Flowering presents: Hippeastrum
At this time of year, they appear everywhere in floral decorations and on people’s windowsills: Amaryllis, or more correctly named Hippeastrum, or as we affectionately call them here at the Garden Academy Hippies. They originate from South and Central America and are not normally hardy in northern Europe, except milder areas of the British Isles. They belong to the plant family of the Amaryllidacea, to which also Snowdrops and Narcissus belong. All parts are poisonous.
Although new varieties keep coming onto the markets, the first hybrid was raised in North England in 1799 by Arthur Johnson, a watchmaker from Preston. For those who do not like them because they are too big and loud, they should give them a second look: nowadays there are more dainty miniature versions that are easier to decorate, and the spider varieties, with slim petals.
Hippies in pots
It has long been a tradition to pot up the big bulbs during the autumn months, so they will flower during the winter months, or even at Christmas. It will take approximately 2 months before they start flowering, much depending on the temperature.
Traditionally the bulbs were put on a bed of gravel over water for 4 days before being potted in a well-draining compost with gravel or perlite added to improve the drainage and avoid the bulb from rotting. Use a pot that is large enough to allow about two centimetres between pot and bulb, which will enable to bulb to increase in size in the years to follow, without having to repot too soon. Put a good layer of draining material like gravel or broken terracotta pots in the bottom. Plant the bulb not too deep: the neck should be above ground level, and water in lightly. Stand the pots over the heating to give them warmth from below to encourage good root formation, preferable in a room not too warm (16-18°C). Do not overwater. Keep the soil slightly moist, but if it gets to wet, there is a danger the bulb may rot.
During the summer months they can be put in the garden. By late summer they should enter a dormancy period, during which you should reduce the watering to keep them dry before starting to water again regularly, but little, when they come back into growth.
Their large, bold flowers make a big impact, so that with just one flower stem it is possible to make a statement. Depending on the temperature in the room, they will last 10-14 days. Particularly the bright pillar-box red ones like ‘Ferrari’ are popular, but in recent years some moody darker red cultivars such as ‘Royal Velvet’ have made their appearance on the cutflower market. ‘Christmas Cheer’ is a greenish white variety, whilst ‘Paris’ clear pink is. In the smaller ones, often sold as Mineastrum there is a lovely creamy white ‘Helios’ and glowing red ‘Rapido’. In the spidery ones I like ‘Tarantula’ with slender greenish petals with a hint of red in them.
An unusual way of displaying them is by hanging them upside down. Simply pour some water into the hollow flower stalks, put some cellotape around the end of the stems, and poke a wire through it to form a hook or a loop with which it can be fixed.
Take care when removing faded flowers, as especially the red ones can leave quite nasty stains when wilted and have gone soft.
The Perfect present for the talent-free plant fanatic: Waxed Hippeastrum
Since a few years it is possible to buy Hippeastrum bulbs that are coated in a wax-like coating that require no input whatsoever to make them flower. All they need is light and warmth. It is the perfect example that illustrates how bulbs have all they need ready packaged in them: Flower buds and leaves are all ready waiting to emerge as soon as the conditions are right.
At first the flower spikes appear, followed later by the foliage. With a bit of luck, a good bulb should produce two, if not occasionally three flower spikes. As they do not get any additional water they are more compact than conventional pot-cultivated bulbs, making them less likely to topple over.
For keen plant lovers who cannot throw them away, it is possible to peel the wax-layer off, and pot the bulb after flowering, and by feeding and watering it regularly, putting them out in the sunshine if possible during the summer months, that they will continue a happy flowering life for many years to come.
I wish you all a happy first advent!