Hip Hippeastrum

It’s that time again…planting indoor amaryllis. Or should I be botanically hip and say Hippeastrum? Hippeastrums are nature’s own instant package, containing all the elements to grow and flower— you just need to add water.

Whatever you want to call these tropical bulbs, they are fantastic addition to a northern gardeners’ home during winter. Buy at least 3 bulbs and plant 2 weeks apart so that you can have colourful flamboyant blooms throughout winter.

Choosing a Hippeastrum

With more than 100 Hippeastrum varieties available, finding a Hippeastrum that you like is easy. The trumpet-like blooms come in shades of reds, pinks, salmon, orange, and white, or as multicoloured blooms.

Select good quality bulbs

After you decide what colours you want, make sure you pick good quality large bulbs. A good quality bulb equals fantastic blooms and repeat flowering. So, choose plump, firm, dry bulbs free from any bruises, blemishes, fungus, or mould. And definitely don’t buy bulbs that are blooming in the box or tray.

Planting the bulb

Soak the roots, not the bulb, by perching the bulb on jar filled with tepid tap water— hydrating the roots for 12 to 24 hours promote fast root growth. Select a deep pot with a gap of 2.5 cm between the bulb and the pot. Bury two-thirds of the bulb in well-draining soil.

Growing conditions

Moisten the soil and water only when the soil starts to dry. Hippeastrums, native to Central and South America, prefers warm soil, so always use lukewarm tap water. Since the roots don’t like being wet, water from above and remove any standing water in the saucer.

For three to six weeks, Hippeastrum bulbs silently grow their roots in the dark moist soil. Suddenly the flower stalk emerges; and it starts to grow with vigour — 5 cm per day —and within two weeks it tops off its miraculous growth spurt with large, vibrant blooms.

Once the flower stalks and leaves start to grow, move the pot to bright and warm conditions (21–27 degree Celsius during the day and 16–18 degree Celsius at night). Don’t overwater. Allow the top 5 cm of the potting soil to dry out before watering, and occasionally mist the plant.

Although fertilizer isn’t essential, adding soluble fertilizer (low nitrogen, high potassium) to the water after the shoot reaches 5 cm, intensifies colours and keeps the bulb viable after blooming. To keep the plant growing straight, turn the pot 45 degrees every day. Move the flowering pot to a cooler room to increase bloom longevity.

Getting bulbs to bloom again: assumption buster

After blooming, many gardeners discard their bulbs. But it’s possible to have Hippeastrums bloom year after year by rebuilding the bulb with bright sunlight and liquid fertilizer (every watering until fall), and exposing the bulb to a cool period in the fall.

Contrary to popular belief, withholding water doesn’t initiate flowering. Veronica Read’s Hippeastrum: The Gardener’s Amaryllis (2004 Timber Press, $28.71) writes that Hippeastrums are evergreen, and only a cool period — 13 degree Celsius for 8 to 10 weeks — in bright light, initiates flowering. During this period, don’t feed bulb, but keep the soil moist. After 10 weeks of cool temperature, the hippeastrum bulb is ready to bloom again.

Written by Cristina da Silva
Tuesday, November 16, 2010 in Plants & Soils

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