Hippeastrums (Amaryllis)

Hippeastrum (Horseman's star) are large bulbs, often given as gifts or grown for a Christmas display. When grown they send 1 to 4 flower stems up to 3ft (90cm) in height, before producing multiple large, showy, six petaled flowers.

Approximately 15 million bulbs are grown under 750,000 m2 of glasshouses in the Netherlands - 6 million dry bulbs to be grown at home and 9 million grown on for cut flowers, where they are now Europe's most popular Christmas cut flower.

Hippeastrum have been so often incorrectly called and marketed as amaryllis that it is perhaps now accepted as its common name.

So why the name confusion?

Whilst the flowers of both Amaryllis and Hippeastrum look similar and they are in the same Amaryllidaceae family, they are not related and originate from different parts of the world. Amaryllis from South Africa and Hippeastrum from South America where there are 60 odd species, but through hybridisation, many cultivars are now available. Some Amaryllis species such as Amaryllis belladonna are half-hardy and can be grown successfully outside in the UK, in a sunny position. Where they flower in the autumn (they have leafless flower stems, which is perhaps another reason why they were thought to be the same plant group), whereas Hippeastrum are tender and are grown indoors in pots and containers as an autumn/winter flower.

How to choose and grow your Hippeastrum.

Larger bulbs usually produce the biggest displays (either multiple stems or multiple flowers from fewer stems). When buying from the garden centre, look for large, firm, disease free bulbs. Before planting, soak the roots in tepid water. Better flowering is achieved by constricting root growth, so plant the bulb in a pot only just bigger than the bulb, plant deep enough so only a third of the bulb is exposed. Use a free-draining soil based compost mixed with perlite or horticultural grit in a 1:1 mix. Water with warm water when the soil becomes dry, but don't let them stand in water. Keep on a warm, bright (not in direct sunlight) windowsill, feed with half-diluted houseplant food when it reaches 15cm (6"). If the stems start to grow towards the light, turn the pots regularly to keep the stems straight.

From planting to flowering usually takes 6-8 weeks.

What to do with Hippeastrum after they have finished flowering?

What to do with an amaryllis bulb after it has finished floweringTo encourage a Hippeastrum to flower again, keep it somewhere light, on a sunny windowsill is ideal, remove the flowers as they die. When all of the flowers have finished, cut the flower stem off at the base and put this on the compost heap, however, don't remove the leaves. Put the plant and pot outside after any chance of frost has passed. The plant will produce leaves through the summer, so protect from slugs and snails. Feed once a week with a liquid fertiliser until late-summer, stop feeding and watering, allowing the bulbs to dry out for a few weeks.

Bring back into the house at the beginning of November, (a few weeks of cooler temperatures encourage a better floral display), repot if the bulb has become too congested or has been in the same pot for more than a couple of years. Begin to water, in a couple of weeks you should see the bulb start to sprout again. Hippeatrum's are perennials, so the bulbs can be regrown every year.

After a couple of years, you may notice that your original bulb has grown a small bulblet on the side this is called a 'daughter bulb', pull these off when bringing in from outside and pot up as above.

If using Hippeastrum for cut flowers. The flowers bruise easily, so lay the stems so that the flower hangs over the end of the table, to stop them getting knocked, put a small cane up the inside of the hollow stem, and put a loose elastic band or small loop of string tied around the end of the stem to stop it splitting, it should last 2-3 weeks.

Some cultivars of Hippeastrum:

  • H. 'Apple Blossom' – pinky white flowers
  • H. 'Christmas Gift' – white with a light green centre
  • H. 'Lemon Star' – pale yellow
  • H. 'Picotee' - white with red edges to the petals
  • H. 'Red Lion' - bright Post Office red flower
  • H. 'Red Velvet' - large deep crimson flowers

Commercially, the bulbs are propagated from bulb scales.

If you want to increase your stock using this method to produce daughter bulbs, here's how to do it, although note this is a slow process and can take up to two years to produce a flower:

Get a large bulb that is ready to flower, cut off the top and bottom (remove just the roots and not the calloused root end of the bulb). With a sharp knife, segment the bulb into 12 pieces like an orange, pick off two scales, it's important to keep part of the root bottom (where the roots come out of the bulb), between the two scales will be a new bud, put the scales and bud, on its edge, into moist vermiculite. Keep moist, warm (30° c) and in a dark place for two months. After three months a small blub will be growing. Plant these up in free-draining soil and grow as above.



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