Repeat Performance: Caring for your Holiday Amaryllis Bulb to Encourage Future Blooms

By Melinda Heigel, EMGV

A potted amaryllis (Hippeastrum sp. ‘Exotic Nymth’) sports double blooms with ruffled peach and white petals. At their center, these stunners are shot through with high-contrast chartreuse. A repeat-bloom of this bulb is definitely worth the effort. (Image credit: M. Heigel)

This time of year, amaryllis (Hippeastrum spp.) bulbs are everywhere! And while perhaps not as ubiquitous as the poinsettia, amaryllis gets a lot of attention during the holiday season. Watching their bright magnificent, often-giant flowers unfold is a wondrous sight during the shortest days of the year. Producers and nurseries usually sell these bulbs as a houseplant to bloom indoors beginning in November. There are more than 90 species of this plant and literally hundreds of cultivars, so the possibilities for color, petal characteristics and configurations seem endless. However, most of the bulbs sold commercially today are hybrids of six different species: H. vittatum, H. leopoldii, H. pardinum, H. reginae, H. puniceum, and H. aulicum.

Before we continue, let’s do a little housekeeping in the botany department. The Hippeastrum spp. we see this time of year in bulb or emerging-bulb forms is most commonly referred to as an “amaryllis,” and that’s what I’ll call them in this piece. However, Hippeastrum and Amaryllis are two distinct plants. And while they are in the same family (Amaryllidaceae) and look quite similar, these two plants have differences in bloom times and geographic areas of origin.

Generally, amaryllis is an easy bulb to grow indoors. Some slightly damp soil, light, consistent 70-degree temps, and Viola!–a showy vibrant flower. I am afraid that much like their elegant, tall-stemmed houseplant counterpart, the orchid (Orchidaceae family), people tend to pitch their amaryllis once it has bloomed. Amaryllis is a perennial, and by following some easy care instructions, you can prepare your bulb to bloom again. Recycling at its most beautiful.1

After-bloom Care

Once your holiday amaryllis has bloomed, set your bulb up for future success by continuing to actively support its continued growth. Just like you would with any perennial, remove the flowers as they begin to die and cut off the stem just above the bulb.2 This will help prevent the plant from going into “reproduction mode” through seed formation. What you’ll be left with is the bright-green strap-like leaves of the plant. Place the plant in a bright-light location indoors; a south-facing window is a good spot. Remember that by allowing the leaves to photosynthesize, the plant will direct all the energy necessary into the bulb to promote future blooming. Take care to keep the soil slightly moist (too much water can lead to a rotting bulb or disease) and make sure that you are applying a balanced houseplant fertilizer (such as a 10-10-10) regularly. Follow the fertilizer label instructions, but a light application every 3-4 weeks is a general guideline.

Hippeastrum sp. ‘Flamenco Queen’ in full bloom in late December. (Image credit: M. Heigel)

You can continue to care for your amaryllis indoors if you choose, but after the threat of frost has passed in your area, you can also move the potted plant outside during warmer weather. Temperatures under 35 degrees harm amaryllis. Ultimately, this plant prefers full sun, but exercise caution when moving the potted plant outside initially. Just like seedlings, take time to acclimate the plant to outside conditions by exposing it to shade, then dappled sun for longer and longer durations, introducing it to full-sun conditions gradually over the course of one to two weeks. While the amaryllis likes full sun (6 hours+), in hot climates like ours, it might be best to place it in a location where it could benefit from a little late-afternoon shade. Continue to keep it moist but don’t overwater. Make sure you move your potted plant back to a sunny indoor location when the threat of frost reoccurs in the later in fall. The plant can stay in the same pot for several seasons. According to the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, the roots of the amaryllis bulb prefer to be a bit pot-bound.3

