The Amaryllis Crop

February in a northern garden designer’s life ought to be snoozy. 25 years ago, my landscape design work finished up in mid November, and did not resume until the snow and cold looked to be waning the following March. I can’t remember what I did with those winters now, so it couldn’t have been much. How fun, to not have much to do. Oh to have those quiet winter baby days back. Now there are requests for design year round. Some late 2017 projects are inching slowly towards the drawing board now, as I reserve the right to indulge in a little bit of horsing around. Even though the engine is running, the parking brake is on.

It takes an entire winter to re imagine Detroit Garden Works for the season to come. That process is still in process. If you follow Rob’s instagram page DetroitGarden you know the walls, fixtures and floors in the largest part of the store are swathed in painter’s plastic. Wayne is here spray painting the ceilings, a job that was last done in 1995. Yes, they were due. Moving everything our of those rooms, dusting and scraping the loose paint, and repainting all of the shelves and trim took most of January. Two containers from overseas have arrived. A container from France should be docking in NY shortly, and two more will arrive from Belgium and Vietnam towards the end of the month. The shop is due to reopen March 1. February is a busy time, ready  or not. Most annoyingly, part of my winter has involved some involuntary babysitting. If you read this journal regularly, you know I am not a fan of plants in the house. I love having a plant free season. Like most houses, I have a house which is notable for a lack of natural light in the winter. My house is dark (by plant standards), hot and the air is dry- an environment that plants don’t want. Well I don’t want them either. The bugs and dirt don’t bother me. Nor the fact that tropical plants hardly look like they belong inside a house in Michigan. I could live with those things. The fact that they need regular care and attention leaves me cold. Enough of my time gets absorbed by the needs of the plants for a good portion of the year. I like the time off from that group of living things that have no problem dying on you despite a huge effort to keep them happy and healthy. The phalaenopsis orchids pictured above are a gift scheduled to be delivered the end of the week. That I can live with, as the end of my responsibility for them is near. After having them for one day, a new bud is withering.  I can’t get rid of them fast enough.

The amaryllis are another story. Rob sells scads of them in the shop at the holidays. Invariably, there are a few left over. Some bare root bulbs I gave away to good customers when no one was watching. I knew anything left over would come to me, as my office is warm. Karen potted up and watered them liberally, and moved them to the utility room near my office. Then she went on break. There they sat. I have a little frig for my milk and a spot for cereal, so every morning making breakfast I had to look at them. Not one was making any move to come on. Not one was looking like it was shriveling or dying. They were in a state of suspended animation.

After three weeks of scowling at them every time I walked in that room, I looked up their culture on line.  I did not read anything that I did not already know. Popular lore suggests that after potting and watering, the bulb so be left alone until it puts forth growth, either in the form of flowers or leaves. By mid January these bulbs had been watered only once in the 6 months since they arrived. Another article (which of course I cannot find now) suggested that watering the bulbs normally, but sparingly in advance of any growth was fine.

Tired of looking at their expectant bulb faces, I had a decision to make. I had to either throw them away, or see if I could get them to grow. I knew I would feel guilty, and face ridicule from Rob if I didn’t try to grow them on. So I soaked the pots thoroughly, and moved them to an all plastic Rubbermaid tabouret in my drawing studio. The tabouret has tall sides, so I could slosh the water and dirt around with impunity. The industrial windows are 6 feet tall, and face south. At least if we had no sun, there was still plenty of light. The tabouret also has wheels, so I could move them away from the windows when the temperatures dropped into the single digits.

You see what was happening here? My carefree February became an obsession to get those bulbs to break dormancy, grow and bloom. I  scrutinized them every day. I had to come in on Sunday to be sure they didn’t need anything. I was certain that the bulbs that had been potted in non-draining jardinieres would rot if I wasn’t especially careful with the water. And the one’s planted to larger fiber pots would come blind from having been over potted. None of this happened. One by one, they began to grow. One bulb threw a pair of stalks at once, and is in full bloom on my conference table right now.  I have to admit The big showy white flowers are a welcome contrast to that other kind of white blanketing the entire landscape.

One hapless bulb had been left behind by shoppers as it one bloom stalk withered and rotted from the cold in the greenhouse. So I cut it back, and watched to see if another bloom stalk would emerge. After sulking for a few weeks, I could tell something was afoot. It is February, so I had time to turn the flowering stalks leaning towards the light away from the window.

My amaryllis crop, which I never sought or wanted, had me in its grip. The attention it took had expanded to an alarming amount of time. I was going in there 4 times a day just to look things over.

