Thursday, June 16, 2016

Experimenting with Amaryllis Flowers

The bulb of an Amaryllis (Hippeastrum spp) flower.

Last winter, my sister was given a big bulb as a gift. Not a light bulb, but a flower bulb in a tiny decorative pot with a tag saying "Amaryllis" on it.  She gave it to me to see if I could grow it and the experiment began. 

I started, as I always try to do, with a little research first.  I looked up Amaryllis to see what it was as I wasn't familiar with it already.  I discovered that it is a native of the tropical and subtropical areas of South America, which doesn't usually bode well for trying to grow it in the Mojave Desert and I don't recommend it as a rule.  But it was only one bulb and it was a gift, so I figured it could be fun to give it a try.  I didn't expect it to do well, not even in the house, since even the house humidity doesn't get very high. 

But then I looked further and found that it's native plant community wasn't a rain forest jungle or anything like that, but rather the plateaus and savannas that are also in parts of South America in the higher elevations.  Those places have cool, somewhat rainy winters and rather warm, dry summers, so it looked slightly more hopeful for our new patient. 

So, we planted it, but kept it in the house in the sunniest room, which turned out to be the wash room with it's South facing door that has a window in it and occasional rises in humidity thanks to the washer and dryer.  It also didn't get too warm in that room since it doesn't have a heat register in it. So, it worked out that we were able to kinda mimic the winter conditions this plant developed under as we gave it occasional water.  I planted it in a terra cotta pot (the best choice for most plants really) with a cactus potting soil mix that has high drainage, low organic matter and no added fertilizer as I knew that such places in the wild are rather harsh environments.  Plants adapted to living in rocky or sandy soil with extended dry periods are actually harmed by babying them too much with really moist, rich soil. 

Amaryllis sends up flower stalk before any leaves elongate.
As you can see in the picture above, we did our best to prevent the roots from getting waterlogged by putting the pot on a plant stand but with the drip tray below the stand to keep water from being absorbed back into the soil.  This is also critical when watering with our local water supply that is high in salts. 

Amaryllis is interesting in that it is among those plants that seems to take forever to do anything with its bulb after it is planted (we planted it with the top half sticking up out of the soil as my sources - several websites by university horticulture departments recommended).  Then, just when you begin to think nothing will happen, the bulb splits open at the top and a green spear emerges!  This develops into the flower stalk and eventually, you see leaf tips emerging from the bulb below it.


Once it got started, it really took off! Now there are two flower stalks.

  The Best place to put our patient wound up being right in front of the air intake vent for the HVAC system, so the plant also got a nice light 'breeze' from the air being drawn in past it every day.  We also put it on this tv tray to keep it up away from the coldest parts of the drafts when someone would open the door that winter. It also kept it from getting knocked over accidentally by passersby.  It looked like this with its big, green spears for several weeks before it showed us why my sister's friend gave it to her....

Isn't it glorious! Soon, there were three spears, each with three of these huge flowers!

Suddenly, our curious green speared thing was a thing of amazing floral beauty!  It began growing these enormous (the size of my palm) flowers as you can see from this picture of the first bloom above.  They had a very pleasant aroma, smelling like really expensive perfume. Some of the scent even went in the HVAC system and scented the whole house. :)  I cut the anthers off the flowers shortly after they developed to keep pollen from spreading though. No one in our house has hay fever, but I figured it was still a good idea, especially if we had guests who did have allergies.  Cutting the anthers off didn't seem to hurt the plant any and the flowers lasted just as long as the websites said they would, about two weeks each.  They reminded me a bit of tiger lilies in form and texture.  Only these have shorter petals and a different structure to the anthers and pistil. 

By the time our winter was over in February, so was the blooming. When the last of the blooms broke down, I cut the flowering stalks off with a very sharp pair of shears cleaned with rubbing alcohol (always a good idea, especially with plants that you aren't sure how sensitive they are to infection yet).  It stayed in the house until my favorite weather service ( stopped forecasting frost for our area.  Then, I moved it outside to the shadiest part of our yard that was also not too cold. At the time, that was the South side of the house up against the North facing wall.  By May, it was getting warm enough that it needed to move to a cooler spot, so I put it along the wall on the East side of the house where it is now.

Shortly after I moved it outside, even though I put it in the shadiest spots, it still lost most of its leaves.  I would have been concerned had I not learned that this is common for plants that are moved from inside to outside, especially ones that have finished their reproductive period.  I'm happy to report, that I've been pleasantly surprised at how well it has recovered and even thrived outdoors.  I wasn't sure if it would grow anything all summer, but it has.

Re-sprouting outdoors. This time, leaves are leading the way.
In this current photo (6/16/16) we have two wonderful leaves!

Interestingly enough, now that it is outdoors where it is drier and warmer, it is growing leaves first.  This picture was taken shortly after it started emerging its first new leaf.  They said that it was a very persistent perennial that can do this for years, but I wasn't sure if that would be the case in our climate. So far, so good as you can see by the current photo that I took this morning.  The plant gets watered twice a day by a soaker hose dripping down on it on a timer, so it doesn't get a lot of water at once, but the soil is being kept from drying out completely. It also has partial shade in the morning and full shade in the afternoon thanks to being under a bid shade tree and the branches I've laid on top of the shelves on this West facing wall that is on the East side of the house so that it gets shade cast on it in the afternoon. 

Natural shade from cut branches works well for partial shade.

Will the Amaryllis bloom again this winter? I have no idea, it's an experiment. Stay tuned!


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