Amaryllis: The Herald Trumpets of the Spring Garden


By Bob Dailey

Resembling trumpets heralding the arrival of a king, amaryllis blooms are some of the most striking flowers in Montgomery County gardens.

Sold mostly as indoor plants, they fare well in outdoors in southeast Texas,  jazzing up the spring garden, just after irises and before daylilies and crinums (which are also members of the amaryllis family).

These dramatic flowers originated in West Cape, South Africa. They have attractive strap-like leaves, which generally keep their shape and color all year round in Montgomery County.

All the varieties are showy. There are really bold colors – red, bright pink, orange. There are other cultivars that are more subdued, but equally dramatic. Subdued shades of salmon, rose, pink and white are available. Others are striped and multicolored.

Caring for and planting amaryllis outdoors

Amaryllis do not like their feet wet. They need well-drained soil.  Build up a low area with compost to help drainage. The plants like sun, although they will grow in partial shade.

Amaryllis grow from bulbs. They can be planted from September through April.  Set the amaryllis bulb in a hole and cover it so about an inch of the bulb is above the ground. To tell the difference between the top and the bottom of the bulb, look for a flat area, which probably has roots on it. Plant the bulb with that part down.

Water the bulb well after planting. Don’t flood it with water, but gently soak the soil around it. Then, slow down on the watering. Unless it’s sending up flower stems, it doesn’t need much water.  Amaryllis foliage is evergreen in the county. The leaves are about 1.5 inches wide and can grow up to three feet long.

Before it blooms, the amaryllis plant will send up one or two stalks. Both stalks may not appear at the same time. At this point the plant will need about  1/2 “ – 1” of water. Again, water slowly and gently, letting the water soak in deeply.

The stalks are leafless, with a bulge at the top. The bulge will explode into three to four large flowers  each of which can be up to eight inches across.

After blooming has ended, cut off the flower stalk at the neck of the bulb, but keep the leaves on the plant. It needs the foliage to produce food so the bulb can again offer beautiful flowers next spring.  Add a handful of slow release fertilizer and water well again.

In late fall in the northern part of the county, add about 3 inches of mulch (leaves or pine straw work best) to protect the plant from freezing.

Many garden amaryllis started life as a “forced” Christmas flower. Once the “forced” bulb has finished blooming, it can be planted in the garden.

Amaryllis in planters

Amaryllis bulbs grow quite large. Additionally, the flowers and the stalks are heavy. Use a planter large enough and heavy enough to withstand the weight.  If not, the pot may tip over in a wind.

Use good soil in the planter. Don’t use topsoil in any planter for any vegetation. Instead, use a lawn and garden soil, and add enough compost to take up about a third of the volume.

Subtropical plant

A good point to remember: amaryllis plants originate in the West Cape of South Africa. The climate there is Mediterranean-like:  warm, dry summers and mild, wet winters. In their native habitat, they do not receive a great deal of water, so they should not be overwatered or over-fertilized.  The soil should be well-drained.

Taken care of properly, amaryllis plants will provide years of beauty to the spring garden.

It’s a jungle down there!


Beneath the cover of your now greening lawn, there exists a teeming jungle of rapacious creatures, eating (usually each other), multiplying and doing all the things that creatures in a jungle do.

Decillions and more single-celled bacteria take in carbon dioxide and convert it to life-giving oxygen to billions of other microscopic organisms. These organisms in turn eat the bacteria. The protozoans, microscopic mites, nematodes and other miniscule creatures are eaten by larger creatures like earthworms and insects. Thousands of miles of symbiotic microscopic fungus, called mycorrhizae, colonize grass roots, providing plants with increased abilities to absorb water and nutrients. In return, the plant provides the fungus with carbohydrates it has formed through photosynthesis.

Your yard is, in fact, a micro-ecosystem, teeming with diverse life. This whole process allows grass roots to grow deeper and stronger, helps turf grasses to fend off diseases like take-all patch, assists in keeping weeds down and pests, like chinch bugs, out. This diversity is what keeps the grass green and lush.

Too much water, fertilizer, herbicides, fungicides and other “cides” adversely affect the life cycles of all these organisms, making turf more susceptible to disease and damage. Too little organic matter can also contribute to short-lived lawns.

Water

According to Texas A&M turf research,  grasses like St. Augustine, Zoysia and Bermuda, need no more than an inch of water a week. In fact, one city in north Texas monitored lawns for a year and discovered that the grass there only required a full inch of water for three weeks during the hottest part of the summer.  That same city recorded that there was a number of weeks in spring and summer when it rained enough that no irrigation was required.

Rain sensors, connected to irrigation controllers will regulate watering in case it rains. There are even more sophisticated gadgets on the market, which take into account rainfall, evapo-transpiration rates, soil temperature, ambient humidity and temperature. Residents of The Woodlands who live within the area served by the WJPA, can get a 50% rebate on the purchase of rain sensors or more sophisticated devices.

Cycle and Soak

Different types of soils have different abilities to soak up water. If the soil is hard and compacted (like most of the lawns in The Woodlands), it will not absorb water quickly. Instead of irrigating for 30 minutes per zone, break up the watering time to three 10 minute cycles per zone. That will give water time to penetrate through compacted surfaces.

Organic Matter

Perhaps the least understood component of maintaining a good lawn is the part organic matter plays. Organic matter inoculates the soil with beneficial organisms and provides nutrients for organisms already there. It helps increase the water-holding capacity of soil (soil with five percent organic matter can hold up to three quarts of water per cubic foot). It helps to fluff up the soil so air and water can better penetrate it, and so grass roots can grow deeper.

Adding a half-inch of organic matter over the lawn twice a year can produce magical results. Mid-April is one of the optimum times to spread it. There are many residents in The Woodlands who put nothing on their lawns except organic matter twice a year. Their lawns are lush, green and free of disease and weeds.