February 2012 Newsletter from Mary's Garden Patch
AFTER BLOOM CARE FOR AMARYLLIS AND PAPERWHITES
Spring has sprung! (At least in my part of the country.) At my house, my outside paperwhites and early daffodils have already come and gone, my species tulips are up and my spring vegetable garden is in. MyCannas and Daylilies have come out of their winter dormancy, and my lemon and peach trees are in full bloom.
Hopefully you are starting to see your fall-planted bulbs peek their heads out of the ground. Up north the crocuses and early daffodils (the February Golds and the Tete a Tetes) should already be out, and the early tulips are on their way.
One question we get this time of year is, "What do I do with the paperwhite and amaryllis bulbs I forced into bloom this past Christmas"? When bulbs bloom, they use up all their energy. To renew that energy, it is necessary that the leaves stay green and healthy and receive enough sunshine, food and water for another bloom. If you can provide that, you could possibly see another bloom in a year or two.
Amaryllis are very popular holiday gifts and decorations for our homes. With their large blossoms and showy colors that make a bold statement, they are affordable and bloom easily indoors.
After your amaryllis flower has faded, cut the flower and stem back to the top of the bulb. You do this so the bulb does not waste energy forming seeds. Leave any leaves intact, and put it in the sunniest location you have. Leaf growth and sunlight will send nutrients to the bulb. Fertilize it monthly with a liquid fertilizer, and never allow the soil to dry out completely. In late spring you can even put it outside, leaving it in the pot, as long as you remember to water! Just don't let water collect in the pot, or the bulb may rot. You can also put them on a porch or patio.
In order for your Amaryllis to bloom again, you'll need to simulate its life cycle by forcing it to go dormant in mid August or early September. The leaves will normally be turning yellow by then, so cut the yellowed leaves back to around 2 inches but let any live leaves remain. Now you have two choices. You can take the bulb out of the soil, lightly brush the dirt off and put it in a cool dark place, like the crisper of your refrigerator. (But make sure not to store it with any fruit as this will retard growth.) Or you can leave them in their pots and store in a cool dark cellar. Do not water during this time. After at least 6 weeks you are ready to end the dormant period and begin the forcing period. Plan on starting this around 6-8 weeks prior to when you want blooms. For Christmas flowers, that will be around October 15th. Cut off any dead tissue from the neck of the bulb, plant in fresh potting soil with 1/3 of the bulb above the soil surface (taking care not to put it in too big a pot, as they like to be pot-bound). If your bulb is already potted, remove the top inch of soil and replace it with new soil. If you find any small side bulbs, congratulations! You've got new little ones! Plant them in their own pot, although you probably won't have blooms for a year or two. Place your potted Amaryllis bulbs in normal light, water thoroughly and stand back!
If your Amaryllis produces leaves, but no flowers, it may mean that it did not have the strength to produce flowers that year. Continue to water and fertilize it and it will likely bloom the following year, or like one of my amaryllis bulbs did last year, finally bloom in July! If there is no green growth at all, squeeze the bulb below the soil line. If it is spongy, it may have rotted from too much watering.
And if you live in the South, you can plant your Amaryllis bulbs outside in the Spring. They won't bloom at Christmas time, but closer to Easter and are absolutely gorgeous. We carry Amaryllis for the Garden this time of year which are a slightly smaller, less expensive bulb than the giant bulbs we sell for Christmas. You can also plant outside up north as long as you dig and store them in the Fall.
You can keep an amaryllis bulb going indefinitely if you provide the right conditions.
Many gardeners advise discarding Paperwhite bulbs after they've bloomed, as they have used up most of their energy, and in northern climes that may be the best solution. But in warmer climates (zone 7 and higher), you can just plant them outdoors in the Spring. They've even been known to bloom outside in a protected area as far north as New Jersey (zone 6). My outside paperwhites often bloom for Christmas.
First of all, make sure that your Paperwhite bulbs are still in good shape before you plant them. Before removing your spent bulbs for replanting, water with a liquid houseplant fertilizer, so the bulb can then replenish some of its nutrients. Decide on a location outdoors. Paperwhites require well-drained soil and full sun. You may need to add 2 to 3 inches of peat moss, compost or decomposed manure to the soil and mix with the top 6 inches of soil to ensure that it is well-draining. Next, dig your holes around 4 inches deep, with the pointy end up. You can plant four or five bulbs per square foot. During the late fall the bulbs develop new roots and growth so you can add a little fertilizer then.
If you've forced other types of bulbs indoors (daffodils, hyacinths, crocuses or tulips) you may want to just plant them in the ground in the spring and hope for the best. They don't come back nearly as well as paperwhites and amaryllis, but it's worth a try and you just might be rewarded in a year or two.
Hope this helped. Of course, if you have any other gardening questions, please write me. I'll do my best to answer your questions or if I can't, I'll find the answer.
Note: All prices are in U.S. dollars.