The second bulb to bloom had red flowers – not my favorite. So I took it in to Dave and Heather so they could enjoy it. Now I have 3 stops to make every day, checking on the amaryllis. And to make matters that much worse, I have made a list of suppliers of unusual amaryllis bulbs and the varieties I like available to Rob, as well as a source of heat mats so we can provide them with the heat they want and need to come on. And finally, the time it took to take pictures and write this post-hours more.

Now you know why I do not like having plants in the house.



  1. Lori Brasier says

    I so enjoy your posts! This one may be my favorite. And I’ll take an amaryllis over a poinsettia any day of the week.

  2. Deborah,
    I always enjoy your posts but don’t usually find myself laughing along with them! Amaryllis are the plants that keep me hopeful during the Nebraska winters. And what a delight for your post to arrive on “Maybe it will Bloom Today” Day. My amaryllis are on my kitchen table where I can keep a close eye on their growth and it looks like one of the fancy varieties that my dear husband bought me for Christmas will open today. I can hardly wait. Congratulations on your success with yours. I will look forward to future posts that will expand my amaryllis world just like the rest of your posts have enlarged my gardening vision! Cheers!

  3. Dera Weaver says

    As always, I love your winter posts! And seeing you trapped into being an “amaryllis minder” made me smile–I have just come from watering and turning and fooling with mine, and I’m anticipating a big show any day now. They are part of my winter entertainment when I can’t be outside.

    I would so love to visit your shop and see in person all these wonders. Detroit is a long way off from Georgia, but maybe someday!

  4. Jane Baldwin says

    Deborah, these plants need bottom heat to pop the bud out of the bulb. Old-fashioned radiators are best but absent those you need a heat mat for plants or a heating pad for humans. Once the buds are out of the bulb (within a week, guaranteed) they can be left alone in good light and warm conditions and spare but regular watering. They really are easy once you know their requirements and the show they provide is spectacular in most cases. Seek out the unusual colors (Half and Hals, Black Pearl, etc.) and you will become very fond of them very quickly.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Jane, that’s why I told Rob where to buy heat mats. Our greenhouse is usually 60 degrees in November and December. We try to bring them on a bit, and hold them back if needed-for people who want them blooming for the holidays. Nerve wracking, that! Thank you for writing. That is the other hook about houseplants-people who grow them successfully make it sound so easy! all the best, Deborah

      • Jane Baldwin says

        The trick is to learn how long they take to come to bloom. Apple Blossom and Orange Sovereign are quick and can be started after Thanksgiving to bloom for the holidays. Red Lion and Mont Blanc need to be started in early November. Rilona and Hercules are also slow even with heat mats and slow to grow to bloom. I think the growers or suppliers may be able to help with that. I just learned from experience. It is a great selling point to tell clients about the fast growers since you can almost see the daily progress, a wonderful feature for both children and seniors. I hope someone on your staff can provide classes on this, a very popular way to promote sales I have found.

        • Deborah Silver says

          Thanks again, Jane.I am going to write this info down. What a great project for kids and older people-I had never thought of that. Do you have a greenhouse? best, Deborah

          • Jane Baldwin says

            No greenhouse here in East of Cleveland. But I used to volunteer at the arboretum in Baltimore and used their GH facilities to grow hundreds each holiday season as a fundraiser for the arboretum. I also will say to stay away from the kits since the “soil” in them is basically just peatmoss and very inadequate for long-term growing and also to hold the stems and blooms of the growing bulb. I always used a regular soil mix ( I forgot which Fafard mix) and added a coupe of handfuls of sand to each pot to give the soil heft to hold the bulb. Sand also improves drainage, a good thing for bulbs. One final piece of advice, buy 32 cm bulbs or larger. Yes, they are more expensive but you get two to three stems and the show is spectacular. Most commercial bulbs are 26 to 28 cm, a word to the wise who want to provide quality plant material to their discerning customers.

