Sunday, December 11, 2011

Buying Hippeastrum Hybrids -- The Holiday Amaryllis

Hippeastrum 'Exotic Star'
It's the time of year where Hippeastrum, or improperly called 'Amaryllis', are sold for the Holidays!  There are many hybrids to choose from and even a few species distributed as hybrids, Hippeastrum papilio and Hippeastrum 'Chico' cybister are both selections of species sold in the dry, forced bulb market.  Most Hippeastrum bulbs are sold with the intent to be throw away plants, many people think these bulbs bloom one time and the show is over, this is far from the truth.  Hippeastrum can be brought fto bloom in many years to come with minimal care.

Important Issues For Buying Hippeastrum
  1. If buying from an online source make sure they're reputable, this is a great way to ensure you have a company that will ship healthy bulbs.  Sometimes buying cheap isn't necessarily better, many times a cheap bulb will result in disease and or physically damaged bulbs (but not always).  There may be sales towards the end of the season, remember these bulbs will possibly have scapes growing but this is a good time to buy Hippeastrum as they'll be marked down usually 50% or more!  IF YOU GET A BULB IN BAD HEALTH YOU MUST LET THE RETAILER KNOW.  It isn't fair to the customer to spend a large amount of money to receive a bulb in bad health with large amounts of rot.  Remember, shipping during colder months can result in damaged bulbs, this isn't the retailers fault, you must know the risks of shipping tender bulbs in cold weather.
  2. If you're buying bulbs where you can inspect them yourself you've got the upper hand, there are no shipping charges, you can pick your size and inspect for rot, disease, insects or bent or broken scapes.  A downside to buying Hippeastrum from big box stores are selection, usually they only stock the most universally known hybrids, 'Minerva', 'Red Lion' and 'Appleblossom' are common choices you'll find.  I've personally noted many of the hybrids offered in these "Big Box" stores as virus laden, they buy the cheapest bulbs from the distributors to ensure they'll make profit, many times this will prove to be harmful for the customer by selling plants with virus.  Many plant viruses are incurable.  For this reason I suggest buying your bulbs from local nurseries or plant specialty stores, this not only supports your local business but it supports these very rare plant nurseries that are close to extinction!  
  3. It's important to make sure you USE POTS WITH DRAINAGE HOLES, many of the boxed bulb kits with pots and medium included are nothing you'll want to put your plants in.  Hippeastrum bulbs are incredibly prone to rot and a pot without drainage holes are not something you'd want to use when planting up your new, beautiful bulbs.  I would recommend using unglazed terracotta pots but plastic and glazed will work as well if they have drainage holes in the bottom.
  4. Using the medium that most include in their boxed kits can result in water logged plants, these mixes of coconut coir are very slow draining and hold quite a bit of moisture.  As stated above, Hippeastrum bulbs are very prone to rot, once they've started rotting it's hard to stop the cycle, it includes lots of hard work and effort.  It's best to avoid these circumstances so that we can ensure health in out potted plants!  I would suggest a very fast draining mix, something like an orchid mix with a little perlite and humus would work well, just remember these plants need air for their roots and bulbs for healthy plants.
Hippeastrum 'Flamenco Queen'
Hopefully you don't find this information hard to take in, it's imperative to follow if you want healthy plants.  Continuing the bloom cycle requires good quality bulbs, pots and potting medium as well as successful growing the seasons before. It's also important to meet the growing requirements of Hippeastrum.  Hippeastrum need lots of sunlight, water and food. After they have bloomed put them in a bright window and water once the potting medium feels dry.  You can stick your finger into the medium about an inch down and if it feels consistently dry it's time for water.  I fertilize my bulbs at every watering, I use 1/4 the recommended dosage to get the best results.  You can grow Hippeastrum like any other houseplant, if you have a spot outside during spring and summer months I would suggest utilizing it for your Hippeastrum.  They cannot tolerate frost so make sure you keep them inside during the colder months.

Hopefully these tips can help you to grow your Hippeastrum for following seasons, remember it's very important to pick large and healthy bulbs, using pots with drainage holes and medium that drains quickly.  You should continue to grow your Hippeastrum like any other houseplants, they need lots of lighting, food and water (but not too much) and make sure you ENJOY THEM!

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