Garden: Amaryllis, The Gift That Keeps Giving
The following is a regular column that addresses basic issues facing the ever-inquisitive back- and front-yard toiler, proffered by someone who knows best; one of the fertile master gardeners from the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge. This week, moving indoors, Brian Cruey offers tips on a lovely gift to bring to that Thanksgiving/Hannukah celebration taking place next week.
Thanksgiving is next week and I am hosting my better half’s family. This is the third year in a row that they’ve come up for the holiday and, for better or worse, it’s turning into a tradition. Matt’s family is Jewish, so dividing up the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays was a pretty easy negotiation. Honestly, I don’t mind hosting. I enjoy cooking, and having it take place at my house allows me to control the menu, which is basically what my mother has been making for as many Thanksgivings as I can remember. (Jewish readers know that Hanukkah falls over Thanksgiving this year, and despite my father in-law’s repeated suggestion, I am not making a Manischewitz-braised turkey.) If I can’t spend Thanksgiving with my mom, then I am at the very least going to spend it with her recipes.
If you’re a guest at someone’s table, you’re probably going to want to bring something. Dessert? Wine? A drunk uncle? It’s not always easy trying to decide. Like it or not, Thanksgiving kicks off the “season of giving” and if you’re in need of a great gift idea, or simply something to bring as a gift for your host, then let me offer a suggestion: Amaryllis.
While I know this is not a groundbreaking idea, I do think it’s one that is often cast aside as unoriginal. To me, this is still the perfect gift. It’s practically a care-free houseplant that is all but guaranteed to bloom, regardless of your capabilities of keeping indoor plants alive, and the show it puts on is spectacular. It is also well timed. Give someone an amaryllis at Thanksgiving, for example, and it should be in bloom just in time for the solstice. Give it at Christmas and it will be blooming as the worst of winter starts to rear its ugly head, when we need a burst of spring color the most. Pair it with a unique pot for planting and you’ve made it an even nicer gift.
You can find these bulbs just about anywhere—at the grocery store, the hardware store, even the drugstore. These types of vendors will usually sell the big, red showy flowers that we’ve all come to associate with this plant. However, if you dig a little deeper, you can find some really amazing varieties that are truly unique, such as the Amaryllis Chico (above right) or Amaryllis Picotee (below left). Mail order catalogs and nurseries will usually roll out new models each year, so the selection is always growing. I like to find these varieties, pot them, and then give them as gifts without description. It makes for quite the nice surprise when they bloom, as it’s not often what people are expecting.
Whether you’re giving an amaryllis as a gift or lucky enough to have received one, here is what you should do to take care of it: If you are given a bare bulb, find a pot that will fit the bulb comfortably both in width and depth. Fill the pot half way with a well-draining potting mix. Make sure to put something underneath the pot to catch water that may drain from the bottom. Wet the soil in the bottom of the pot and then place the amaryllis bulb on top. Fill in around the bulb with soil until only the top 1/3 of the bulb is showing above the soil, leaving about a half an inch or so from the top of the pot to allow for watering. Water lightly.
Place your potted bulb in an area with good sunlight that stays above 60 degrees. The warmer the area, the quicker the plant is likely to grow and flower. Keep the plant watered, but on the dry side. You don’t want to overwater and cause the roots to rot, especially just after potting. It can take blooms a while to form, depending on the type of bulb and growing conditions, so be patient. As long as your bulb doesn’t feel “squishy” to the touch, it’s doing just fine.
A lot of people will toss their amaryllis after blooming, but you can easily get them to bloom year after year with the right kind of care. I would tell you about that now, but I have a funny feeling someone will be writing about it when the holidays are over. (Hint: I’m going to write about this when the holidays are over.)