GARDENING: Treat your Amaryllis like precious pot plant

A time lapse of a red amaryllis opening.
A time lapse of a red amaryllis opening.

I’ve had a bit of a take-it-or-leave-it attitude to Amaryllis (Hippeastrum) over the years – mainly due the very poor, gift-wrapped specimens that get trotted out in supermarkets and department stores at this time of year.

And how many of the poor bulbs are kept going from year to year? Precious few, I’ll bet.

Amaryllis white.

Amaryllis white.

However, I was sorely tempted by some giant bulbs at Harrogate Autumn Flower Show and I really regret not buying them.

I put that right by buying five bulbs at a Christmas market. They are all named varieties but I immediately mixed them up, so it’s going to be a lucky dip when they come out.

Amaryllis are a tender bulb from Brazil and so need to be grown inside – frost free – when it’s cold, but once the frosts are over and the nights are no longer cold, they can be moved outside until the end of summer. Think of them as a tender garden plant – not a house plant – and treat them much as you would a precious pot of freesia or non-hardy agapanthus.

POTTED GUIDE: Amaryllis (Hippeastrum)

Amaryllis bulbs.

Amaryllis bulbs.

Plant the bulb (pointy-end up) two-thirds in, one third out of the compost.

Use rich but very well drained compost (add one-third horticultural grit or sand).

They like to feel confined; put them in a heavy pot (they can topple over) just 5-6cm wider than the diameter of the bulb, with a crock in the bottom for drainage. Firm them in tightly to hold the bulb in position.

Place the pot in a sunny position and water sparingly until you see 2” of new growth, then water regularly.

Turn the pot now and again for a straight stalk.

Keep them in a bright, warm, sunny place, ideally at about 20°C, free from draughts of an open window, such as a shelf above a radiator.

A support stake may be needed to keep the heavy blooms upright.

Water regularly and flowers will appear five to eight weeks after planting. To prolong flowering, keep the pot out of direct sunlight.

AFTERCARE

Once the plant is flowering, continue watering and keep it slightly cooler (10-15°C). As each bloom fades, cut it off at the top of the stalk and when the whole stalk is over and begins to sag, cut it off just above the bulb nose.

After flowering, feed and water, until the leaves begin to yellow in late summer/early autumn. At this stage, cut the leaves back to about 6cm (2½in) from the top of the bulb and remove it from the pot.

Keep the bulb cool (5-10°C) and dark, to give it a dormant period for eight weeks before bringing it into leaf and flower. Don’t re-pot it for the first couple of years; it hates root disturbance. The older and bigger the bulb, the more flowering stems you’ll get.

Bulbs older than two years will produce offsets. These may be left attached, or you can remove them before you replant and pot them up - they’ll take a couple of years to flower.

JOBS FOR THE WEEKEND

Pruning and renovation of many deciduous trees, shrubs and hedges can be carried out from now throughout the dormant season. It is easier to see what you are doing when the branches have no leaves. Suitable examples are Fagus (beech) and Corylus. Exceptions are tender plants, and also Prunus species (e.g. ornamental cherries, plums and almonds), as these are vulnerable to silver leaf if pruned in the autumn or winter. Evergreens are best left until the spring.

In mild weather, weeds will still appear. Hoe regularly to keep them in check.

Look out for crown rot and brown rots (sclerotinia) on died down perennials, especially if you are on a clay or poorly-drained soil. Be aware that many diseases will overwinter in the soil, or on plant debris. Antirrhinum rust and Delphinium black blotch, as well as sclerotinia, will lay dormant and re-infect plants when they come up the following year. It may be necessary to replant new specimens.

Digging the soil, especially bare patches or newly cultivated land, will expose pest larvae and eggs to birds and frosts, as well as clearing weeds and improving soil structure. Don’t leave soil uncovered for too long, however, as it runs the risk of erosion and washing away of valuable nutrients. Black polythene sheeting will protect it in the absence of planting or mulch.

Protect newly planted trees, hedges and shrubs from wind and cold. A temporary netting windbreak is sufficient where there is no natural shelter.

Straw, bracken, or something similar can be used to pack around deciduous plants and protect them from frost. A wooden frame with clear polythene stretched over it can do a similar job without blocking light from evergreens, but don’t let the polythene touch the foliage, as condensation at these points could freeze, or cause rots.

If there is snow in your area, then you may need to brush this off the branches of conifers. Heavy snowfall can splay branches and spoil the shape of the tree.

Phytophthora root rots can cause dieback on mature trees and shrubs. Wet winter weather and poorly-drained soils are likely to encourage this problem on susceptible woody plants.

Rabbits, deer and squirrels can be a nuisance as the weather gets colder, gnawing the bark from shrubs and trees. Placing guards around new woody plants are advisable.

Cyclamen can be sown now, with a bottom heat of 12-15°C (54-60°F). They will need about 14 months to produce flowers.

Maintaining some air movement in the greenhouse or conservatory, even when the weather is cold, will help to reduce problems with fungal diseases such as Botrytis (fluffy grey mould). Opening vents slightly (but not enough to create damaging draughts) in the morning, and then closing them in the early afternoon to conserve heat, will provide enough ventilation to help keep fungal problems at bay.

This is a good time to clean all your old pots and seed trays, so that they are ready for next spring’s flurry of activity. Thorough cleaning will reduce pest and disease problems, and will make your propagation and sowing yields much greater.

Ensure all standpipes and irrigation lines are drained, to avoid damage caused by water freezing inside them.

Clean and sharpen secateurs ready for pruning deciduous trees and shrubs over the winter. Special ceramic tools are available to allow awkwardly shaped and angled blades to be sharpened with ease. Spare springs and replacement blades can also be purchased for more expensive models.

Now is a good time to consider installing garden lighting, water pipes and drainage, and to make plans for garden projects.

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