Amaryllis can brighten a winter window

CORVALLIS - Amaryllis are as easy to grow as they are beautiful. Huge trumpet-shaped blooms in red, pink, salmon and white top the tall stems that grow rapidly from these large lily bulbs. After blooming, long green strap-shaped leaves appear.

With a little care, an amaryllis bulb may be coaxed to bloom year after year.

Ross Penhallegon, horticulturist with the Oregon State University Extension Service, has advice on coaxing an amaryllis from bulb to gorgeous flower.

Starting out with a new amaryllis bulb could not be easier. This time of year bulbs are commonly available in planting kits with a pot, peaty soil and growing instructions. If you have grown amaryllis before, you may want to try a more exotic variety, often sold as unplanted bulbs from nurseries and catalogs. Whether amaryllis bulbs are in a kit or not, they have no root until they are planted in soil and have access to sun and a little water.

If you are starting with a bare bulb, find a well-draining pot about one inch bigger in diameter than your bulb. Fill the pot two-thirds full with rich, porous soil, preferably with some peat moss and compost. Plant the bulb, keeping the upper one-third of the bulb exposed. Water sparingly until growth appears. Keep the plant at about 60 degrees in a shaded area until blooming and then move into the sun.

New growth will appear a few weeks after planting. When a green shoot emerges, the plants will grow rapidly if watered freely. When the pot becomes filled with roots, apply a dilute, complete liquid fertilizer. The stalk will grow toward the sun or light source, so rotate the pot and stake the stem if it grows more than 20 inches tall. Keep your plant away from heat sources such as furnace vents and wood stoves.

In eight to 12 weeks from planting, the amaryllis will bloom. So, you can plan for blooms during a particular time just by counting back the weeks and planting your bulbs accordingly.

To keep the bulb healthy for many years to come, keep the plant growing once it has bloomed. Cut off spent flowering stems and continue to water and fertilize it through the winter and spring. In summer, place the potted plant outdoors.

In October, stop watering to allow the pot to dry out. The foliage will gradually turn yellow. Cut off the leaves to within two inches of the soil line. Leave the pot undisturbed. Water only if the bulb begins to shrivel. New growth should appear from the top of the bulb. Then follow the instructions above from the start.

Refrain from repotting your bulb every year, as the plant seems to bloom better when pot-bound. Some growers repot about every three to four years, or add new fertile soil to the top one-third of the pot each year.

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