Tips for saving amaryllis bulbs

To help make our long winters less drab and dreary, I usually grow several different amaryllis plants so there is something colorful and blooming in the house between November and February.

Normally, I toss the bulbs into the compost bins after they’re done flowering. But after talking to some master gardener friends who save and replant their amaryllis bulbs, I’ve decided to do the same.

I figure, even if I didn’t pay a lot for the bulbs (they range in price), it would be nice to give the plants the opportunity to flower again if they’re able. If you’d like to try this, too, here are some tips you need to know.

Like other bulbs, amaryllis uses its leaves to store up energy for next year. Once the flowers fade, cut them off so the spent blooms don’t go to seed, which uses up energy the bulb needs. Leave the long leaves intact.

Yes, it does look weird to have a bulb in a pot with goofy, long leaves poking out of it. But those green leaves will feed the bulb through photosynthesis if you leave the pot near a sunny window.

Keep watering and fertilizing the bulb as you did when it was flowering. I usually water once a week, which is when the soil starts to feel dry.

It’s a good idea to fertilize every time you water. Use about half the amount suggested on the package of whatever type of fertilizer you use.

Once we make it past the last frost, put your amaryllis plants (in their pots) outside in a spot that’s not in direct sun. Like seedlings, they need some time to acclimate to being outdoors — so, over the course of a week or two, move the pots into more and more sun.

Ideally, they need to end up in a place where they will get a minimum of 5 hours of sun daily. You can leave them on your patio in their pots or bury the pots in the garden someplace for the summer.

At this point the leaves may be yellowing, browning or otherwise looking awful. But even if they are still green, you can cut the foliage back to about 3 inches. Keep up the watering and fertilizing (now at full strength) during the summer and new leaves will grow.

If you’d like your amaryllis to bloom around the holidays, you need to move them into their dormant period no later than mid-August.

To do that, bring the pots indoors and store them in the basement or another dry, dark location, like a closet. Temperatures need to be below 60 degrees for dormancy, and you should stop watering at this point.

When the leaves turn brown and shrivel up, go ahead and cut them off. If you’re not able to offer a location that is this cool so early in the season, that’s fine. The bulbs can stay out into fall as long as it doesn’t frost. They’ll just bloom later if they stay out longer.

Leave the potted bulbs in their cool, dark spot for about eight to 12 weeks. Check for mold every once in a while and, if you see some, toss the affected bulbs out.

After this two- to three-month dormancy period, place the potted bulbs in a sunny spot and resume watering and fertilizing (half strength, again). New leaves should begin emerging after about four weeks, and follower stalks will soon follow.

If the bulbs don’t bloom again it’s probably because the bulb just didn’t have the energy it needed. Oh well. At least you gave it a try, right?

If this works well and you want to keep up the tradition from year to year, it’s a good idea to repot your amaryllis bulbs every 3 or 4 years. Do this right before you bring them out of the dark to begin their blooming cycle again, and be sure to use fresh potting soil. You may need to gently loosen up the roots to get the plants out of their pots.

Over time, the bulbs will grow larger and produce more flower stalks and blooms. Lovely!


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