Amaryllis flowers brighten winter

Amaryllis flowers are big, bright, and bold. They're also easy to grow.

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    Big, bold blooms are characteristic of amaryllis, a colorful indoor plant.
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This is the time of year that if you live in a cold climate, you're longing for some color (besides brown and white).

Sure, you can bring home some new houseplants or buy some potted tulips at the supermarket. But if you want to make a bold splash, try an amaryllis. This tropical Americas native grows from a huge bulb (many are about the size of a mango) and has a stalk and flower to match.

Colors range from many shades of red, pink, and orange to white -- and combinations of those (red and white is a personal favorite).

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If you're convinced, what now?

The easiest way to get started with amaryllis is to buy an already potted, already growing bulb. You'll find them at home stores, garden centers, florists, nurseries, and the floral departments of grocery stores.

If possible, choose one that has big flower buds on it that have not yet opened. (If the flowers are already open, you won't get to enjoy them for as long as if you buy the plant with buds.)

Make sure the plant is wrapped against the cold if you're taking it home when outdoor temperatures are in the 30s F. You don't want it to get chilled.

Once it's at your house, place it in a warm spot. (70 degrees F. and above is ideal, but it will be OK down to 60 F.) It also needs bright light, including a bit of sun, so don't stick the plant in a dark corner or in the middle of the coffee table.

You also don't want to let the soil dry out. Most amaryllis bulbs are potted in peat moss and once it has become dry, it's very difficult to wet again all the way through.So feel the soil's surface each day, and as it starts to dry slightly, water again. (Warm water is best.) But don't let the bottom of the pot stand in water.

After your amaryllis has finished blooming, you can cut the stalk back and continue to grow it as a green houseplant. You can even make it flower again next year. Here are the National Arboretum's instructions on doing that.

This time of year you can often find loose amaryllis bulbs on sale. It's fun -- and cheap -- to buy these, pot them up yourself, and grow amaryllis flowers from scratch. Here's all you need to know to do that.

If you're thinking about Valentine's Day, there won't be enough time to have the plant in bloom. (That takes a minimum of five or six weeks), but you can still have one almost ready to flower if you start now.

Editor’s note: The Monitor’s main gardening page offers articles on many gardening topics. See also our blog archive and our RSS feeds. If you join Gardening With the Monitor on Flickr (it's free), you can upload your garden photos and enter our next contest.

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