Forcing Bulbs for the Winter: Amaryllis
My mom generously gifted me two amaryllis growing kits this past weekend. These will be the first in a series of bulbs I plan to "force" over the winter. Forcing simply means providing the conditions a bulb, rhizome, or corm needs to come out of dormancy through exposure to darkness and cool temperatures. This tricks the plant into thinking it has made it through winter and spring is just around the corner. If you've grown bulbs, rhizomes or corms in your garden you know that they start to peak out from the garden's surface as early as January or February and come into full bloom throughout March, April, and May in Zones 5 and 6. In this series we are going to trick our bulbs into thinking it is Spring in November, December and January.
A block of coco coir, a healthy sized amaryllis bulb and a 5-inch plastic pot came with each kit. This amaryllis bulb is the perfect size for the 5-inch pot it came with as it is about 3 inches across and the bulb needs about one inch of room all around it.
Amaryllis are tropical plants from South and Central America and thus only know a wet and dry season. This is why they do not need to experience cool temperatures for dormancy, just dryness and darkness for a few months before working to bloom again. This makes amaryllis a good beginner bulb. I am hoping to keep these amaryllis going for many years and as a result will be using a potting mix in addition to the coco coir that came with the kits, as the bulbs will need some nutrition between now and when I stop watering them in July or August 2022, putting them back into dormancy.
I will continue to add weekly updates to this post and subsequent bulb forcing posts throughout the winter, so keep checking back and sharing your own progress with bulb forcing this winter.
Week One: Last week of October (29 Weeks Until Last Frost)
On a perfect fall day after school, Z and our four-year-old neighbor planted the amaryllis bulbs in anticipation of it taking four to six weeks to see blooms, putting us at mid-December. This was a good project to do with them as it took under 30 minutes, which is about their attention span for gardening projects.
Week Two: First Week in November (28 Weeks Until Last Frost)
This week I was able to move the amaryllis from the floor to a floating wall shelf as a part of my new plant wall (look for this in a future post), so now the photographs will more consistently display the weekly changes. Almost immediately after planting, the bulbs began to turn more green and send up stems, making me very excited to see what is to come.
Week Three: Second Week in November (27 Weeks Until Last Frost)
One of these bulbs is not like the other! While they both appear healthy, one has really gained some significant height over the other. It is worth mentioning that this shelf is on a wall that faces north, so the plants get tons of indirect light from all of the windows, but never sit in direct light. My best guess is that filtered light is recommended as it is most like the filtered light an amaryllis would experience in the Central or South American under story of the rain forest.
Week Four: Third Week in November (26 Weeks Until Last Frost)
This massive bulb is just a week away from blooming and I hope it waits until we return from our Thanksgiving adventures to Moab and Grand Junction. The smaller bloom is making progress and has about four stems but they are just slow to emerge from the bulb. I am not sure what the difference between the bulbs really is other than the taller one has a visibly larger bulb. I do know that we will have amaryllis blooms in December and this makes me happy to think of having this beauty indoors during the darkest month of the year.
Week Five: Fourth Week in November (25 Weeks Until Last Frost)
This big bulb did indeed wait for our return to bloom, but not to grow. I moved it to a shelf where it had some more vertical space, but even this may not be enough. This is the Goliath of amaryllis. Meanwhile, the smaller one also grew on the blossoming stalk, but still is not sending up any leaves. By next week I hope to be sharing blossom photos!
Week Six: First Week in December (24 Weeks Until Last Frost)
What winter beauty these blossoms are! A welcome splash of color on these darkest and shortest of days. The smaller blossom still has no leaves emerging, but does appear to show the promise of a bloom. The taller one has outgrown its shelf; from the bottom of the pot to the crown of the tallest bloom it is 32 inches with a gorgeous spray of leaves on either side! I will definitely be holding onto the bigger bulb for future seasons!
Week Seven: Second Week in December (23 Weeks Until Last Frost)
All blooms come to an end when their job is done. I am not sure why I chose to pollinate the amaryllis blooms. Will I save these seeds and try to grow them? Still to be determined, but it gave me some practice using a paintbrush in place of a pollinator mainly to apply to my Meyer lemon that is just now blooming. The smaller amaryllis is ready to bloom and should give us beauty over the holiday.
Week Eight: Third Week in December (22 Weeks Until Last Frost)
Zut Alors! The second Amaryllis had just begun to blossom, but the blooms must have been too heavy for the stem as today I found the blossoms upside down hanging by a thread. I had to cut the stalk and put these beautiful blooms into the best vase I could find on hand, a glass milk bottle. I will continue to let the bulb grow leaves to recharge for next season.
The first Amaryllis to bloom, now has seed pods growing after being pollinated with a paint brush. I have cut off the spent blooms and will continue to let these seed pods develop for experimentation. I had supported the stem and leaves of this one but the second one got away from me, so I probably will not be able to cross pollinate the two plants to see if I get interesting seeds. Boo!
Week Nine: Fourth Week in December (21 Weeks Until Last Frost)
I took the week off from photographing flowers to capture the holiday with my family; however, the cut amaryllis bloom made it for much longer than I expected and adorned our Yul Bord with its loveliness and four big blossoms. Once I cut the first two blooms that were fading the last two blooms gave us another full week before making their way to the compost bin.
Week Ten: Fifth Week in December (20 Weeks Until Last Frost)
In my reading about amaryllis (not and affiliate link), I have since learned the first plant that immediately started growing leaves and a stem is an outlier. Typically, amaryllis send out a stem, bloom, and then once the blooms wither, the leaves emerge to support the bulb in storing enough energy for the next season. I plan to water this bulb throughout the winter, take it out to the garden in the summer and then let it go dormant in the fall for next season.
The amaryllis that I pollinated is growing rather large seeds at the moment. In the coming weeks, these pods will dry out and crack open and I will harvest and dry the seeds. Not sure yet if I will attempt to grow them indoors as it will take several years before I have any viable bulbs that will bloom, however, I am interested in the idea of growing a new hybrid which can be done when growing by seed.
Week Eleven: First Week in January (19 Weeks Until Last Frost)
I have moved the amaryllis up to the top of the plant wall while they finish making seeds and storing energy until I put them into dormancy again at the end of the summer. This brings these amaryllis updates to a close for the time being. I will add an update when I harvest the seeds, plant them in the garden in the late spring, and then put them into hibernation in late summer.
Week Thirteen: Third Week in January (17 Weeks Until Last Frost)
The seeds exploded from their pods this week, allowing me to harvest and dry them. I plan to run two more small growing experiments this winter: 1) growing these newly hatched seeds alongside my other garden starts for spring, and 2) direct sowing in the garden after the last frost to see how they do int he garden. I will of course bring these tropical plants indoors before the first fall frost and keep you updated here as we go.