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What to do with that Amaryllis after the Holidays

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This piece was originally published in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle in January of 2008, and was referenced January 3, 2015, in my column about holiday plants. A number of readers emailed asking for a copy, so I thought I would post it here for your reading convenience. Thanks! — Jane

Q: What do I do with my amaryllis plant? Can I plant it outside in the spring and will it bloom? —M.M., via Internet

A: Here in the frigid north we can’t treat the amaryllis like an outdoor perennial the way one could in its native South America—or even as far north as Florida, in the case of hardier types. You certainly can keep your holiday plant alive for several years, however, and like us, it will benefit from a summer vacation spent outside.

The amaryllis is a jungle plant, so it’s used to a thick canopy and doesn’t require a lot of light. In fact, to make the blossoms last as long as possible, it’s best to keep them out of direct sun. As each begins to fade, remove it individually—this prevents the plant from forming seeds, a process that uses up energy better directed to the bulb.

Your amaryllis should be watered thoroughly—from the bottom is preferred—and allowed to sit for couple of hours or so (never longer than overnight) and soak up what it needs before the saucer is emptied. Like its cousin the clivia, the amaryllis likes to be a bit pot-bound, so it dries our more quickly than the average houseplant, and will need to be watered more often. (Do let the soil dry out between waterings, but not the plant.)

When the plant is done flowering and you’ve cut the stalk down to a couple inches from the soil, you’ll be left with a pot of green leaves to tend. After Memorial Day, simply put it outside with the rest of your houseplants, in a shady spot, and water and fertilize it with the rest of them. (My whole gallery usually gets a dose of time-released fertilizer at the beginning of summer, and that’s it for the year.) Towards the fall, you may find the leaves are yellowing and even dropping off, and that’s perfectly normal; the plant is entering dormancy.

Let the plant stay outside with the others until just before frost, and then put it someplace dark and cool for about six weeks, and don’t water it. Replace the top layer of soil with fresh. When you bring it back into the light, water it once, well, and wait for the foliage to start growing again. At this time you can resume the plant’s regular routine. The amaryllis will probably flower again just fine, although they will sometimes skip a year. If it produces no leaves, however, it may have rotted—check for squishiness and try a little less water with the next one.

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