Amaryllis, Hippeastrum x hybridum, is not one specific type, but rather any one of hundreds of hybrids of Hippeastrum species in the Amaryllidaceae family.
Suited to outdoor growing as a perennial in USDA Hardiness Zones 9 to 11, this showy flower is often forced to bloom indoors in other zones.
An exceptional addition to winter holiday decor, the large flowers of amaryllis are trumpet-shaped and perch atop leafless, hollow stems that rise directly from a substantial bulb.
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You’ll find a range of available colors to choose from, including shades of orange, pink, purple, red, white, and yellow. Often the petals are variegated, and some types are fragrant.
In this article, we discuss how to cultivate amaryllis indoors.
Here’s what’s in store:
What You’ll Learn
Don’t be intimidated by this dazzling flower. It’s so easy to grow, you won’t believe it!
Cultivation and History
Amaryllis is generally purchased in a dormant state. It may be cultivated with a combination of indoor and outdoor placements, and artificially-induced dormancy, for year-to-year enjoyment in cold regions, or it may be discarded after blooming indoors.
Hippeastrum bulbs have a circumference of 10 to 14 inches. The larger the bulb, the more stems and flowers it will typically produce.
The stems, called scapes, are between one and two feet tall. There may be one to three scapes per bulb.
Each erect stem bursts into robust blooms with a diameter between four and 10 inches. They face outward, like colorful sentries on watch. There may be up to five flowers per stem.
There’s a variety of hybrids to choose from, including multi-petal Nymphs, narrow-petal Cybisters, and butterfly-like Papilios.
Strappy leaves sprout directly from each bulb, and reach lengths of up to three feet.
By definition, there is only one true amaryllis species, Amaryllis belladonna. Also known as the March or naked-lady lily, it’s an outdoor plant that blooms in the late summer in Zones 7 to 10, and is native to South Africa. You can read more about growing it in our guide. (coming soon!)
So, why do we call Hippeastrum hybrids amaryllis?
In the 1700s, Swedish botanist Charles Linneaus created the Amaryllis genus to classify A. belladonna, its only member at the time.
In the 1800s, British botanist William Herbert named lily-like flowers that resembled “knight’s stars” Hippeastrum, Latin for the description.
Over the years, both the single South African Amaryllis and multiple South American Hippeastrum species were all classified as Amaryllis.
It wasn’t until modern times, in 1987 to be exact, that the 14th International Botanical Congress determined that there are indeed two separate genera, Amaryllis and Hippeastrum. And although the distinction has been made, we still call Hippeastrum flowers amaryllis.
There are four ways to start this misnamed lily-like plant: from seed, or via offset division, bulb re-sectioning, or micropropagation of explant cultures.
Let’s look at what each means for the home gardener.
Not all Hippeastrum plants produce viable seeds.
With fertile seed, however, starting a new plant is cost-effective, if time consuming. From the time of sowing, the appearance of the first blossom may take two to five years.
The traits of plants propagated by fertile seed are likely to vary from those of the parent plant.
For more information on growing amaryllis from seed, see our guide.
The easiest way to start a plant is with a dormant bulb.
Both loose and pre-potted bulbs are available for indoor forcing, or outdoor sowing in warm areas.
Once dormancy is broken, it takes between six and eight weeks for flowering to occur.
Offsets are bulblets, or “daughters,” that grow alongside a large “mother” bulb. They are broken away from the mother to start new plants and reduce crowding.
The larger the offset, the better, because they take from two to five years to bloom, depending upon their size.
The best time to divide is in late fall, but for those in warm regions, it is also possible to divide in late winter.
Offset division produces plants with the same characteristics as a parent plant.
A bulb can be dug up and cut into sections to create new plants. This is a common commercial practice, also known as twin scaling.
The best time to do this is after a bulb has bloomed and grown foliage, but before the leaves fade and dormancy begins.
It’s done by removing the brown “tunic” and dividing the bulb like a pie, with multiple sections that each contain a bit of outer scale and basal plate, the bottom where the roots are attached.
The sections are cut and then treated with a fungicide before being planted in a moist, sterile potting medium. Sections may begin to regrow in one to three months, but it may take two or more years before they flower.
Read more about separating amaryllis offsets and bulb re-sectioning in our guide.
Micropropagation of Explant Cultures
The domain of scientists, this method of micropropagation involves taking samples of plant tissue and growing them in a laboratory. This method enables the manipulation of traits at the genetic level.
How to Grow
Purchase a dormant bulb in the fall. Don’t be surprised if it has already sprouted in transit.
