The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

The grand amaryllis challenge

amaryllis set in caompostMy mum gave me two amaryllis (Hippeastrum) bulbs at Christmas and finally today they have been set in a bed of compost. They will flower a bit later than usual but that’s fine with me.

We usually have a race to see whose amaryllis flowers first. A few years ago I was decorating her house and seemingly overnight her amaryllis developed a second bud. Neither of us had ever seen this wonder before.

Like many people nowadays she keeps her mind in trim by tackling The Times crossword every day. She does not get up in the morning until she has solved three clues. As I needed to paint her bedroom ceiling I encouraged her to get up and dress. That involved helping to solve the third clue that was puzzling her.

I’m no good at crosswords but good at using all help available, so I nipped downstairs to fetch the Brewers Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. Within seconds we found the solution. I can’t remember the question but the answer was Zeno, the Greek philosopher.

She immediately christened the first amaryllis bud Zeno – a good strong name. She pondered for a few minutes and settled on Mincy for the second smaller, rather weedy bud. Danny and I had invested in a very disappointing mincer, which had sucky rubber feet that gripped the table as you minced. It was only stable if you turned the handle with the gentle touch of a fairy and finally we lost patience with the tremulous beast and it was jettisoned to Oxfam.

So each year the competition begins with setting the bulbs. Within a short while one or other of us is mentioning a Zeno. Perhaps amaryllis bulbs have changed as Mincy usually makes an appearance in both her town house and the cottage.

This year, I think that she gave me a fighting chance when she gave me two bulbs. My mum will win this year as her bulbs were tucked up weeks ago.

Update January 2001: I’ve just discovered that you can get outdoor hardy amaryllis bulbs. I’m very tempted to get some for the garden as they have a long flowering time from June to August.

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  1. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Caroline

    Your cottage and garden sounds wonderful. I do hope that you will be really happy in your new home.

    Amaryllis are easy and quite forgiving plants. You need to keep the compost damp (not wet) and remove the flower heads as they fade. From that point follow Kate(uk)’s instructions above as the can’t be faulted.

  2. Caroline


    I have just moved into a lovely little cottage with huge veggie plots and an amaryllis left to me by the previos owners…not sure where to begin on all fronts but really want to look after the amaryllis in case the old owners pop back. I see I have to get some plant feed and start feeding it, but how often do I water it and a couple of its flowers are starting to die off, do I dead-head them?

  3. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Paula

    Sometimes you get a duff bulb. If the bulb is in moist compost, on a sunny windowsill and is still not moving yout last option is to give it some liquid feed.

  4. Paula

    I meant ROOTS not rooms.

  5. Paula

    HELP. I have an amaryllis bulb with NO rooms, a bud started to form but hasn’t moved at all. I’ve removed all the damp and rotting bits from around the bulb, i’ve tried dry and wet soil but nothing will encourage the root growth. ANY IDEAS?

  6. Kate(uk)

    Once they have bloomed start feeding them,keep them somewhere sunny and keep watered, they don’t like to be dry,except in the cooling off period in the autumn.They can go outside in summer. In September re-pot them but in pots no larger than 1″ bigger than the bulb all round.They like deep pot for their roots, a good general purpose compost with some bonemeal and a bit of extra drainage is good. If they are in a good sized, deep pot just replace the top 1″ of soil.You can water them less now,they need a colder spell to make them produce a flower bud inside the bulb, so they can stay outside/go into a cool greenhouse for the autumn, not below 5Ëš. They can stay cool for six weeks or more, then bring them into the warm,remove any dead leaves, preferably a sunny window sill, and they will start to grow.With a radiator below the window sill the blooms will come faster than if they are just in the warm. Start watering and feeding again.

  7. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Kate

    I always vow to look after my bulbs after they have finished flowering so that they can make a comeback next year but they always seem to get forgotten. This year I’m determined to have a go at keeping them. Have you got any tips?

  8. Kate(uk)

    I am an amaryllis addict…I have an absurd number of them, all sorts of sizes and colours, some of them are babies of bulbs or bulbs I have had for over 20 years…they are just so exciting to watch growing, you can almost see them moving once the buds start to sprout and the flowers are so gorgeous.When we moved house one of the things I was looking for was a house with nice wide windows facing south so the amaryllis would be happy in the winter and spring.The first tips of buds are appearing, so spring must be on the way. My mother just has four very pampered bulbs, she feeds and waters them scrupulously and has massive bulbs that regularly throw up three flower stems each year- I’m afraid my large collection doesn’t get such intensive individual attention, but I still get a good show each year.

  9. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Jan

    Wow. I’m impressed.

    My mum is pretty good at crosswords. I struggle but can sometimes do the literary ones. She fills the board with everything else!

  10. In a previous life I used to write crossword clues (cryptic and straight) and design other word puzzles. It was brilliant.

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