Wednesday 17 April 2013

Growing amaryllis lily as a house plant


Third annual flowering of my 2010 purchase

It’s one of those plants which we all know by the wrong name!. Hippeastrum is the correct name of the genus, Amaryllidaceae is the name of its family and Amaryllis lily the common name of the plant! To add to any confusion, the ‘true’ amaryllis is a very fine cold greenhouse plant.

Hippeastrums are not hardy and will not stand frost. They like to be warm and low temperature is one reason they can be a ‘difficult’ houseplant. In addition light levels in the home are usually low. These lilies need to be grown in the light of a south facing window or as in my own case, grown in a bright heated conservatory to thrive. 

My friends Mike and Isobel grow a single bulb in a pot. Compared to my own multiple planting they avoid un-coordinated flowering times and variation of height.

My learning curve
It’s only in recent years I have grown this plant. I had previously regarded it as a rather vulgar bulb that people buy, plant, and it flowers and dies. Sometimes it dies slowly over months or even years. On other occasions it is just thrown away! It is spectacular and from a purchased bulb quick to flower. It’s rapid development is unequalled as a  motivator to a child with a potential interest in growing plants.

Turn on your child’s green genes (I have now entered my second childhood!)
Some years ago I was tempted to buy four bulbs at the wonderful ‘floating’ flower market in old Amsterdam. The following year, as the last of the big spenders, I bought three more! From the vendors pictures the latter purchase would have beautiful pink flowers - dream on!  It is nice to have holiday gardening souvenirs but not always wise. I would have been  better buying firm, healthy, correctly named, varieties from Parker’s Wholesale! For a start none of the seven bulbs were the advertised colour and in the second batch only one flowered. Four months after purchase the bulbs had rotted away!  Fortunately some secondary bulbs emerged and survived. I confidently expect some red flowers next year!

Bulbs from my 2011 purchase. Primary bulbs have unfortunately died. At least two of these secondary shoots will flower next year provided they are allowed to naturally die down.

Why hippeastrums are difficult
It’s the lack of good quality light in the house. It’s also the undisciplined nature of the plant. Sometimes the leaves appear before the flowers, at other times the flowers are first. The real secret of successful growing is to look after the leaves and ensure they get plenty of light and to keep them in healthy growth as long as you can. When the foliage starts to die down, usually in Autumn, let them shed their leaves  and withhold water. They are telling you they want to rest! Similarly when they start up, take their cue, and water and feed. One of the biggest causes of death is when the inexperienced gardener continues to give too much water when they die down.
I have to admit I have just the right conditions for my two pots of ‘amaryllis’, a heated conservatory that receives full morning light and a cold greenhouse to which they can migrate for the summer, any time soon. I have the further option of standing them outside after all danger of frost has gone.

A reservation about over prescriptive gardening advice.
As cultural methods for ‘amaryllis are somewhat variable I turned to the RHS to check out a few points before writing this post. This link provides an excellent and detailed explanation of how they are grown.
In my opinion, the article shares a fault with much of the gardening press. This is to give very precise instructions as to temperatures that plants must be grown. I have learned over the years to regard such recommendations as ‘ball-park’ figures, but fear that many new gardeners when they see great precision are ‘put off’ from trying. Nature provides huge day to day variations of temperature and plants still thrive. My own unheated cold greenhouse temperature fluctuates by large amounts and I propagate and grow a huge range of plants. If I followed the literal advice of gardening books I don’t think I would grow anything at all!

Too quickly the flowers fade. Unless you wish to collect seed it will soon be time to cut the flower spike away

Previous house plant posts 
Streptocarpus - cape primrose
Hoya - wax plant
Achimenes - hot water plant


  1. Beautiful plants. They have so many lovely colors to choose from now too.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

    1. There are so many lovely colours Cher. I intend to get some from a reputable source. I had originally put a link to Parkers in this post but when I got to their site found it was the wrong season for them to list them!

  2. I've grown lots of these and occasionally got them to flower again but more often than not the bulbs split. I know I haven't given them the TLC they need but I tend to forget about them.

    1. Because mine tend to be out in the cold greenhouse May-November they just get the routine watering and do not get overlooked. If there are leaves and they are dry they get watered and fed. If they have started to go dormant they don't get watered (on a good day!)

  3. I just told my friend to get me some jumbo 40cm bulbs from the floating flower market... guess they probably won't be the colour they are labelled as then...

    Just wondered how the greenhouse is cold during the summer... won't it be hot?

    1. Best to get them from a reliable source. But then I have not found even the best to be perfect!
      Sorry about the confusing gardening terms. A cold greenhouse -at least in the uk - just means one that has no heating system and all the heat, considerable in summer, is from the sun.
      The bulbs love to be hot in summer!


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