What to do this week –By Mark Govan, Host “Florida Gardening”
Bulbs can add a great burst of color to any landscape. Right now there are several bulbs in bloom and many more getting ready to add color to the garden. If you are looking for a relatively carefree plant that can give you years of enjoyment then bulbs are an excellent choice. This week I would like to give you some information of one bulb every homeowner should be growing in his or her garden, the amaryllis. I will also give you some information of how to harvest and grow seeds from your plants, how to divide bulbs in your garden, and how to plant them. Let’s get started.
The first thing we need to go over is what is a bulb? Bulbaceous plants are plants that produce an underground storage unit which helps these plants survive in tough climates. These storage units look similar to an onion and contain all the parts necessary to produce a beautiful bloom and foliage and as an added benefit, these plants multiply giving you the opportunity to separate them and share them with neighbors or friends. You may also want to extend your existing bulb garden with the new bulbs produced by the mother plant. Try not to confuse bulbs with other similar plants that grow from corms, tubers, or rhizomes. Although these types of plants may look similar they are different and for the purpose of this article I want to focus on bulbs we can use in our garden or landscape.
Amaryllis bulbs have to be one of my most favorite varieties of bulbs. Not only are they easy to grow but they seem to flourish in central Florida. Just one bulb planted in the garden today can lead to dozens of future bulbs each producing additional blooms for you to enjoy. As you travel around your neighborhood you have probably already seen the show these bulbs are producing now. Some may grow singly while others may produce an entire bed of blossoms growing up on their long stems. When planted in mass, amaryllis can put on a beautiful show of color.
My favorite place to get amaryllis bulbs is from a friend or neighbor that has a large bed of amaryllis bulbs and that they are willing to share or trade me for different colors. I do not recommend uprooting flowering bulbs but once the blooming season has finished, I will ask them to separate some of their bulbs and trade me for some colors they do not have. If the bulbs are in bloom and you dig them up, then you risk the possibility of losing the bloom so leave them in the ground until the season is over. Once the bulbs have finished blooming, then it is ok to separate the bulbs. You can also purchase amaryllis bulbs from local garden centers and some of the box stores too. If you are looking for some of the very large bloomers, then you may want to go online and order some from specialty dealers. Specialty amaryllis bulbs may cost a little more but there are some absolutely gorgeous plants out there and I recommend that you give at least one or two a try.
Amaryllis bulbs go through several changes during the year and these changes can greatly effect whether or not your plants bloom. If you are like most of us then you probably already have a few bulbs growing in your garden. As I stated earlier, my plants are in full bloom right now but in a short time these plants will be going to seed. After the flowers fall off the plant a seed pod will form. This pod takes about a month or two to mature. These pods are on the tip end of where the flowers were earlier. If you do not cut the stem off after flowering, then your plant will produce a seed pod with many wafer thin seeds in each pod. Wait to harvest these seeds until the pods start to split open. Once the pods open you can collect the seeds and save them to plant later. After you have taken the seeds away cut off the stem of the seed pod at its base.
Ripe seeds will be black in color and each pod holds fifty or more seeds. If you collected from several pods, then you will be able to produce enough amaryllis bulbs to supply the entire neighborhood. In order to root the new seeds you have collected, you will need to find several one gallon pots and fill them about three fourths full with potting soil. Next you will need to spread the seeds flat over the surface of the potting soil and be generous with the seeds you collected. Do not be afraid to double or triple stack the seeds. Once you have laid the seeds out over the top of the soil you will need to gently cover these seeds some additional potting soil. I like to use about a half to three quarters of an inch of soil over the seeds. Gently water the pots and place in filtered sun. Repeat watering every few days. In about three weeks you will see several growths that look like grass emerging from the soil. These are the new amaryllis seeds starting to sprout.
New amaryllis seedlings will take about three months to gain any size so be patient. Once you see that the new bulbs have attained some size and roots are starting to develop, you will need to separate the plants into individual containers. Because you started so many individual plants in each container you will have to divide these seedlings and plant them in their own pots to continue growing them. Lay the container with the seedlings on its side and gently tap the container to loosen the soil and pull all the seedlings out of the pot. Gently separate the individual bulbs which should be the size of a small marble while being careful not to disrupt the delicate roots. Once separated, plant each bulb in a four inch pot with the top of the bulb being at the surface of the soil level. Make sure you use a good quality potting soil in each pot. Water the new plants to settle the soil around the bulb while being careful not to flood the pot. Place the newly planted pots in indirect sunlight. You may need several small pots for all the bulbs or if you are like me several dozen small pots.
As your new plants begin to grow, you will not have to repot them until they bloom the first time. This can take some time and new bulbs may take as long as eighteen months or longer to produce a bulb large enough to produce a flower stalk. Again, be patient, your plants will grow and when bloom time finally comes in the spring, you may be amazed to find several colors of amaryllis. Additional colors of new flowers are your reward from planting from seed. Unlike separating bulbs in the garden, seedling amaryllis may give you colors no one else has ever seen before. Good Luck!
If growing from seed sounds a little to time consuming for you, then as I had mentioned above, there is another way. You can purchase new bulbs or find a friend willing to share their bulbs with you. Remember to dig amaryllis after the blooming season is completed. You will notice that when you dig the bulbs that several smaller bulbs may be attached to the mother bulb. Snap the smaller bulbs off the mother plant. They should break apart rather easily. Next, I like to cut off any foliage with a pair of scissors about one inch above the bulb. Group your bulbs by size and keep the largest ones. The larger the bulb is the better the bloom will be. Give the smaller bulbs away to your friends.
I have found that when planting the bulbs in the garden that most amaryllis does better out of direct sunlight. Try to plant your bulbs in areas that get some shade during the day but still receive sunlight during the afternoon. The most important thing about planting your bulbs is to make sure the bulb is planted two thirds out of the ground and one third into the ground. This should include any mulch you apply to the bed. You want to be able to see the bulb when you are done planting. Amaryllis bulbs gradually pull themselves into the ground. This process reduces blooming of the plants so you may have to raise them up every several years which give you the ability to split up the bulbs they produce. Separating amaryllis bulbs is usually done in the summer to late fall after the bulbs have had time to expand.
Bulbs can be used to give you a mass of flowers in the spring when many plants are still dormant. Just a few bulbs planted now can give you many in the future. Be sure to dig your bulbs up and separate them every third year and share your extras with your friends. If you start some from seeds, then you may surprise yourself with new colors to add to the garden. Remember to enjoy what you do and have fun creating new thing for the garden. Thanks for your time and remember, without our plants, we would not be here.