Planting the Bulb in the Garden

Amaryllis bulbs can also be transplanted into a garden after the last threat of frost. They make good specimens for beds or borders and can be impressive cut flowers. If your goal is to eventually plant the bulb outside in the spring, follow the same gradual method for acclimatization mentioned above prior to in-ground planting. Amaryllis bulbs are generally hardy through Zone 7b and 8a as long as they are thoroughly mulched throughout the fall and winter. Choosing a well-drained area rich in organic matter is a must; wet areas typically mean bulb and root rot and pathogens like “red blotch” (caused by the Stagonospora curtissi fungus). Plant in full to part sun. Unlike tulips and narcissus bulbs which are planted at greater depths, plant the amaryllis bulbs with half of the neck exposed above the soil line and then only cover the top sparingly with soil. Space plants anywhere between 6 to 12 inches apart. With amaryllis planted in your landscape, wait until mid-spring when you see new growth emerge before fertilizing. Then, choose a fertilizer low in nitrogen or one especially formulated for bulbs. Two additional applications are recommended: one after a plant stalk is 6 inches tall and again after bloom time once you remove all fading flowers and the spent stem. Just in the potted-plant scenario above, the leaves are left to photosynthesize and reenergize the bulb for following seasons.

Re-flowering for the Holiday Season

So you have been diligent in caring for your potted amaryllis bulb all year long. If you want to experience the show-stopping flowers again for the next holiday season, there are several things you need to do. First, remember to bring your potted amaryllis indoors when the threat of frost is imminent. While first frost dates may be more unpredictable these days, our Durham, NC watch date is October 15. All bulbs need to undergo a dormancy phase of approximately 8-10 weeks before they can re-bloom again. Place your potted amaryllis bulb in a cool, dark location (temps in the 45-55-degree range). During this resting stage, stop watering and fertilizing the plant. The leaves will yellow and wither; once this has occurred, remove them. Keep a close check on your pot. When you see the emergence of the green flower bud, move the plant to a sunny indoor location with a temperature of about 70 degrees and resume watering. Do not fertilize a bulb that has no leaves. This can lead to death of the bulb’s roots. Wait to resume any fertilization methods until the plant is growing in earnest.

New growth shoots emerging from bulb. (Image credit: Wisconsin Horticulture, Division of Extension)

If you are not seeing any new growth emerge after 10 weeks in the colder and darker conditions, you can encourage new growth by then watering the soil once thoroughly and moving the plant to a warm, sunny indoor location. Only when signs of new growth begin should you resume regular watering. To encourage a straight flower stalk, rotate the potted amaryllis around periodically as it emerges to eliminate positive phototropism (when a plant directs its growth in one direction toward available sunlight).

Amaryllis are easy-care plants. By providing them a little extra attention throughout the year, you can experience these perennials as they should be enjoyed–over and over again!

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Notes

Waxed amaryllis bulbs are new trend. (Image credit: University of Georgia Cooperative Extension)

1–Many nurseries and garden centers are now offering free-standing waxed amaryllis bulbs. Producers remove the roots of the bulb, insert a wire at the bulb’s base for balance, and encase the bulb in a colorful wax. No pots or growing media exist in this modern application. I mention this trendy amaryllis presentation to say that repotting and re-flowering may be possible with this type of bulb but perhaps more challenging. Some experts advise that you can attempt to remove the wax and wire and repot the bulb, but inspect the bulb carefully after your deconstruction. Any sign of damage to the bulb could be detrimental to its overall health and ability to re-flower. However the University of Delaware Master Gardener program has a step by step guide to work with waxed amaryllis bulbs. https://www.udel.edu/academics/colleges/canr/news/2022/january/prep-your-waxed-amaryllis-to-rebloom-next-year/

2 –Some Cooperative Extension experts recommend removing the flowers but leaving the tall plant stalk until it browns and withers prior to cutting it off above the bulb. They contend the green stalk can also aid in the plant’s photosynthesis. https://extension.unh.edu/blog/2019/01/can-i-get-my-amaryllis-bloom-again

3–https://extension.unh.edu/blog/2019/01/can-i-get-my-amaryllis-bloom-again

Resources and Additional Information

North Carolina State University’s Plant Toolbox offers a good overview of the both the Hippeastrum spp. and the Amaryllis spp. Compare and contrast the two plants here — https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/hippeastrum/; https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/amaryllis/.

