Growing amaryllis outdoors

Save a couple of the amaryllis bulbs you bought this winter and plant them outdoors in the garden. Yes, even if you live in the Midwest!

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    Although amaryllis bulbs are usually grown in containers indoors in the Midwest, they can be planted in the garden and lifted at the end of summer just as gardeners do to dahlias and gladiolus.
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As discussed in my previous post, amaryllis make wonderful houseplants – and gift plants – for the holiday season.

What’s not to like about them? They bloom freely indoors; they are affordable; the large, showy flowers make a big, bold statement; and they are available in an ever-increasing variety of colors, shapes, and sizes to fit any taste.

Additionally, they are not difficult to grow and, if the plants are treated correctly, will rebloom year after year.

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However, although I pot up some amaryllis in October and November, I prefer to wait till late January or early February to get the majority started.

After all, Christmas already has so much glitz and glamour surrounding it with all the lights and decorations, why not save something special to decorate the house with later in the season.

But there's another option: Save some bulbs to plant outdoors.

Amaryllis outdoors in the Midwest

Now you might think Midwest gardeners can’t grow amaryllis outdoors – but I say, think again. It’s true they are not hardy outdoors in Northern climes, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be treated like dahlias or gladiolas – grown outside during the summer months then lifted come September.

Amaryllis plants outdoors in the landscape are a gorgeous sight!

Matter of fact, my gardening friend, Nancy, who lives on the northern edge of USDA Zone 6, could never get her amaryllis bulbs to rebloom because she couldn’t tolerate the process of encouraging leaf production to help the bulb bulk up for the following year’s flowers. “They’re ugly,” she would say about the leaves.

So, one year, when the excitement of the blossoms was done, out of sheer frustration she simply stuck her bulbs in the ground in a well-protected area near the house, threw down some fertilizer, mulched them well, and told them they were on their own.

The next spring, they sprouted and rebloomed by late summer.

So for her, even though she lives in Zone 6 – and technically, the amaryllis is hardy only in USDA Zones 7b - 10 – if they're planted in a spot with the right microclimate, a good dose of winter mulch, and good drainage, she has a bevy of these gorgeous plants come back year after year in her garden. ("Zone denial," as one of my nursery-owner friends calls it.)

Of course, that doesn’t mean that we all can grow these bulbs in Zone 6 or colder on a year-round basis. Conditions have to be just right.

But we can all enjoy these alluring beauties in the garden – in the ground or in containers – during the summer months, no matter where we live.

Generally, they can be planted in the ground right after Mother’s Day (mid-May), set so that the top of the bulb is just covered with soil. A light frost won’t hurt them, but if you are concerned about the bulbs, just invert a bushel or pot over them for some protection.

Give them some fertilizer and even moisture, and in six to eight weeks, your bulbs should be in full flower.

How to get outdoor amaryllis to rebloom

The trick to ensuring that the bulbs will rebloom the next year is to make certain the bulbs get at least two months’ rest where they go dormant and aren’t watered.

To do that, dig up the bulbs before the first frost in the fall. Bring them indoors and give them a resting period by storing them in a dark location, withholding water and allowing the leaves to dry (just like you would a dahlia tuber or glad bulb).

The bulb can be forced into bloom indoors once again after resting eight weeks, or even sooner, should new growth appear spontaneously.

In two months' time, you can pot them up and they’ll flower indoors as houseplants – or you can, once again, wait till May and plant them outdoors.

This completes the cycle, which may be repeated annually for many years of ever increasing gorgeous blooms.

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Betty Earl, the Intrepid Gardener, blogs regularly at Diggin' It. She's the author of “In Search of Great Plants: The Insider’s Guide to the Best Plants in the Midwest.” She also writes a regular column for Chicagoland Gardening Magazine and The Kankakee Journal and numerous articles for Small Gardens Magazine, American Nurseryman, Nature’s Garden, and Midwest Living Magazine, as well as other national magazines. She is a garden scout for Better Homes and Gardens and a regional representative for The Garden Conservancy. To read more by Betty, click here.

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