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Tuesday
Jan162018

Forcing amaryllis bulbs in water for repeat bloom: A Leafy update 

My 'Double King' amaryllis bulb in a Nov. 2017 photo and a Nov. 2016 photo (right). The shorter 2017 leaves, I believe, resulted from days outside.

I have been growing the same 'Double King' amaryllis bulb in plain water since December 2014. It has become a pet houseplant, named Leafy, and it has flowered each spring (three seasons) since then with diligent weekly water changes.

This winter, I didn't have time to experiment with forcing hyacinths in water or forcing tulips in water, so I'm really counting on Leafy to bloom again this year.  

As promised in a post months ago, I called up Hans Langeveld from Longfield Gardens in Lakewood for tips on improving Leafy's health, as the lone survivor of three amaryllis bulbs I got from his nursery in 2014.

The conversation took place way back in June, and I took notes on this expert grower's advice. 

But I didn't do most of what he advised for various reasons. 'Splash' and 'Magnum' gone, but not forgotten.

 

For one thing, he suggested that in the fall I chop off the very leaves that give the bulb its name to put Leafy into dormancy. (Pipe up shock-horror music recalling how I previously killed the other two amaryllis bulbs trying to do just that.)

 

But the first thing he wanted me to do was to plant Leafy outside.

 

“You don't want to go back to soil?” he asked almost incredulously with his gentle lingering accent.

 

It was a question one might expect from a professional bulb grower of Dutch heritage. “That would make it a little bit easier,” he advised.  “It would get bigger if you plant it in the garden where it can pick up the natural nutrients from the soil. In water, it won't get the nutrients it needs.”

 

When I told him that I wanted to see if I could improve Leafy's condition without returning to soil, he suggested moving the water-grown plant outdoors. “If you give it a little more light, that will put more energy back into the bulb,” he said. “You may get bigger flowers if you are able to put it outside for the summer.”

 

Wilted, Leafy had to recover from too much sun on Oct. 5, 2017I had some concerns. First, Leafy has been growing in a basic glass florist vase since the beginning, and I feared that sunlight heating up the clear vase might somehow injure the bulb's roots. The roots of plants growing outside are, of course, shielded from sunlight by the soil. So, my idea was to give Leafy a few hours of early morning sunlight to prevent overheating. That seemed to work. But there were issues.

 

The first day outside, some little bug decided to feast on one of Leafy's tender limbs, leaving a permanent scar. It was like having your kid come home from the first day of school with a skinned knee. But just like kids and school, I knew Leafy would be tougher and stronger because of the time outdoors. Even still, I could not leave my pet plant outside all summer. What else might decide to chew on Leafy in the outdoors? So the bulb got intermittent doses of sunlight on days when I remembered to put it out.

 

Rereading my notes, I see that I forgot Langeveld's warning not to put the plant in full sun. “The leaves can burn,” he advised. “Start in the shade.”

 

Well, I never had burned leaves, but I did find Leafy unhappily wilted after a morning of intense fall light from the front of the house instead of the backyard (see photo above). Thankfully, a nearly full recovery came with a cooling water change. In all, the bulb was probably outdoors about 15 days total. But even that amount of time seems to have made a difference.

 

Comparing 2016 and 2017 photos, the sun-fed 2017 leaves look perkier. They are shorter, greener, and there were more of them. In November 2016, Leafy had four extremely long leaves (a possible indication that light through the sunny kitchen slider might be insufficient). In November 2017, there were five shorter,  healthier leaves.

 

Langeveld also suggested that I use fertilizer, which I did not do because I kept forgetting to buy it when I was at  the nursery. Part of me also wanted to measure if sunlight alone would make a difference in flowering.

 

My plan is to start fertilizer after what I hope will be this year's blooms. Here's how Langeveld suggested fertilizing the plant: “Put Miracle-Gro in the water. It will dissolve very easy and be readily available to the bulb. I would start with a weak solution. I would just use a little, about a teaspoon.”

 

Leafy earlier this month with a yellowed leaf that was removed.

Finally, he suggested that I take Leafy out of water in September, cut off its leaves, put it in a paper bag to store a cool, dark place until January “when it can return to room temperature.”

 

“That might help get more flowers,” he said. “When it goes into dormancy, it finishes the flower inside.” If you keep the roots in water, it doesn't go into dormancy,”

 

Well, it's Jan. 16 and Leafy still has one green leaf that I can't bear to snip. I typically allow the leaves to go limp and turn yellow and before cutting them off. This year, the leaves stayed firm and green longer. Perhaps another effect of being outdoors. They are usually all gone by December. The last leaf is just starting to wilt, and it will likely be cut off this week.

 

I considered putting a leafless Leafy in the basement for a few weeks afterward, but Leafy is alive, awake and treated as a friendly companion houseplant. I want to grow the bulb as I've grown it over the years to see how added sunlight will affect any flowers that might form. Let's see what happens.

 

FORCING BULBS IN WATER

 

I really miss having my vases filled with hyacinth and tulip bulbs this winter. Should I be flattered that some fake website had the nerve to steal and put its own watermark on one of my photos? Perhaps the 2015 shot of my water-grown arrangement of grape hyacinths in a cocktail glass was better than I thought? Maybe it got a decent amount of traffic. Well, at the very least, it's a reminder to use watermarks more frequently.

 

Speaking of water marks, I'm happy to report that new sliding patio doors are expected this weekend. So, future Leafy photos should be free of those between-the-panes stains that can't be cleaned!

 

 

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