The amaryllis – the tulip of Florida

By Ralph E. Mitchell

While some people may miss the spring flowers of the north – tulips being one of them – we have many flowering bulb substitutes which put on a similar show right here in southwest Florida.  One that is showing up now is the amaryllis.  Amaryllis come in shades of pink, red, orange and white, and combinations of those colors, in clusters of large to small trumpet-like flowers that herald spring in our clime.  While often purchased as Holiday plants, amaryllis make a stunning landscape feature.

In general, amaryllis bulbs are planted between September and January in well-drained soil enriched with compost.  Site selection is important as light shade conditions are preferred.  If they are in too much shade, expect poor flowering, and if in too much sun, the leaves tend to yellow.  Clumps of ten plants of the same color look best when planting in the landscape. You can place them in rows or in natural, informal swaths twelve to fifteen inches apart and deep enough so that the neck of the bulb is just showing above the soil.  Water the bulbs in well and there after until they are established.  Water is important for good growth throughout the growing season.

After a number of years, amaryllis bulbs may become crowded and need separation.  This refreshing of the bed will encourage additional blooms and bigger, more prolific bulbs.  Add organic matter and remove dead bulbs and small offsets to propagate or give away.  Mulching will help suppress weeds and retain moisture.  Once established, amaryllis are very carefree and drought-tolerant.  Amaryllis are considered Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ worthy, so make sure to include them in your sustainable landscapes.  One word of caution however, amaryllis are known to be toxic to dogs and cats, so practice due diligence in this respect.

Once the flowers are finished, make sure to remove the talks to keep the plant from forming seed pods.  If you do not complete this simple task, you will likely have fewer flowers the next season – all the energy will go into producing seeds and not flowers.  Taking their dead blooms off also makes the planting look better and more pleasing to the eye.  The foliage must be maintained so that it can provide sustenance for next season’s flowers.  You will find that the strap-like leaves will persist for much of the growing season and then begin to dieback in late summer/fall.  The plants over-winter with no leaves, and only the flower buds and stems will be noticed in late-winter/early spring as they emerge for another show.

If you are homesick for tulips, try amaryllis!  For more information on all types of flowering bulbs, please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer.  Don’t forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area.  Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times – http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/charlotteco/files/2018/03/Plant-Clinics-Schedule.pdf.     Ralph E. Mitchell is the Director/Horticulture Agent for the Charlotte County Extension Service. He can be reached at 941-764-4344 or ralph.mitchell@charlottecountyfl.gov.

Resources:
Park Brown, S. & Black R. J. (2017) Amaryllis. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
The Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Guide to Plant Selection & Landscape Design (2010) The University of Florida Extension Services, IFAS.
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Toxic and Non-Toxic Plants – Amaryllis – https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/toxic-and-non-toxic-plants/amaryllis

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