Christmas Day is just under a month away. Plant amaryllis bulbs in pots now to give them as gifts fully budded.
Friends tell me it's more fun to watch the exotic flowers develop, growing plumper each day until - surprise - the first bloom bursts open.
Amaryllis are so popular for forcing indoors that Dutch hybridizers have been busy creating new colors and new forms. Where not so long ago there were Christmas red, snowy white and pink stripes, now you can choose from multiple hues of red, orange and pink and singles, doubles, stripes or picotees (petals edged in a different color).
A spidery form called cybister, originating in South America, is a much smaller bulb than standard amaryllis, but the novelty of the flower makes a big impression.
When shopping for your annual amaryllis bulbs, choose bulbs that are as big as your fist or bigger. The bigger the bulb, the more flower stalks it will sprout, up to four. Independent retailers stock inventory that will throw up at least two stalks. Via mail-order sources, you can buy big bulbs at a discount, if you buy in bulk (usually six or more of one variety).
The amaryllis bulb likes to feel snug in its pot. I prefer old terra-cotta pots with patches of white mineral deposits; hairline cracks don't bother me at all. The garish orange of new terra-cotta clashes with almost every amaryllis. If I have to use a new pot, I paint the exterior with a watered-down latex paint in an earthy shade to mute the orange. I hot-glue decorative bits from craft stores around the rim of the pot, such as dyed mosses or tiny hemlock cones.
Moisten your potting soil in a pan before filling the flowerpot half to two-thirds full. Place the bulb on the dirt, with the neck pointing up, but leave the neck and shoulders of the bulb exposed and higher than the pot's rim. Gently fill in dirt around the bulb and press with your fingers. Insert a 15-inch bamboo stake into the soil next to the bulb now; when the flower stalk is heavy with buds is no time to risk piercing the bulb or its fleshy roots with a wooden support.
My gift recipients appreciate care instructions.
Water the bulb well and keep the soil consistently moist, not soggy. Move the pot from a sunny spot when the buds open to prolong the blooming period, and never let the soil dry out.