Amaryllis fine garden plants ... maybe
Posted: Tuesday, July 7, 2009 8:01 pm
By: By JIMMY WILLIAMS
Mention amaryllis and most thoughts run to the Christmas or Valentine’s Day seasons when the fat bulbs are purchased as living gifts. The red ones go right, color-wise, with either holiday.
The fact is, however, amaryllis (which are botanically hippeastrums) can, like lilies, be forced into bloom at virtually any time of year. It’s just that our “mind-forged manacles” have conditioned us into making them holiday features.
A bit to our south, most amaryllis prove to be perennial, able to stand several degrees of frost if planted quite deeply. Even here, they will, in most winters, make it if planted a foot deep with plenty of drainage and mulched heavily.
They can be made to re-bloom in their pots if fertilized and watered regularly during the summer. The more lush foliage they produce during the growing the season, the heavier the bloom will be.
Left to their own devices in the ground, most amaryllis will bloom in late spring here. Old clumps make an outstanding show, with many large blooms produced. The strap-like leaves stay in good condition until frost.
Seldom offered at retailers is the variety (or maybe a species) johnsonii, with a bit smaller flowers — red with a white center — than the box-store and garden center ones. This one is totally hardy here, and in fact, is a hand-me-down plant seen in gardens thither and yon. I have several clumps of it that all derived from a single one years ago. They multiply at the root quickly, and a single bulb will build into many in a few years.
Why the hardy amaryllis is so expensive is a mystery. Offered for sale by mail-order companies occasionally, they usually fetch $10 as a single tissue culture plant that is at least three years from bloom. It is a top-notch perennial. One of my clumps has produced in excess of 100 blooms some years.
The more common amaryllis come in almost all colors except blue and purple shades, though most popular, understandably, are the blatant reds. There are also available bi-colors, with shades of at least two colors on a single bloom.
By virtue of being a member of Garden Writers of America, I sometimes receive trial plants. One of my most generous suppliers is Brent and Becky’s Bulbs of Gloucester, Va. I know Brent and Becky Heath personally and can vouch for their honesty and integrity in business.
I order many of my bulbs from the Heaths, and a couple of times a year a surprise box of bulbs arrives for my evaluation. A few weeks ago, Santa brought me 15 amaryllis bulbs, three each of five varieties, from Brent and Becky. They were all labeled and plump and healthy.
They went into the ground, the recommended foot deep, which necessitated a hefty amount of work on a hot day. The bottom of the deep holes got a couple of inches of filter media crushed gravel, then the bulbs went in on top of it. Above them, the backfill consisted of rotted chicken manure and rice hulls and some of the natural soil.
It will take the dormant bulbs some weeks to produce bloom stems and leaves and, when they do it, should be an unexpected joy to have blooming amaryllis in late summer.
My bulbs included Benfica, the darkest red of all; Pamela, a scarlet flower of intermediate size, and San Remo, reddish-orange with white streaks. These all went into a red border, valuable additions indeed, since there are so few red perennials. The other two selections were Green Goddess, which sounds lucious, described as creamy to greenish white, and Pink Impression, soft pink with a lime green center. The latter two went into a pastel setting among summer phlox, lythrum, hostas and orphanage plant.
After you receive your next gift amaryllis, don’t throw it out. Set into the ground, plenty deep, and hope for the best. You haven’t anything to lose.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.
Published in The Messenger 7.7.09
Jimmy Williams, The Garden Path