To understand the plant parts of the Hippeastrum spp., North Carolina State and Longwood Gardens have partnered in producing the following short video.

Illinois Cooperative Extension’s site provides and excellent overview of amaryllis care and re-blooming strategies. https://extension.illinois.edu/blogs/good-growing/2021-12-03-how-take-care-amaryllis-and-get-them-rebloom

For a short primer on forcing amaryllis bulbs, see Clemson University’s Home and Information Garden Center’s fact sheet. https://hgic.clemson.edu/forcing-amaryllis/

Article Short Link https://wp.me/p2nIr1-30g

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Many thanks to our readers in 2022!

We’ll be taking next week off and will be back in January ready to keep the garden goodness flowing in 2023.

Very Merry Winter Berries

Small Native Evergreen Trees or Shrubs for Winter Interest

By Wendy Diaz, EMGV

There are three shrubs (or small trees) native to North Carolina which I think add great interest to a garden landscape because their attractive evergreen foliage and bright berries provide excellent color and texture to the dull winter landscape. They also provide year round privacy if planted as a hedge. An added bonus is that they supply food and shelter for birds such as Nuthatches, Cardinals, Blue Jays, Brown Thrashers, Cedar Waxwings and Woodpeckers in the lean winter months[i]. Yaupon Holly (Ilex vomitoria), American Holly (Ilex opaca) and Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus Virginiana) provide all these attributes during the season when naked deciduous trees and the bare landscape expose us to our neighbors and there is less food for birds. 

Photographs from left to right: Yaupon Holly ‘Pendula’, American Holly (female), Eastern Red Cedar (center of photo). (Image credit: Wendy Diaz December, 2022)

Yaupon Holly (Ilex vomitoria)[ii]

The Yaupon Holly, also commonly known as Yaupon, is a broadleaf evergreen shrub or small tree with dense branches that can reach heights of 10 to 20 feet tall with an 8 to 12 feet spread. The holly-like evergreen foliage consists of small, leathery green, elliptical-shaped spineless leaves which are less than an inch long. Small white flowers (similar to other hollies) in spring develop into tiny red spherical berries or drupes (simple fruit with a single hard seed surrounded by flesh)[iii] of ¼ inch in diameter on the leaf axils in October and November and persist through the winter. Yaupon Holly prefers sun to part shade and is drought tolerant. The weeping branches of the cultivar ‘Pendula’ is an ideal specimen shrub for the garden.

Left to right: Small elliptical, glossy dark-green foliage (no spines) and berries of Yaupon Holly. Close up of spherical red berries of the Yaupon Holly. (Image credit: Wendy Diaz)

American Holly (Ilex opaca)[iv]

American Holly is also a broadleaf evergreen tree that often occupies the understory of the deciduous forest of southeastern United States. This species of holly is easy to identify with its spiny green leaves and bright red berries. Other common names for this small tree are Winterberry, Inkberry, English Holly, and Christmas Holly. It grows slowly to an upright conical or pyramidal form that reaches heights of 40 to 60 feet tall and a 10 to 20 feet spread. Branches grow at right angles to the trunk, and the smooth bark is light gray in color. Its thick, leathery, dark-green leaves of 1 to 3 inches in length have spiny marginal teeth with an apical spine (tip of leaf). Pollinated small flowers in late spring produce small red round ¼ inch in diameter drupes that mature in the fall on female trees and persist all winter long (if they are not eaten by wildlife). American Holly prefers acidic soils in full sun to part shade.

