What you probably don’t know about potting an amaryllis, but wish you did

'Star of Holland' amaryllis at Buffalo Botanical Gardens by Stofko
You can have amaryllis blooms in your house during the winter, and you can see them in an exhibit now at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

by Connie Oswald Stofko

I have a bunch of amaryllis bulbs in two large pots, and I would like to separate them and move some into another pot. I asked David Clark, nationally and internationally known gardening educator, for some tips.

His first suggestion: Don’t do it.

“Amaryllis likes to be root-bound,” Clark said. He told me that if I separate the bulbs, they may not flower this year.

While I hear his warning, those bulbs have been crammed into those pots for years, and new bulbs have formed. I really think I would like to move some of the new bulbs.

I’m glad I asked Clark how to do it because he gave me some great advice.

Timing is important

If you want to divide or repot your amaryllis bulbs, do it at the beginning of the growth cycle.

If you just got an amaryllis plant that bloomed over the holidays or is blooming now, it’s not at the right stage for repotting. Wait until next year.

Follow these steps to get your plant ready for reblooming inside next winter.

Continue to grow the plant as a houseplant in the best light you have, Clark said, and give it some balanced plant fertilizer. When the flower has finished blooming, you can cut off the stem so the plant doesn’t look ugly.

However, don’t cut off the leaves! That’s very important. The plant needs the leaves to store up energy over the summer.

In the spring, when the danger of frost has passed and night temperatures are at 55 degrees Fahrenheit, put the plant outside. You’re going to keep it outside all summer.

Here are a couple tips to help you get your plant through the summer.

amaryllis in large pot
I have several bulbs in this one large pot. In the summer, I don’t have to water this large pot as often as I would have to water several small pots. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

First, you can put many bulbs in one big pot. That has worked well for me. A big pot will retain water better than a smaller pot, so you won’t have to water it as often when it’s hot and dry outside during the summer.

However, in the winter, those pots take up a lot of room in my house. It would be nice to have just one amaryllis in its own pot that could be displayed on a tabletop without having to clear everything else away. And if you’re starting with just one amaryllis, you don’t want to transplant it into a large pot– Remember, they like to be root-bound. But during the summer, a small pot outside in hot, dry weather needs to be watered every single day, maybe twice a day.  Are you really going to do that?

Clark suggests taking the plant, pot and all, and setting it into the ground. It will look like another plant in your garden.

That’s brilliant! The plant will lose moisture a little more slowly if the pot is surrounded by moist soil than if the pot is exposed to drying breezes.  Still, make sure you give it lots of water, and fertilize it during the summer. The plant is storing up energy and forming the flower spike inside the bulb.

Bonus tip: Before you put the pot into the ground, slip a nylon stocking over the pot to keep worms out of the drainage hole– The worms will eat organic matter and the potting medium, Clark said.

Keep your amaryllis plant outside all summer, and when the nights get down to about 50 degrees Fahrenheit, bring the plant inside, Clark said.

At that point, you want the plant to go dormant. Leave the bulb in the pot. Put the pot in a cool place, such as a basement. Tropical plants go dormant in temperatures that are about 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Don’t water the plants and don’t fertilize them. The leaves will die, and that’s okay.

Around the end of January or beginning of February, you’ll start to see signs of life. A green thing will emerge from the neck of the bulb.

When you see that, you can divide your bulbs.

How to divide or repot your amaryllis bulbs

If you followed all those steps last year, your plant should be at the beginning of the growth cycle or near the beginning of the growth cycle. You’ll have brown, crisp, dry leaves with something green poking out of the neck of the bulb. This is the time when you can divide your bulbs.

amaryllis bulb showing green
One of the bulbs in this pot is showing some green. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

(If you don’t have that green thing poking out of the neck of the bulb yet, just wait a little longer. Mine weren’t doing anything yesterday, and today I have one sprout.)

Choose a new pot that will give your bulb one-half inch or one inch on each side of the bulb– The pot shouldn’t be roomier than that, Clark said.

Terra cotta pots work best because amaryllis plants like dryish conditions, he said, and the terra cotta will let the root structure breathe. They like deeper, narrower pots.

You can remove any dried roots from the bulb. You can also trim the roots if needed so they fit into the new pots.

