Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Bloom, darn it! How to force an amaryllis.

This is an amaryllis I received as a potted bulb for Christmas 2009, blooming for its third year in a row. I love receiving potted bulbs as gifts, because they're fun to get when they're just bulbs, and then whammo, you get a second gift later in the year when the bulb finally blooms. And what a knockout! Amaryllis are so showy and blowsy, I just love the way the big pink flowers are brightening up my little windowsill garden during these grey, late winter days.

I remember my grandmother receiving one of these plants for Christmas, and then never seeing it in bloom again, although it certainly had a thriving clutch of bright green foliage. And in hindsight, I think she probably never created the conditions by which it would bloom. Basically, to get flowers again, you have to trick the plant into thinking it's been through winter.

So how do you do that? It's easy! Water and feed your bulb and let the plant finish flowering (about two weeks), and then cut away any of the old flower stalk. Then, move the whole pot outdoors and let it grow like a normal bulb through the summer, feeding and watering (and fighting off slugs) as you go. Then, next September, stop watering, cut away all the old foliage, and put the entire pot into a cool, dark place (if you have a refrigerator in your garage or something, that's perfect. You have to make it think it's winter, in other words cold, and dry and dark. I put my pots into a black plastic garbage bag and tuck the bag in the coldest part of my property, the shady alleyway between my house and my neighbor's). Make sure it's protected, though, because if it freezes it will rot and that, I can tell you, is mightily unpleasant. Now: forget about your bulb and get on with something else for a couple of months. Then, it's time to force! About six weeks before you want it to rebloom, bring it inside and put it in a sunny spot, and resume watering and feeding (now is the time to repot, if necessary). And shazam! With good luck, good timing and a lot of patience, you should have another show just in time for Christmas. 

What are your favorite plants to grow in the house in wintertime? Do tell.

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