Amaryllis brightens winter months

Monday, November 26, 2007 | 10:22 p.m. CST; updated 11:36 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008
From left, Tanja Patton listens to the amaryllis workshop instructor Mary Ann Gowdy talk about how to fertilizer newly purchased plants, as Sheila Cook and Matt Miller get ready to plant their bulbs.

COLUMBIA — David Galat caught the amaryllis bug about 10 years ago, and he’s headlong into another season of growing the flowering bulb.

“They’re gorgeous. They’re easy. And in February, when it’s really rainy and snowy, you’ve got this gorgeous flower,” Galat said. “It cheers me up in the wintertime.”


1. Before planting: Examine the bulb and make sure it has roots and a dry covering, called a tunica. Pick up the bulb and make sure it feels solid and firm. 2. Preparing the pot: A good foundation is important for the success of the plant. The pot must be 1 to 2 inches larger than the bulb and have holes in the bottom. Buy well-drained, quality potting soil. Gowdy recommends Pro-Mix, Miracle-Gro or the professional soil sold at Tiger Garden, MU’s full-service floral shop located in the Agriculture Building, 3. Potting the amaryllis: Do not bury the bulb all the way, or it will rot; leave ½ to 1/3 of the bulb exposed. Then, create a water reservoir in the pot at least ½ inch in depth. 4. Growing environment: Light: Place the plant in a sunny window and make sure that it is not directly under an air conditioning or heating vent. Keep the interior temperature between 70 and 75 degrees. Once the flower emerges, move to indirect light and lower the temperature about 10 degrees. This will help the flower stay alive longer and keep the color more vibrant. Water: Keep the soil moist, not wet. Do not directly water the bulb; water the soil around it. Water only when it feels like it needs it. “More people kill plants from overwatering them than underwatering,” Gowdy said. Use tap water if possible; soft water has sodium that hurts the plant. Fertilizing: The potting soil does not offer nutrients, so purchase general purpose fertilizer. Add either liquid fertilizer, two to four times a month or slow release fertilizer once every three to four months. 5. Caring for the flowers: Because the flower stalk is tall and hollow, the plant is top heavy when the flowers bloom. Add some support with a stick or rod, but be careful not to puncture the bulb when putting the stick in the pot. Source: Mary Ann Gowdy of the MU division of plant sciences from her presentation: “Amaryllis: Beautiful Flowers, Easy to Grow”

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The MU professor of fish and wildlife was among those attracted to a recent Tiger Garden workshop on how to cultivate amaryllis for the holidays.

Mary Ann Gowdy, faculty adviser to the MU floral shop primarily managed by MU students, laid out the step-by-step process to grow and keep the amaryllis bulb for years to come.

“Lots of people are looking for natural, non-materialistic holiday gifts,” Gowdy said. “It’s also an opportunity to bring the garden indoors, get some color in your house and liven things up.”

Galat sees the growing process as part of the appeal.

“The way I see it, with a lot of people, especially people with kids, is that you take this bulb and it’s just this dead looking thing,” Galat said. “You stick it in a pot and then all of the sudden, in three weeks, this thing starts coming out and it’s getting bigger. Everybody starts getting into it. ... There’s this whole sort of gestalt from watching the plant grow.”

Holding two pots with amaryllis bulbs at the end of the Tiger Garden class, Rob Odom planned on bringing one of them to his mother over the Thanksgiving holiday.

“She’s a plant person, and half the fun of it is watching it get (to the blooming stage),” he said.

Native to South and Central America, the amaryllis bulb is usually imported from one of three production fields located in Holland, Israel and South Africa. Historically, Holland produces the largest most prosperous bulbs due to the growing conditions that vary from the drier, sandier climates of Israel and South Africa.

The larger bulb, the bigger the flowers and the more flowers the plant produces per stalk, Gowdy said.

Mass-produced amaryllis kits from department stores usually offer a lower quality bulb that is smaller and skinnier than what one might find at a garden center. The bulbs from kits tend to produce fewer flowers and are generally not as healthy.

Jessica LaHue, an owner and design manager at My Secret Garden, said her shop usually gets amaryllis in after Thanksgiving, in bud form, and then sells it throughout the holiday season.

“The person they give them to can enjoy them opening and for their lifespan,” she says.

LaHue emphasizes the ease of caring for amaryllis. They do not need a lot of light, and if the owner does not want to keep it alive after the holiday season they do not have to feel obligated after the flowers fall off. “They are not a high maintenance plant,” she said.

Galat is of the same opinion about the amaryllis’ uncomplicated growing agenda: “It is probably one of the easiest bulbs you can grow inside of the house.”

Although the poinsettia is a mainstay of the holiday season, it doesn’t offer the versatility of the amaryllis. Amaryllis can be brought inside in the winter and planted outside in the summer. The poinsettia is really only enjoyed one time and then tossed out because it is a blooming plant that doesn’t survive outdoors in the Missouri climate, Gowdy said.

The amaryllis, LaHue said, is “something that’s a little more unusual rather than a poinsettia or a Christmas cactus.”

There are a few other popular plants that My Secret Garden sells during the holidays including the Christmas cactus, the poinsettia, the Norfolk pine and another bulb plant, the narcissus.

“You can buy a poinsettia, it’s already there,” Galat said. “You have it for a few days, get tired of it and that’s the end of it. Although, I can’t throw those away either.”

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