Left to right: Spiny, dark-green leathery leaves of American Holly. Closeup of bright round red berries on the American Holly. (Image credit: Wendy Diaz December 2022)

Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus Virginiana)[v]

Eastern Red Cedar is a small needled evergreen tree that is actually not a cedar but a juniper, a species of the large genus Juniperus. This conifer is very common in the Piedmont and owes its common misnomer to the early colonists on Roanoke Island in 1564[vi] who described it as “tallest and reddest cedars in the world.” Other common names are Aromatic Cedar (red heartwood used in cedar chests), Carolina Cedar, Red Cedar, and Pencil Cedar (used to make pencils before 1940s). It can grow 30 to 40 feet tall in a conical to columnar form with a 10 to 20 foot spread. The juvenile foliage is long and sharp-pointed (prickly), but as the tree matures dense foliage develops into small glandular scale-like leaves attached tightly to a twig. The dark green foliage turns bronze in cold weather. The soft shaggy-looking distinctive bark on mature trees is dark gray to light brown and exfoliates in long fibrous strips. Eastern Red Cedar berries are not red but blue and are not real berries but are non-woody cones or ‘coneberries.’ The pale blue fruit on the female plants is oval and about ¼ inch in diameter with a white dusty protective coating and appear in October to December. The round berry-like blue fruits do not look like cones but they consist of soft (fleshy) scales that have actually coalesced and protect hard seeds. These fruits provide excellent winter food for a variety of birds and especially Cedar Waxwings. The Eastern Red Cedar is the most drought resistant conifer in eastern United States.

Fine texture of green foliage on a mature Eastern Red Cedar. Closeups of white coating on blue ‘berries’ of the Eastern Red Cedar in October 2021. (Image credit: Wendy Diaz)

Things to Consider

Because these three plants are dioecious (the male and female flowers are on separate male and female plants) shrubs of both sexes need to be planted to get the berries that form on the female trees. These shrubs/small trees provide the best dense foliage for privacy screens in full sun. If you have apple trees it is not recommended to plant Eastern Red Cedar as it is the host for the cedar-apple rust fungus (Gymnosporangium juniperi-virginiae). All three shrubs are deer resistant, hardy and easy to grow as long as they are in well-drained soil. They are ideal to fill in the mid-level vertical landscape and their boughs and berries also provide a readily available source of natural (plastic-free) holiday decorations.

Left to right: American Holly (male) with young Eastern Red Cedar in foreground and American Holly (female) located on either side of a driveway. (Image credit: Wendy Diaz, December 2022)

Above left: Eastern Red Cedar hedge with eastern exposure, and above right in same photo, thicker foliage of an Eastern Red Cedar with a western exposure. These provide some privacy along a property boundary even before deciduous trees leaf out in spring. Bottom left: Yaupon Holly stem with attractive red berries, dark-green glossy leaves and smooth grey bark provides a distraction from the view of the back of a neighbor’s house. Bottom right: Yaupon Holly stem with berries added to a natural holiday arrangement. (Image credit: Wendy Diaz)

Winter interest in the garden landscape that combines both visual beauty and the attraction of winged visitors is often a neglected consideration when planning garden landscapes for spring and summer enjoyment, however, if you want a Yard of Great Interest or YOGI[vii] yard, the Yaupon Holly, American Holly and Eastern Red Cedar are good candidates to add to your garden. 

Photographs clockwise: Cedar Waxwings take a drink after eating Eastern Red Cedar berries; Snow covering Yaupon Holly; Eastern Red Cedar covered in snow; Brown Thrasher foraging beneath a mature Eastern Red Cedar, and Yaupon Holly berries in the snow. (Image credit: Wendy Diaz)


Notes

[i] https://www.audubon.org/native-plants/search?zipcode=27713&active_tab=best_results&attribute=&attribute_tier1=12911&resource=&resource_tier1=9072856,9072876&bird_type=&bird_type_tier1=12941&page=1&page_tier1=1

[ii] https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/ilex-vomitoria/

[iii] https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/extension-gardener-handbook/3-botany#section_heading_6936

[iv] https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/ilex-opaca/

[v] https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/juniperus-virginiana/