For pre-potted bulbs, follow the enclosed instructions.
Don’t forget to remove the layer of Spanish moss before watering if there is one, so it doesn’t soak up the water intended to saturate the potting medium. Replace it after watering, to promote moisture retention.
When shopping, you are likely to come across wax-dipped bulbs. They are unique in that they require no soil or water to bloom.
Each is a “one-hit wonder” that probably won’t bloom again, however, purveyors suggest there’s no harm in removing the wax and giving it a try.
For something unique that will be used and tossed, such as party centerpieces, they are a novelty you might like to try.
And because they require no water, you can suspend waxed bulbs upside-down to astonish your guests with a gravity-defying display!
Another novelty is the moss-wrapped bulb. Attractively ensconced in sheet moss that is secured by decorative wire, it requires a mere misting to sprout and bloom.
Potting a Loose Bulb for Forcing Indoors
To force blooming indoors in winter, choose a container with adequate drainage holes and enough weight that your plant will not tip over.
If you have a light pot, you may add stones to the bottom for ballast.
The pot diameter should allow for two inches of space around the bulb on all sides, for a snug fit that allows room for watering. And unlike many other plants, being rootbound is preferred.
If you wish to plant more than one bulb in a container, keep in mind that each plant measures between six and 12 inches wide at maturity, depending upon the variety.
Add a good quality potting medium, preferably a sterile mix, to the container, and settle the bulb in so that one-third to one-half of the narrower “neck” part is above the surface. This elevation inhibits rotting.
Press the soil down firmly, and be sure its height is one inch below the pot rim, to allow for watering without overflowing.
After planting, water the potting medium thoroughly.
Set the pot in bright sunlight, preferably in a location that is between 75°F and 80°F. The kitchen is generally a good place for sprouting. You may use a heat mat as needed, to maintain an even temperature.
Rotate the pot a quarter turn daily to encourage upright stem growth, as it will tend to lean towards the light.
Keep the potting medium thoroughly moist until you see the first sprout.
Thereafter, water when the top few inches feel dry, but before the pot dries out completely.
If your bulb was already sprouted when you got it, proceed with watering when the top few inches of the potting medium feel dry.
When the first bud appears, move the plant into indirect, but bright sunlight.
After blooming for four to six weeks, if you plan to keep your amaryllis to rebloom the next year, cut off spent flower stems to make way for a proliferation of foliage.
Continue to water sparingly, now allowing the pot to dry out before watering again.
There’s another way to pot a bulb for forcing indoors, and that’s by placing it on a single layer of pebbles in a glass container with water up to its neck, instead of potting medium.
It’s a novel approach you may want to try.
Transitioning to the Outdoors in Spring
Though many people choose to toss their holiday amaryllis, you can keep it growing for beautiful blooms in years to come!
In the spring, after the last frost date for your region, you may move the pot outside, or plant the bulb directly into the garden soil in all temperate zones.
Some folks like to sink the entire pot into the ground, leaving the rim above the soil surface, for easy retrieval later. And some gardeners even go so far as to wrap the pot in a gauzy material first to deter crawling pests.
Other people prefer to keep their plants indoors.
The ideal placement is in a location that gets full sun to part shade.
At this time, you may add an evenly balanced fertilizer, such as a 6-6-6 or 10-10-10 (NPK) product, to promote foliar growth, which in turn nourishes next year’s flowers.
- Plant neck deep, or with one-third to one-half visible above the soil line.
- Provide bright sunshine and warmth to encourage sprouting.
- Water only the potting medium, not the bulb or foliage, to prevent rotting.
- Do not overwater.
- Plant snugly, with a maximum of two inches of space between the bulb and the container.
Pruning and Maintenance
This is a low-maintenance plant.
While the scapes are usually self-supporting, those that have stretched sideways to reach for sunlight may require staking.
You can buy decorative amaryllis support stakes, such as these from the Easy to Grow Store, available via Amazon.
Repot as needed every few years to keep bulbs snug. Divide as desired by removing large offsets to plant elsewhere.
For outdoor plants and those you want to re-bloom, fertilize each spring with a well-balanced fertilizer. In warm regions, you may also fertilize during the growing season, per package instructions.
Continue to water sparingly after flowering, and remove spent scapes to inhibit pests and disease, and encourage foliar growth.
In cold regions, you can dig up bulbs to bring indoors for reblooming.
Divide offsets as desired in late fall, or in late winter in warm locales.
