Plant a Hippeastrum
If you’re lucky among all the presents of socks and chocolate this Christmas you may find a kind soul has given you the gift of a hippeastrum. If you’ve never come across one before and are somewhat daunted by the size of the bulb – they are huge – then here’s my guide to how to grow these fantastic plants.
First of all, I should address the issue of what they’re actually called. Generally they’re referred to as amaryllis. This is their old name and despite botanists deciding that they should be called hippeastrum instead the old name has stuck. Nowadays, botanically speaking, amaryllis is the name of a genus of plants from South Africa which includes the autumn-flowering Amaryllis belladonna.
Hippeastrum, however, are native to tropical parts of South America, which means they’re tender and need to be grown indoors in the northern hemisphere.
It only takes about 6 to 8 weeks from planting for a hippeastrum bulb to produce a couple of stems up to 40-60cm high which are topped with spectacular flowers. Many cultivars are trumpet-shaped but some of the more unusual ones have more delicate blooms with slender, separate petals that can have a spidery effect.
Colours range from sparkly snow white and pretty pink to festive rich reds and the striking lime green of the cultivar ‘Evergreen’. Some have dramatic striped petals and others look like giant tropical orchids. One of these blooming on a windowsill will transport you, metaphorically, from deepest winter to far-flung shores.
How to grow
If you’ve been given a gift box with an amaryllis it should contain a pot and some compost. If you just have a bulb then you’ll need some multi-purpose compost or John Innes No 2 Compost and a pot that’s just a little bit bigger than the width of the bulb. Fill the pot with compost – the top third of the bulb should sit proud of the pot and compost with the other two-thirds buried in the compost. Water just a little bit to moisten the compost and err on the side of underwatering until you see signs of growth from the top of the bulb, when you do you can increase the amount of water but the compost should never be waterlogged. Water around the bulb not on top of it as this can cause the bulb to rot.
Position on a bright, sunny windowsill in a warm room. Once the flowers appear move them somewhere a bit cooler to prolong the flowering period.
The flowers are so large that the plant can become top-heavy, so it’s a good idea to provide a support for the stem. A sturdy branch from the garden will do and tie in the stem using twine.
In winter light levels are low, so turning the pot every day or so will help the plant to receive light evenly and stop it from bending towards the light.
Remove the flower stems, but leave the emerging foliage to grow and continue to water and apply a balanced fertiliser every couple of weeks throughout spring and summer. If you’re lucky the bulb may produce more flowers.
In August reduce the amount and frequency you water, stopping completely to allow the compost to dry out. Allow the leaves to die back and they snip these away just above the top of the bulb. Move the bulb somewhere cool and dark for a couple of months – this mimics the dormant period the bulb would have in the wild – and don’t water. Then repot the bulb in fresh compost, water sparingly and move the pot into the warmth. In a couple of months the bulb should bloom once more.
Om Louise Curley
Louise is a horticulturalist, garden writer and author of the award-winning book The Cut Flower Patch. She’s passionate about the power of plants to make us feel happy and is an advocate for organic gardening and encouraging wildlife into gardens.Get to know Louise Curley
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