Friday, February 5, 2010

Fair Amaryllis

When two individuals in a family are called by the same name, some confusion is sure to ensue.  Such is the problem with Amaryllis.  The Amaryllidaceae family has two members (genera) called Amaryllis.  For most, any mention of the name brings to mind the ample, star-shaped flower popular around Christmas.  But that is her assumed name.  Her real name is Hippeastrum (pronounced "hippy-ASS-trum"), but with a name like that, it's no wonder that Amaryllis is preferred.  Hippeastrum is native to South America.

Then there is Amaryllis belladonna, the lesser known - a genus with only one species.  She is named for "fair Amaryllis", the shepherdess in Virgil's Eclogues.  More than fair, Amaryllis belladonna literally means "sparkling, beautiful lady."  No hippy-ass-strum is she.

Amaryllis is native to South Africa.  She stands 24" to 36" tall, and bears lovely pink or white flowers on bare, slender stems in late summer before foliage appears.  Thus, she is sometimes called "Naked Lady", "Belladonna Lily" or "August Lily."  A cautionary note:  Amaryllis is beautiful and beguiling, but like so many ornamental plants, is poisonous if ingested.  Keep your lips off.

Though cold-hardy in USDA climate zone 7 through 10, those who live in cooler regions can grow amaryllis successfully in containers and protect over winter.

If planting in the garden, select a site in full sun with richly organic, well-drained soil.  Soil pH should be between 6.1 and 7.8.  The best way to determine if the pH is within that range and contains the proper nutrients is to have the soil tested.  Your local Cooperative Agricultural Extension Service can help you.  You can collect the soil sample yourself.  For a nominal fee, they will send your soil sample to a laboratory for analysis.  Be sure to call the Extension office for instructions.

Cultivate the soil to the depth of 12".  Add plenty of well-rotted compost.  Remove weeds.  Soil test results may recommend other soil amendments.  Bone meal is especially beneficial for bulbs.  If you use synthetic fertilizer, allow at least a week before planting so it can be incorporated into the soil by rain or irrigation and not burn the bulbs.

Plant amaryllis bulbs 12" apart and 5" deep.  The depth is calculated from the bottom of the bulb.  Irrigate if rainfall is inadequate, but take care not to over-water.

Growing amaryllis in containers is not much different than in the garden.  Use the finest potting soil; cheap soil will give poor results.  The best potting soils will be light-weight, peat-based with added materials to enhance plant growth.  Select containers that will accommodate the bulbs and any other suitable companion plants.  All companion plants should have similar soil and moisture requirements.  Because container gardens can dry quickly, take steps to keep the pots properly watered.  Adding moisture retentive gel to the soil can be beneficial.  Larger containers are not as susceptible to drying.  Tipping over can also be a problem with small containers.

When bloom time is over, let the foliage remain to build reserves in the bulbs for the next growing season.  Continue to irrigate as needed.  You may remove the foliage when it has turned yellow.

Amaryllis partners well with late-flowering asters, coreopsis, daylilies, gypsophila, kniphofia, salvia, mullein and verbena.

Amaryllis is fair, indeed.  Plant a box of them.  Your garden will become all the more enticing with "sparkling, beautiful" ladies habiting there.

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