Cultivars to Select
There are hundreds of cultivated hybrids available each fall for forcing indoors, or planting outdoors in Zones 9 to 11.
Here are some of my favorite selections to whet your appetite:
You’ll shout, “Ole!” when you see the luscious red and cream blooms of ‘Flamenco Queen’. Bold and zesty, she’ll dance her way into your heart.
Large bulbs produce two stems and four to five blossoms.
Find ‘Flamenco Queen’ bulbs available from Burpee.
Bright and jolly, ‘Red Lion’ is the epitome of Christmas amaryllis perfection. Saturated true red petals are the perfect contrast to the evergreen of the season.
Find ‘Red Lion’ bulbs now from Holland Bulbs Farm, available via Amazon.
You can also find red-blooming waxed amaryllis bulbs from Terrain.
Wax colors are available in burgundy, white, green, and red, and flowers are of an unspecified red variety.
Moss-wrapped bulbs are also available from Terrain. Choose a white or red flower, of unspecified type.
Each bulb is encased in a layer of green sheet moss and wrapped in copper wire, for a refreshingly earthy display.
You will also find a fine selection of bulbs from the folks at Eden Brothers.
And for even more exciting varieties, with intriguing names like ‘Cherry Nymph’, ‘Half and Half’, and ‘Purple Rain’, see our article, 17 Awesome Amaryllis Varieties to Grow Indoors or Out.
Managing Pests and Disease
The best ways to avoid any issues with Hippeastrum hybrids is by starting with high-quality healthy plants. After you’ve gotten them home, do not overwater them.
Indoor growing reduces exposure to insects and infection, provided your other houseplants are healthy, and the potting medium that you use (or that your plants came in) is sterile.
For small infestations of sap-sucking pests like mealybugs and spider mites, you may be able to rinse them off with a steady stream of water. For a large-scale infestation, you may need to apply an insecticidal soap or neem oil.
Fungus gnat larvae feed below the soil and cause foliar deformity. Neem oil is the solution here, as well, and can head off diseases spread by young nymphs, such as wilt and blight.
Common diseases include red blotch and soft bulb rot.
Red blotch appears as rusty patches on foliage that often progress to the point of plant collapse. With proper sunlight and watering, it can be avoided. Discard affected plants.
Southern blight is a fungal infection that can occur in oversaturated soil. Read more about it in our guide.
For those of us in cool regions, forcing flowering indoors is a wonderful way to experience the beauty of amaryllis.
Whether you choose waxed, moss-covered, pre-potted, or loose bulbs to plant yourself in water or sterile potting medium, they’re a luxurious addition to winter decor. Stylish and awe-inspiring, holiday visitors are certain to want one of their own.
And why not?
If you’re looking for the perfect gift for family and friends of all ages and genders, who celebrate a variety of holidays, and who may be gardeners or not, it’s the perfect choice.
Quick Reference Growing Guide
Herald of the Season
I encourage you to cultivate this flowering bulb.
Until my family received one as a gift, I’d actually never seen an amaryllis up close before.
One look at the enormous brown bulb nestled in rich, dark potting medium, covered in Spanish moss, and I was intrigued.
And when creamy white flowers with pink blushing edges the size of my hand shot out of the top of the single stem as fast as Jack’s beanstalk, I knew I had a new favorite.
My tropical treasure grew lush, leathery foliage when I planted it out in the yard after it bloomed. Unfortunately, I didn’t know at the time that my zone was unsuited to wintering over, and I lost it.
Gardening is a gamble, even with ample knowledge and ideal circumstances. But armed with the tips described here, I’m confident that yours will thrive.
Choose bold reds and brilliant whites to complement winter seasonal decor.
In warm climes, choose from an array of bright oranges to subtle shades of peach for a warm or cool spring garden scheme planted outdoors.
Winter or spring, the statuesque scapes and bold trumpets are sure to proclaim its arrival with a dramatic flourish!
Are you growing amaryllis indoors? Let us know in the comments section below, and feel free to share a picture!
For more winter flora for the holidays, you’ll enjoy reading these guides next:
© Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product photos via Burpee, Easy to Grow Store, Holland Bulbs Farm, and Terrain. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock.
About Nan Schiller
Nan Schiller is a writer with deep roots in the soil of southeastern Pennsylvania. Her background includes landscape and floral design, a BS in business from Villanova University, and a Certificate of Merit in floral design from Longwood Gardens. An advocate of organic gardening with native plants, she’s always got dirt under her nails and freckles on her nose. With wit and hopefully some wisdom, she shares what she’s learned and is always ready to dig into a new project!