Getting your Hippeastrum (Amaryllis) to Bloom


Paula Szilard

There are so many spectacular hippeastrum cultivars available, it’s hard not to succumb.  In addition to the reds and the whites, there are orange, salmon and white with red or pink singles and doubles, just to name a few.  There are patterned doubles as well, such as the white and orange striped ‘Dancing Queen.’ There are even yellow cultivars. For a different look, there are the wispy, spider-like cybister hybrids and the evergreen species, Papilio, so named because it is reminiscent of an exotic butterfly.  The Japanese have even bred miniatures that fit into a teacup.  All in all over 100 cultivars are currently available.  Most local garden centers carry hippeastrums.  They usually arrive in October in time for the holiday season.  It pays to get to your garden center early because the longer they sit around, the more people mix them up.  They can also be purchased on line.

When growing your hippeastrums, keep in mind that regardless of what you have read or heard over the years, all hippeastrum cultivars currently available are evergreen.  They do not need a dormant period to bloom, however they must have a chilling period of 40-55 F. for 8-10 weeks. Letting them dry out and forcing them into dormancy allows you to have greater control over when they bloom, but is unnecessary work for the home grower.  It is done in commerce because it is necessary for easy handling, but it is far easier for the home grower to put them out for the summer, let them stay outdoors for a chilling period in the fall and then bring them in before the first frost, which usually occurs in mid or late October.  Should the first frost comes early, they need to be brought in and put on an unheated enclosed porch or garage near a window for the remainder of the chilling period.

Buy heavy bulbs with good root systems.  The larger the bulbs, the more flowers they produce.  Bulb size is determined by measuring the circumference.  The largest bulbs measure 14 to 16 inches.  These bulbs generally produce three or more scapes  (flower stalks) with four or more blooms each.  More common are those measuring around 10 ½-12 ½ inches.  Most hippeastrums produce two scapes and each usually has four to six flowers. 

Hippeastrums can be planted anytime between October and April, greatly extending the winter blooming season. Potting them up (from the dormant state) at regular intervals is one way of having some in bloom throughout the winter.  Another way was described in the October 2006 issue of AVANT GARDENER based on research from the Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center in Danby, VT.  This method enables you to plant all of your hipeastrums at one time because some come into bloom relatively quickly, while others take longer.  The Center has grouped hippeastrum varieties according to how long it takes them to bloom after the dormant bulb is planted. The Center’s Director, Sally Ferguson is careful to say that these bloom times are not very precise, but they nonetheless enable you to pot up your plants at one time and have enjoyable flowers much longer.  In my experience, many have bloomed much faster than indicated below.   Here is the information from the Center:

Early (5-8 weeks):  ‘Orange Sovereign,’ ‘Lucky Strike,’  ‘Apple Blossom,’  ‘Minerva,’ ‘Roma,’ ‘Vera,’ ‘Mont Blanc,’ ‘Lady Jane,’ ‘Mary Lou,’ ‘Aphrodite,’ ‘Pasadena,’ ‘Donau,’ ‘Scarlet Baby,’ ‘Giraffe,’ ‘Amoretta,’ ‘Pamela,’

Midseason (7-10 weeks): ‘Red Lion,’ ‘Lemon Lime,’ ‘Liberty,’ ‘Royal Velvet,’ ‘Hercules,’ ‘Wonderland,’ ‘Rilona,’ Picotee,’ ‘Double Record,’ ‘Unique,’ ‘Blossom Peacock,’ ‘White Peacock,’ ‘Emerald,’ ‘Ruby Meyer,’ ‘Papolio,’ ‘Pink Floyd.,’

Late (9-12 weeks):  ‘Las Vegas,’ ‘Clown,’ ‘Piquant,’ ‘Toronto,’ ‘Vlammenspiel,’ ‘Happy Memory,’ ‘Charisma,’ ‘Promise,’ ‘Dancing Queen,’ ‘Flaming Peacock,’ ‘Andes,’ ‘La Paz,’ ‘Chico,’ ‘Amputo,’ ‘Misty.’ 

Before planting, it is useful to soak the roots in water for an hour or so.  You can do this by positioning the bulbs over a flower vase with roots hanging down into the vase and then filling it with water.   Do not soak the bulb itself.

Hippeastrums like to be potbound.  Use a deep pot that is about 1-3 inches wider than the bulb.  There should not be more than roughly 1” of soil showing all the way around between the bulb and the pot.  Use a very porous potting mix, such as Fafard no 2.  Fill the pot nearly halfway with potting mix, position the bulb on top and continue filling until you have covered the bulb up to the shoulders. Tamp down the potting mix, water generously once and wait for it to sprout. About a third of the bulb should show above the soil.  After it sprouts, keep the soil moist, neither too wet nor too dry. 

Old Method:  After your hippeastrums are done blooming, cut off the flower stalks.  Do not cut off the leaves.  The plant needs these to make food for the next flowers.  Keep them indoors in good light until the weather is warm and all danger of frost has passed.  Put the plants outside in a mostly sunny or partly shady spot for the summer. The east side of the house works well.  Water regularly and feed once a week with an all purpose liquid fertilizer and let the leaves grow to produce more flowers.  Then in late August or early September, withhold water and allow the leaves to die back, remove the plants from their pots and store the bulbs at 40-55 degrees in an empty vegetable crisper of your refrigerator or any other place that meets those temperature requirements for 8-10 weeks.  This is called forcing because you are forcing the plant into dormancy and after that into bloom.  Then pot them up, water well, and wait for them to bloom.

New Easy Method: Alternatively, just cut off the flower stalks, leave the bulbs planted, put  them in a sunny spot indoors and continue to watering and fertilizing (indoors only once a month).  Put them out for the summer in a mostly sunny or partly shady spot.  The east side of your house is good.  Scorching full sun at high altitudes  may burn the leaves.  In the summer heat, it will probably be necessary to water them daily and fertilize weekly.  Leave your plants out until just before the first frost.  If that should come early, bring them in and put them on an unheated enclosed porch or in garage with windows for the remainder of the chilling period.   When they have had their required chilling period, bring them in into a warm, sunny place and wait for them to bloom.  This is how I do it. Who has an empty vegetable crisper anyway?

Please note:  A chilling period is absolutely necessary for reblooming.

Hippeastrums will bloom at various times, depending on the specific cultivar or possibly the timing of the chilling period.  Some cultivars will bloom in November and December, and many will bloom later.  In her book, Veronica Read says most hippeastrum hybrids naturally bloom between March and May.  She starts her chilling in mid October.  Our fall chilling period would be much earlier, so this would explain why I don’t get quite the same results as she does.  Please also note, that some hippeastrums have their permanent roots removed, especially those sold in kits.  Sometimes the roots have dried out and broken off.  The plant will need time to regrow these roots.  In all likelihood, such plants will not bloom the second year.  If they bloom the third year, consider yourself fortunate.  After that, you’re home free!


Ockenga, Starr.  Amaryllis.  New York:  Clarkson/Potter, 2002.

Ms Ockenga is a photographer and an award winning garden writer who grew and photographed hundreds of plants in her greenhouse.  Her photographs are very useful in identifying common cultivars.

Read, Veronica M.  Hippeastrum:  the gardener’s amaryllis.  Portland, Cambridge:  Timber Press, 2004. (Royal Horticultural Society Plant Collector Guide) 

Ms Read maintained the UK national hippeastrum collection.  Her book has the most extensive horticultural information currently available.

‘Well-Timed Amaryllis” AVANT GARDENER v.38 no. 12 (October 2006).  Available from Horticultural Data Processors, Box 489, New York, NY, 10028.  Published monthly, $24 per year.