If you think you know amaryllis (or more correctly named Hippeastrum), think again. Alys Fowler picks out 8 beauties that you'll long to grow for their striking blooms. Plus tips on how best to grow them. Don't forget to order your bulbs now
Alys Fowler lists 8 of her favourite hippeastrums and explains how to get the most from these exotic-flowering bulbs, planting between October and April for flowers from late December to June.
Hippeastrum ‘La Paz’ is vigorous, with long stems. Its colours seem slightly muddied compared to other ‘cybister’ types – but it’s certainly unusual.
‘Amputo’ is one for the minimalists. Getting it to flower was easy, but its large bloom needs to be kept cool and out of direct light if it’s to last.
‘Misty’ is a traditional trumpet, but smaller and more refined than most. It has a lovely, subtle fragrance and a green throat.
‘Santa Cruz’ is bright and brassy – like a can-can girl’s skirts. Plant en masse in a large bowl.
‘Rosario’ has unusual streaking. It tends to be slow to grow and less vigorous than some.
‘Tango’ is reliable and a good starter variety. The colour combination isn’t as clear as ‘Rosario’, but you’ll get more flowers per stem.
‘Emerald’ is actually more red than green. The insides of the petals look hand-painted.
‘Merengue’ is my favourite. I loved the terracotta throats of the plentiful flowers – like a 1970s bathroom scheme, but in a good way.
Please note: Some of the hippeastrum mentioned here are more readily available than others
Alys' tips on growing hippeastrum
• The best bulbs are plump and feel heavy and dry. Buy the largest bulbs you can as these produce the biggest blooms. There should be no signs of mould or rot, particularly around the neck. The fleshy roots can be soaked for several hours in water; balancing the bulb on a jam jar of warm water is easiest, but make sure the base of the bulb doesn’t get wet.
• Hippeastrums like to be overcrowded. Ideally, plant in a pot that’s only an inch or two wider than the bulb, but deep enough for the roots. You can make a stunning centrepiece by planting several bulbs close together.
• Plant the bulb with its shoulders proud of the soil: two thirds below, one third above. This makes the bulbs less prone to rot.
• Use grit or sand to improve drainage in your potting compost. Being heavier than perlite, grit or sand make the pot less likely to fall over. Mix at least one part grit or sand to two parts bulb compost or good quality multipurpose compost.
• Top-dress with grit as this deters compost flies and draws water away from the bulb.
• Give the bulb a good soak and leave alone. More bulbs are killed by over-watering then anything else, particularly cybister types. Be patient; it can take time for growth to appear, but on no account water them again.
• When you see the first shoots emerging, start watering again, using a liquid fertilizer. Keep the water away from the crown, as this is prone to rot. Never water more than once a week; give it a soak and then no more until the pot is dry. Water from the top, not the bottom.
• The warmer the conditions, the quicker the bloom will appear. If it’s too warm and dark you get a long, floppy stem. The ideal temperature is 22°C. Once the bloom is out, it will last longer if you move the plant somewhere cool.
• This feature appeared in full in December 2009 (issue 156)