Sprouting the perfect gift

The season of gift-giving is upon us, and along with that comes the added stress of finding the perfect gift for a friend or family member. Giving the experience of growing colorful amaryllis flowers would make a memorable gift for anyone.

An amaryllis kit transforms into multiple showy, bell-shaped blooms atop a one-foot green stalk, and includes everything required to force these flowering bulbs. Forcing bulbs indoors is a simple technique that imitates the natural environmental conditions and tricks the bulbs into flowering inside instead of in the garden.

Growing, or forcing, amaryllis bulbs is easy and can be a fun gardening activity for all levels of gardeners. The kit and its simple directions will have your giftee loving the gift and thanking you for such a gorgeous and thoughtful present.

Amaryllis bulbs are usually sold in a kit containing soil, bulb and a growing pot. Plant the bulb in the container with the top third of the bulb above the soil line. If planning to purchase your own decorative container, make sure it has drainage holes in the bottom and is only 1-2 inches larger in diameter than the bulb. Water the newly planted bulb well (until water flows out the bottom) and place in a warm, sunny area to stimulate growth. Only water when the top 2 inches of the soil feels dry to the touch. If the flower stalk is weak or spindly looking, it either needs less water or more sunlight. Rotate the container occasionally so it doesn’t become lopsided.

After four to six weeks of growth, the show-stopping blooms should appear. Once it starts to bloom, move it out of direct sun to maximize the blooms, which perform for a few weeks. When the blooms fade, return the container to a warm, sunny spot and a series of long, strappy leaves will develop. Once the flower stalk turns yellow, cut it down to the base to prevent it from wasting energy with seed formation. This time of growth is crucial for bulbs, as it will create and store food for next year’s blooms. Fertilize the bulb every three weeks with an all-purpose houseplant fertilizer.

In the spring after the chance of frost has passed, plant the bulb outside in your garden or patio container for added foliage interest. While it will not bloom again during the summer, it will thrive as it receives natural rainfall and sunlight for a few months. Bring the bulb back inside before the first frost of fall and place the planter in a cool, dark place and stop watering it. The bulb needs to go through a resting period of 8 to 12 weeks in order to rebloom. Once you see it starting to regrow, bring the plant back into the sunlight and start the process all over again.

Some amaryllis bulbs can be pricey, but remember you pay for what you get. The largest bulbs are going to have the most blooms. Amaryllis flowers can be found in many colors, including red, white, peach, pink and variegated.

Don’t let gift-giving be stressful this year. An amaryllis bulb kit is a gift that will keep on giving year after year.