COLUMBIA, Mo. – Nothing brightens a windowsill in winter like amaryllis, the National Garden Bureau’s Bulb Plant of the Year, said University of Missouri Extension horticulturist David Trinklein.

The name “amaryllis” comes from a Greek word that means “to sparkle.” And sparkle it does, said Trinklein.

There are more than 600 varieties of this native South American bulb currently on the market, making it a favorite of gift-givers.

According to the National Garden Bureau, most garden centers, websites and garden catalogs label the easy-to-grow bulb’s country of origin. Bulbs from Holland normally take four to eight weeks to bloom while ones from South Africa take three to five weeks.

Most bulbs today are Dutch hybrids, with huge, showy blooms in shades of red and white. It is not unusual for one bulb to produce up to six flowers per scape (flower stalk). Native to the subtropical and tropical Americas, amaryllis forces Midwesterners to treat it as a greenhouse or house plant.

Trinklein offers tips for growing sparkling amaryllis:

Choose healthy bulbs with the original roots intact. Bulbs with all roots removed to the bulb plate will perform poorly during their first year, though they may bloom.

Use a good potting mix. Plant bulbs in a well-drained, highly organic potting mix that retains adequate moisture. A mixture of sphagnum peat, vermiculite and perlite works well. Maintain this medium in a slightly acidic state.

Choose the right container. Use containers that are at least 2 inches wider than the bulb.

Don’t overwater. Keep the growing medium uniformly moist, but do not let water stand for extended periods, except with severely root-bound plants. Feed with a complete, water-soluble fertilizer after the flower emerges. Follow label recommendations for rates.

Choose a bright, warm location. Since the plant is tropical, it favors temperatures over 70 degrees during the day and over 60 degrees at night. Avoid temperatures under 50 degrees, which could damage the plant.

Amaryllis can be forced to rebloom easily with proper preparation. In spring, move the plant outdoors, container and all. Feed and water throughout the summer. In September, move the plant back inside. Quit watering to induce dormancy for at least six to eight weeks and keep in a cool area. Leaves will wither and dry during this phase and should be removed.

Bring the bulb out of dormancy by moving the plant to a warmer area and watering it. Repot as needed. Bulbs normally flower four to six weeks after breaking dormancy.

More information from Missouri Environment & Garden newsletter:

Amaryllis. File photo by Chris Starbuck.

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