Q. I really like amaryllis plants grown from large bulbs. I have two problems with them. One is that most of my larger plants just form leaves and no flowers. The second is a problem with smaller bulbs that I took off the bigger bulb. They just grow but do not bloom at all. These smaller bulbs are now 4 years old. Give me help with both of these problems.
-- B. S. of Collinsville
A. Amaryllis (Hippeastrum sp.) is different from most plants in that they do not need to be replanted every year. These bulbs like a tight fit in the container and don't need to be replanted for three or four years.
They need only about a half-inch opening between the bulb and the pot's edge. If you allow more room than that, as you found out, it will grow only leaves until the bulb gets almost pot-bound. Also, make sure that the top third of the bulb is placed above the soil level in the container. Planting them deeper also encourages leaf formation and no flowers will result.
Remember, these bulbs are not hardy like tulips and daffodils and will not withstand freezing temperatures.
Amaryllis also require a rest period whichm if you want the plant to flower in December, should start at the end of August. This is easy to do by cutting off all watering and placing the bulbs in a cool (but not below 50 degrees), dark place. Let them alone for two to three months, then cut off the stringy foliage. Start watering very slowly, watering very little in the beginning until you see leaf and shoots beginning to form. Then place them in a sunny location. The flower stalk should begin to appear in four weeks.
The smaller bulbs are growing just the way they should with no flowering for about five years from the time the bulblets were cut off from the main bulb. This is the reason for the high price of these bulbs, compared to the price of a tulip or daffodil bulb. Usually the cost is $15 to $20 each.
Treat the smaller bulbs like the larger parent bulb by allowing them to grow winter, spring and early summer, then stop watering them to force them into dormancy in late summer. Remember to place them also in a dark area. Place just one bulb in a smaller container that will crowd the bulb and almost make it pot-bound.
In spring you can fertilize these bulbs with a balanced liquid fertilizer (12-12-12) about once a month at half the strength recommended on the container to increase size until early summer or about six weeks before starting the dormancy period.
These bulbs are hardy and have been passed down for three or four generations or longer by some families. For good buys, check yard sales as they are easily found in certain areas.
To obtain the color you want, be sure to select them in flower. The smaller the bulb, the cheaper the price.
Whenever they are finished flowering, you should cut off the flower stalk so energy is not wasted on seed production. I have tried growing them from seed, but the results of the flowers produced are usually thinner and not as colorful as the flowers produced by the parent. The smaller bulblets are the way to produce more plants and their color and flower characteristics should be identical to the parent plant.
Charles Giedeman is a local contributing writer. Send your gardening questions to Lifestyle Editor Pat Kuhl, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427. Or email to firstname.lastname@example.org
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PLANNING: This is a good time to check over your gardening notes about what was good and not so good with this year's planting beds. What changes will you make for 2014? If you did not take notes, you will make some of the same mistakes again in 2014.