Put the bulb in a bowl of water so just the root plate– the bottom of the bulb where the roots emerge– is in the water. Let it soak for 12 hours.

The message the plant is getting is that this is the rainy season in its native land, Clark explained, and it should start to grow.

Plant your bulb into the new pot. You can use a soilless potting medium or potting soil; a soilless medium will dry out faster.

Plant the bulb so about two-thirds is covered with dirt; don’t pant the bulb all the way up to the neck.

Water until the water comes out of the drainage hole.

Don’t water the pot again until the soil is dry 1 ½ inches down, Clark said. You can test the soil by inserting a chopstick or pencil. Moisture will turn the chopstick a darker color, he said. Of course, you can also use your finger.

When the soil is dry 1 ½ inches down, add one-quarter cup of water around the edge of the bulb.

“More water at the beginning of the cycle will produce more leaves,” Clark said, “but by withholding moisture, you’re forcing the flower stalk to grow taller than the leaves.”

Give your plant good light.

You can put multiple bulbs into one pot as long as they are nestled and don’t have too much extra room. For a nicer look, plant three bulbs in one pot rather than two, Clark noted.

Enjoy the flowers as long as they last. Again, you can cut off the withered flower, but don’t cut off the leaves.

See amaryllis flowers at the Botanical Gardens

The Amaryllis exhibit is under way now from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily through Sunday, Feb. 28 at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens, 2655 South Park Ave., Buffalo.

Entrance to the exhibit is included with regular admission to the Botanical Gardens: $9 for adults, $8 for seniors (ages 55 and older) and students (ages 13 and older with ID), $5 for children ages 3-12 and free for Botanical Gardens members and children 2 and under.

Learn more from David Clark

Clark teaches four courses of entertaining and informative horticulture classes at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens. You can sign up for an entire course or just take a single class. You don’t have to take the classes in any particular order. Seating is limited. Find out more here.

Clark can also speak to your group. Get more details.


16 Comments on “What you probably don’t know about potting an amaryllis, but wish you did

  1. Thank you for the information. This winter there has been so little sunlight. I hope my amaryllis blooms.

  2. Hi Connie! Thank you for the interview and for this very nice article. I hope the tips enable folks to grow their amaryllis year after year. In their native lands, these bulbs can live up to 50 years!
    Happy gardening!

  3. David, I’ve had several of mine for five years or more. It’s nice to think they could be family heirlooms! Thanks again for your great advice.

  4. I live in Memphis. I’ve had my amaryllis outside in pots all summer. . In the past, I have left the bulbs in the pots, put them in the basement, didn’t water them all winter and then put them out again in the spring, and I’ve always had great results.

    Today I did what I recently read in an article….I’m hoping I did not make a mistake. The flowers have been outside all spring and summer, and it’s now Dec. 3, 2017. (no frost yet). The pots had dried out, so I pulled the bulbs out of their root-bound pots, removed the soil, then cut the roots off about 3/4 inches from the bulb. I’ve got them drying out a little before I store them. The article said to put the bulbs in the crisper of the fridge for at least 6 weeks.

    What should I do now? Should I leave the bulbs in the fridge until spring and then replant them, or plant them in dry soil in a pot and leave them in a dark basement? Thanks for you help! I have about 12 amaryllis that I’ve grown from two.

  5. Rollin, I’m not sure how to advise you since you live in Tennessee. I would suggest you contact the University of Tennessee Extension program. I hope that helps. Good luck!

  6. I have a question? The Amaryllis bulbs that I have purchased on line (this year & last year) all come with the RED VIRUS …when I asked why this was happening, the nursery said there was nothing to worry about. Is that a true statement? Everything that I have read, said to get rid of any bulbs with RED VIRUS.

  7. My 3 year old amaryllis bulbs bloomed this year as always but a few days after the bloom is completely open the flower breaks off the stem. This has happened in all three plants which are planted in the same container. Any suggestions?

  8. Thank you for educating us. I do not have this flower bulb BUT I intend
    to purchase.

    WONDERFUL, informative information, Mr Dave Clark!

  9. Hello Lorraine!
    Thank you for your kind words- I do hope you purchase an amaryllis plant. They are so very beautiful and are available in a wide array of color choices and flower forms.
    Kind regards,
    David Clark

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