularly now. Then when all danger of frost is past, move it outside, to a semi-shady location. Don’t let amaryllis bake in hot sun.
• Now the important part: fertilize. Lots of fresh new foliage during the summer will encourage reblooming. In fact, there’s a saying that if an amaryllis develops at least four big new leaves, it will flower again. There’s some truth to this, I think.
• How to fertilize: Either scrape some soil out of the pot and add a bit of a slow-release product like 10-10-10. Then top it up again with fresh potting soil. (Be sure not to cover the top of the bulb.) Or, mix a water-soluble fertilizer into the watering can once a month throughout the summer. I do the former, simply because it’s easier.
• Remember that amaryllis plants are unpredictable; it’s part of their charm. Sometimes you might even get another flower stalk popping up during the summer, among those leaves.
• In fall, about the end of September, before Jack Frost swoops in, cut all foliage off and move the pot into a cool dry place indoors. This chilling-out period is crucial, because it gives the exhausted plant a breather. Mine go into an unheated porch on the north side of my house. (Don’t use the fridge.)
• Leave the pot there for 10 weeks, then add a bit of fresh potting soil (plus more slow release fertilizer) and water. But don’t overdo it. The roots mustn’t get soggy. Some people now repot their amaryllis bulbs in completely fresh growing mix, but I’m too lazy. Mine stay as is, with just a topping-up.
Not all my amaryllis get this treatment — only the ones I fall in love with. This winter, that honour was accorded to Gervase, the unusual new variety which produces flowers in a range of colours on the same stem.
Will my beautiful boy send up another sexy spike? There’s no guarantee. But my fingers are crossed.
More of Sonia Day’s The Real Dirt Columns