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The Christmas Flower

The gorgeous blooms of the Amaryllis have become associated with Christmas, with huge red or white blooms popular, although the flower is available in other shades and bi-colours. Whether purchased for own use, or as gifts, the bulbs give the snow-bound gardener an enjoyable pastime with spectacular results. Amaryllis bulbs can live and re-bloom for decades, producing more flower stems as they age. Some flowers can be ten inches across, and a mature bulb can carry five or six flowers per stem, with three to five stems per bulb.

Many myths and urban legends are associated with Amaryllis. The original species, Amaryllis belladonna, is believed to have been discovered by the Portuguese in South Africa in the early 1600’s. The Latin botanical name means ‘to sparkle’. In Greek myth, Amaryllis was a nymph who fell in love with a shepherd who loved only flowers. An oracle told Amaryllis to pierce her heart and let a few drops of blood fall to the ground every day. On the thirtieth day, the blood drops turned into blooming amaryllis, and the shepherd fell in love with the nymph. Legend also states that Joseph, husband to the Virgin Mary, had his staff sprout with the flowers when chosen as her intended. A white blooming hybrid was developed, named ‘St. Joseph’s Staff’. The amaryllis has come to represent love, strength, and determination.

Fickle as plant lovers can be, in the 1800’s a larger blooming relative, Hippeastrum, was discovered in Central and South American and Amaryllis belladonna was nearly forgotten. The Latin Hippeastrum means ‘Knight’s Star’, perhaps another reference to the legend of Joseph. The plants continue to be called by the common name Amaryllis. Normally flowering in March in their homeland, the bulbs make an excellent blooming houseplant, easy to force into bloom for our festive season.

The Amaryllis available in our store are ready to bloom. Simply pot up into a pot only slightly bigger than the bulb, using a nutritious potting soil. Cover about 2/3 of the bulb. If you have stored the bulb and it seems dry you can soak it in warm water for a couple of hours before planting. Water only when the soil feels dry, until a flower stem begins to grow. Place in a warm, bright room

Amaryllis can grow tall; they do like to be a little pot-bound, but it can make them top-heavy and prone to falling over. You can choose a heavier, decorative pot to hold your potted bulb. Or, as the University of Cornell Flower Bulb Research Center accidently discovered at their Christmas party one year, a little alcohol in the water will keep the plant shorter. Apparently, a cocktail was spilled into a few of the research bulbs and the plants grew to about half the height but still flowered beautifully. When watering, one part rubbing alcohol to twelve parts water, or one part hard liquor like vodka to seven parts water will do the trick!

Once your bulb has started to grow use a half strength fertilizer in your water every three weeks. Let the bulb dry out a little between watering. To keep the stems straight give your pot a quarter turn every week, otherwise your plant will lean toward the light source. Using a grow light will help to keep it straight and strong. Warm temperatures are the key to fast growth. Blooming should begin in six to eight weeks.

Want to keep your bulb for next year? Like daffodils and tulips, you must allow the leaves to grow, doing photosynthesis, storing energy, and making the next flowers. Cut the spent flower stems close to the top of the bulb. Give it the brightest light you can and when nights are staying around 10 Celsius you can put it outside, in a shady spot at first. in mid-summer, quit watering and let the plant die back. Trim the leaves, remove the bulb from the dirt and let it dry. Then store in a cool dark place. This dormant period is necessary for at least four weeks but eight to ten is better. Six to eight weeks before Christmas, bring the bulb out and start the process again. Each year you will get more blooms. A most worthwhile endeavor!

We have 5 great amaryllis to choose from in our store now!


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