[vi] https://piedmontmastergardeners.org/article/the-pros-and-cons-of-the-eastern-redcedar/

[vii] Crossroads of the Natural World, Exploring North Carolina with Tom Earnhardt, Tom Earnhardt, University of N.C. Press: Chapel Hill( 2013), 314 pages (Page 170)

Resources and Additional Information

For a list of other native trees and shrubs for your garden, Click to access NativePlantsWoody.pdf, (https://ncbg.unc.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/963/2019/08/NativePlantsWoody.pdf)

For more information on how to identify native trees and shrubs, the following publication is an excellent guide:

Native Trees of the Southeast, An Identification Guide, L. Katherine Kirkman, Claud L. Brown and Donald J. Leopold, Timber Press (2007).

For a list of where to find native trees and shrubs, check out the New Hope Audubon Society site’s Using Plants for a Bird Friendly Habitat. https://www.newhopeaudubon.org/conservation/bird-friendly-certification/native-plants/

Article Short Link https://wp.me/p2nIr1-2Yp

Give the Gift of Gardening Knowledge: Durham Garden Forum 2023 Speaker Series

By Karen Lauterbach, EMGV

Looking for something to give the gardener on your list?  How about a Durham Garden Forum membership?  And maybe you’d like to treat yourself to an educational experience that will help you take your gardening to the next level in 2023.

Since 2009, the Durham Garden Forum has been providing lectures once a month from 7 to 8:30 pm on the third Tuesday of each month.  Talks feature a variety of gardening subjects, including growing vegetables, garden design, composting, climate change gardening, tree care, controlling invasive plants, and gardening with native plants. The Durham Garden Forum moved to Zoom during the pandemic and will re-evaluate its meeting format in 2023.  Prior to the pandemic, in-person meetings were held at Duke Gardens.

The cost of an annual membership – $25.00 – includes access to video library of Durham Garden Forum talks since 2021 and discounts at area garden centers, including For Garden’s Sake and The Durham Garden Center.

To join the Durham Garden Forum, fill out the application, and mail it with a check to the address shown on the membership form. (https://durhammastergardeners.files.wordpress.com/2022/08/pdf-of-membership-form.pdf)

Memberships purchased in early December 2022 include access to the December 13, 2022 meeting, which will focus on “Proper Selection and Use of Growing Media.”

Scheduled 2023 meetings include:

  • January 17:  “Plant Choices: Alternatives to Invasives,” with Charlotte Glen, State Coordinator, NC State Extension Master Gardener Program.
  • February 21: “Drought Tolerant Landscapes,” with Annabelle Renwick, Curator of the Blomquist Garden of Native Plants at Sarah P. Duke Gardens. 
  • March 21: “Propagation” with Sara Smith, Durham County Extension Master Gardener.
  • April 18:  “Landscape Design,” with Anne Spafford, Ph.D., Professor of Horticultural Science at NC State University.
  • May 16:  “Plant-to-Plant Interaction,” with Anita Simha, community ecologist and PhD candidate in Duke University’s Program in Ecology. 
  • June 20:  “Bamboo: Uses in the Landscape and Effective Removal,” with David Benfield, founder of Brightside Bamboo. 
  • July 18: “NC Native Herbal Plant Remedies,” with Arvis Boughman, a member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina and the author of Herbal Remedies of the Lumbee Indians, and Robert RedHawk Eldridge, who is of Sappony decent and a storyteller. He travels across the country sharing stories about his ancestors and Native American culture.

Topics for the remainder of 2023 will be announced as the program schedule is finalized. 

Questions?  Contact durhamgardenforum@gmail.com

Follow Durham Garden Forum on Facebook: https://facebook.com/DurhamGardenForum

December To Do in the Garden

By Gary Crispell, EMGV

Common Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) branch in early winter. (Image credit: Cathy Dewitt CC BY 4.0)

December is coming.

No!  Wait!  It’s here.

An amazing and wondrous

(And cold) time of year.

