Of all tender flowering bulbs, the amaryllis, or Hippeastrum, is the easiest to bring to bloom. Amaryllis in Greek means “sparkling, ” and this is an apt description of this elegant plant.
Hippeastrum is a true bulb, as compared to a  tuber or a corm, which simply means that it contains the immature flower and foliage of the next season’s plant in its centre. It  originated in the tropics of South America, and most sold here are grown in Holland, Israel or South Africa. On average, a bulb produces two to six flowers per stalk, and stalks grow 18 to 36 inches tall.  It blooms in shades of red, white, pink, salmon and orange, as well as new striped and multicoloured varieties combining shades of pink, red and white.
Bulbs are usually sold in fall, after the plants have gone through an eight- to 10-week dormant period.  Late October is thought to be ideal for potting, but any time from November to January also does quite nicely.
Roots like to be crowded, so pots should be relatively small—only three to four inches wider than the bulb. Good drainage is also necessary. Make sure your pot is sturdy and heavy: a two-foot tall amaryllis can get top heavy. While one bulb is nice, a cluster of three in a pot can be sensational. Just remember to leave at least an inch of soil between the bulbs, close but not touching.
Amaryllis prefer a sandy, loamy soil. Mix your own by combining one part composted manure, one part loamy soil and one part coarse sand. Some garden centres sell soil especially for bulbs;  read the label to be sure it’s slightly acidic,  with a pH of 6.0 to 6.8.
Before planting, soak the fleshy roots for at least an hour (up to several if possible), without immersing the bulb itself, in a shallow container filled with about an inch of tepid water.  The quick drink signals the bulb that it’s time for action. Moistened roots are also more pliable and easier to plant.
You can stagger plantings of several bulbs to prolong the time you get to live with their extravagant display, but early-season, mid-season and late varieties that bloom a week or two apart are now available. Choose one from each group and plant them all at the same time.
Position the bulb so that two-thirds is below the soil and one-third above. Firm soil around the bulb, water well and place in a sunny, warm room 19 to 22 degrees C. Water sparingly until the stem appears, then, as the bud and leaves appear, gradually water more. The stem grows rapidly once it appears, and flowers develop six to eight weeks after growth was initiated.
When it’s in full bloom, move the plant to a slightly cooler location out of direct sunlight so blooms will last longer. When the flowers have faded, carefully cut the stalk off about two inches above the bulb. Allow the leaves to continue to grow and water as usual.
In June, put the amaryllis in its pot outdoors in a semi-shaded area. This keeps the roots pot bound, which they prefer, and protects the bulb from chewing or tunneling insects.
As summer ends and the leaves begin to yellow, bring the pot indoors.  Cut off dead leaves and place the bulb in its pot in a cool dry place out of direct light. Leave it undisturbed and without water for eight to 10 weeks. The dormant period allows the bulb to rest and rejuvenate as it prepares for another flowering.
It’s a good idea to freshen the top inch of soil with new potting mix and a bit of bone meal. Water slightly, fertilize with caution, and before long that familiar stem will shoot up,  with the same dramatic flowers not far behind.

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