Hippeastrum – The Popular ‘Amaryllis’

Native to tropical and sub-tropical regions of the Americas, Hippeastrum is grown for their large showy flowers.  Commonly called ‘Amaryllis’ this bulb is really a Hippeastrumhybrid.  Most marketed bulbs sold are greater than 8 inches (20 cm) in circumference, and are Dutch, Israeli, or South African grown.  They produce 2 to 6 flowers per floral stalk, with the average being 4.  Very large bulbs normally produce 2 flower stalks.  Plant heights range from 18 to 36 inches (45 – 90 cm) depending on the cultivar, the country in which the bulb was produced, and home forcing conditions. Colours are orange, purple, white, pink, yellow, pale green, or red.  Some are almost all in one colour; others have throat markings of a different colour or shade; all are very striking.

Hippeastrum are popular bulbs for indoor growing.  They have a dormat winter rest period when leaves dry up and are shed, so they are usually offered for sale as dry bulbs.  Some of the bulbs have been treated to flower earlier than normal – usually in time for Christmas and the New Year.  The bulb is tender and should not be exposed to frost but can be grown outdoors in temperate climates.  When buying, hippeastrums should be firm to the touch and greenish-white with thin brown outer leaves like an onion.  Avoid any that are soft, have blue or greenish mold, look decayed, or appear to be extremely dried out.  Hippeastrums are easy to grow the first year, as when they are purchased, the bulb already has a perfect embryo flower already formed.  Some skill is required to make sure that it blooms in subsequent years.

Proper Care

Light  Throughout the growth period, hippeastrumsneed bright light, with some direct light.Too little light during active growth results in elongated leaves and no flowers the following year.  Continuous exposure to bright sunlight from the time flowers fade until mid-fall will contribute more than any other factor to subsequent flowering.  To extend the flower life, keep out of direct light when the plant is blooming.  Light is unimportant, during the dormant period.  

Flower Removal  Carefully cut the flowers off as they begin to fade. 

Flowering Stalk Removal  After all flowers fade, carefully cut the floral stalk off just above the bulb nose.  Take care that the water that normally runs out of the freshly cut stalk does not run onto furniture.

Temperature  Normally warm room temperatures, 70 – 75º F (21 – 24º C) until the bulb begins to root and the leaves and floral stalk(s) begin to grow, encourage fast growth and bring hippeastrums into early bloom.  Afterwards, any temperature from 65 to 75F (18 – 24º C) can be used.  When in flower, the coolest area in the home is best to prolong the life of the blooms.

Potting/re-potting   Hippeastrums do well in either clay or plastic pots.  Pick a pot with open drain holes that is 3 inches (8 cm) wider than the bulb.  Plant in a well-drained, sterilized commercial potting medium and, if desired, top it off with a light covering of orchid mix or sphagnum moss as mulch.  Do not use a medium that contains pine bark.  An equal mixture of peat and perlite is excellent.  Carefully plant the bulb, with 1/3 being above the rim of the pot.  Soak the bottom of the bulb with the roots in warm (not hot) water – this will make them pliable and easier to spread out in the pot.  Put the bulb where it will get some sun everyday and water it once.

   Hippeastrums dislike root disturbance and flower best when left alone.  For three to four years after the initial potting, take the bulb out of its pot with the tangled root ball intact and remove a little loose mixture from above and between the roots.  Replace the bulb in the same pot and work some fresh soil into the spaces made.  Do this when the first signs of new growth appear at the beginning of the active growth period.  Repot completely every three to four years. 

Watering  Care should be taken not to overwater: after the first watering do not water again until growth is visible or the soil has become bone dry, and then water sparingly.  Too much water will cause the bulb and its roots to rot.  Watering can be increased to weekly after an 8 inch (20 cm) flower spike with bud or two 10 inch (25 cm) leaves have appeared.  Avoid watering over the bulb nose.

Feeding  After the plant begins to grow, fertilization is essential.  Use either a complete nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium (NPK) slow-release fertilizer that lasts several months or a liquid (NPK) fertilizer, 2 to 4 times per month.  Do not feed the bulb while it is blooming. 

Special Points  Prepare bulbs for the dormant period by removing all the dried foliage.  Leave them in their pots of potting medium and store the pots in a thoroughly dry place at a temperature of about 50º F (10º C).  If a hippeastrum produces lots of leaves at the beginning of the growing season, it is unlikely that the bulb will flower as the first thing to emerge from the bulb is usually the flower bud.