‘Tis the holiday month

Shared with family and friends.

Hanukkah, then Christmas,

Kwanzaa at month’s end.

No time for the garden.

“Blasphemy!!,” so you say.

Well, there’s naught to fertilize

And nothing to spray.

But here is a list

More meager than most.

You can finish in no time

Then with friends drink a toast.

LAWN CARE in December

Is really a breeze.

All you need do

Is remove fallen leaves.

Rake ‘em or blow ’em

Compost them in a hill.

Just don’t send them

To the landfill.

PRUNING is something

To get you outside.

Hand pruning not shearing

Should be your guide.

SPRAYING is over.

All done for this year.

Time to clean up

And hang up that gear.

PROPAGATION is tricky

Or so it would seem.

I strongly suggest

You ask our prop team.

Now sit back and chill

With your beverage of choice.

Sing a sweet song

Using your “indoor” voice.

Warm your toes by the fire

Gather family and friends.

Toast one another

Toast the year’s end.

This holiday season

(Choose your celebration.)

May you find time

For quiet cogitation.

Time to think and to ponder

Time for thanks giving

For all that is good,

For all that is living.

May all of our gardens

In the upcoming year

Be enough for us

With plenty to share.

Happy Hanukkah!  Merry Christmas! 

Joyous and thoughtful Kwanzaa!, Y’all.

Bring on 2023!

Article Short Link https://wp.me/p2nIr1-2X0

Upcoming Program: “Plan(t) Your Year” with Bull City Gardener Live! 

(Image credit: M. Heigel)

The new year right around the corner brings with it beginnings, resolutions we make for adventure-seeking, learning, and healthier eating, and, of course seed catalogs, that show up in your mailbox and get you excited about spring! Growing plants, especially vegetables, from seeds offers so many advantages to the home gardener: a broader variety of vegetables to choose from, a cost-effective way to garden versus using more expensive plant starts, and the thrill of nursing seeds into seedlings and ultimately onto your plate.

Join the Bull City Gardener Live! program this January to learn how easy it is to grow veggies year round in the Piedmont region. The class will emphasize seed starting, garden bed planting, season extension, succession planting, and so much more.

Three Durham County Extension Master Gardener Volunteers will lead this exciting workshop. Sara Smith will focus on propagation, Bev Tisci will talk seed starting, and Kathryn Hamilton1 will explore succession gardening and season extension. Part of the presenters’ extensive veggie resumes includes work on the Durham County’s recent tomato grafting project, which won international acclaim and a first-place spot in the research category at the David Gibby International Master Gardener Search for Excellence in 2021. 2

While the class is geared toward beginners, rest assured, it will be chock full of advice from veteran vegetable growers and seed starters, so there is something for everyone, regardless of experience.

(Image credit: NC Cooperative Extenstion)

While the class is FREE, pre-registration is required to secure your spot through Eventbrite. Click here to register https://www.eventbrite.com/e/482423099477

Plan(t) Your Year

Two Sessions:

Monday, January 9, 2023 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. (FULL)

Saturday, January 14, 2023 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. (Register Here)

721 Foster Street, Durham, NC 27701

Bull City Gardener workshops like”Plan(t) Your Year” are part of the Extension Master Gardener℠ program of Durham County and are open to everyone. Read more at: https://durham.ces.ncsu.edu/2022/01/2022-bull-city-gardener-live-spring-sessions/ and stay tuned for more 2023 programs.

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Notes

1–Kathryn Hamilton gave our readers a little taste of her annual garden planning in her September 14, 2022 blog article “Garden Veggies Year Round: One Gardener’s Calendar.” Click here to revisit her article https://wp.me/p2nIr1-2F1

2–Read more about Durham County’s EMGV award-winning tomato research at https://emgv.ces.ncsu.edu/2021/08/tomato-grafting-project-receives-first-place-in-international-master-gardener-search-for-excellence/

Article Short Link https://wp.me/p2nIr1-2Xk