          • Deborah Silver says

            Dear Jane, Thank you so much for all of this information. I have copied it all down for Rob. We’ll see what he cooks up for next fall.I am aware that the size of the bulbs is key to producing lots of flowers. We may have to hunt for large ones. Red Lion is usually available in giant size. We have them available started in water, in tall glass bulb vases. I have never tried to put one up after it blooms to see if it would come on and bloom the following year. Have you ever grown them in water? thanks, Deborah

          • Jane Baldwin says

            Yes, I have grown a few in water but I basically do not want to do this since it takes so much energy out of them it seems. The people who get these as gifts from me have pretty good luck with reblooming them, in some cases with very little care. I also will say that a rest period is not necessary if you grow them year-round indoors. You simply give less water in the fall to give some impression of a rest period. They will start to bloom again but not for the holidays but in the following April/May period. Only the first time do the blooms show by the holidays. After that the bulbs are on their own schedule, i.e. spring of the year. The growers prep them to bloom for holidays, sort of like forcing bulbs which in fact is what growing them the first year in late fall is. forcing

          • Deborah Silver says

            Dear Jane, this letter from you is more clearly written than what I read on line in an article that I cannot find again. The first year they bloom for the holidays, but therefter they are on their own schedule- a spring bloom. I cannot thank you enough for what you have written here. It is obvious you have lots of experience growing them. Do you have favorite cultivars? best regards, Deborah

        • Jane Baldwin says

          Deborah, I never did get back to you about particular favorites, so here they are:
          Half and Half, Rilona, Hercules, Black Pearl, Orange Sovereign and Picotee.. Apple Blossom has scent so it also is a choice plant, though it is one of the most common cultivars. I do love Red Lion also, common as it is, for its red is the most vibrant color you might find anywhere. I am not so fond of doubles and the bi-colors, red/white or white/red. Actually I love them all, except for doubles, since the doubles muddy the purity of line of the blossoms. The Cybisters are not particular favorites. I do love Papilio.

    • Elizabeth Hitchens says

      I use heat mats to start seedlings, but never needed for Amaryllis, just normal home temp. of 21’c and they pop. I do use the fridge to hold back and space out blooms though. If Amaryllis are fed and watered I have the opposite problem of stopping care for them so that they go dormant in Sept. Sad to do when leaves are green and strong.

  5. They are like caring for small children, pesky things. One might actually grow to LIKE them when they’re adults …

  6. Jan Bushfield says

    I love amaryllis. Anything that can look so happy and hopeful while my yard is full of snow is more than welcome on my windowsill. And lest you frighten away any potential growers, they even survive the benign neglect I bestow on them, and bloom in spite of me! They even usually persevere all summer on the deck and bloom again next winter. If in doubt, go for it!

  7. Alicia Whitaker says

    You have been bitten by the amaryllis bug! Good! Your gardener’s eyes are happy and your brain will catch up! All the best for a fast February, Alicia

  8. Elizabeth Hitchens NPD CHT says

    I love Amaryllis, their phallic shoots exploding in a profusion of big blousy flowers () I have each grandson (4 &5) a bulb each to plant at Christmas. I had kept them in the fridge to hold them back. I wanted them to watch how fast they grew from the beginning. Little did I know at the time the one would come into flower just as they are having to say goodbye to their much loved Airedale dog who has cancer. Tomorrow he will go to sleep forever, but his love will remain in their hearts and each year now when that flower blooms it will be like he’s come back with a big whoof to remember him. I have many I have flower each year. Easy, sink pot in a bright spot outside, water and fertilize for flowering plants and bring in before first frost. Stop watering and allow to go dormant and remove dried up leaves. Allow at least 6 weeks before watering to bring back to life.

  9. Faye Moyer says

    I just loved this story. I sympathize with your desire for non-gardening months – I realized to my horror last weekend that I’m trying to overwinter over 40 plants in 3 small windows with skimpy light. However, I know I’ll appreciate every plant that make it through to spring. And, I’m sure you appreciate your gorgeous Amaryllis blooms, despite the extra work.

  10. Dear Deborah,
    This was such a humorous and beautifully written post- thank you for brightening my day! No small feat, considering the fact that February already has me in it’s gloomy grip!

  11. Cyndy Nowakowski says

    After moving from over an acre to a “villa” this summer – I find myself with more indoor than outdoor greenery to take care of. We are lucky to have 9′ windows and skylights facing south. My figs trees were so happy here that I’ve added a 7′ white bird of paradise palm. All my amaryllis are spent, except for 2 waxed bulbs that are still hanging on with a second stem. As for orchids – I couldn’t stand winter without them. Love your posts (and your office). Looking forward to coming up when you reopen.


    I too love a plant free winter. Seeing plants in the house starts to stress me out thinking of the looming spring season that I can’t wait for but, at the same time nervous about. Will I get through this first season injury free?, my knees hold up?, my truck not break down?, will my ideas still be fresh and beautiful?, and if I’m being honest I kill indoor plants for I think it comes down to me not loving them as much as the ones in the great outdoors. I so enjoy your posts and your writing.

  13. Dear Deborah,

    I too have been bitten by the amaryllis bug. I used to get them at Franks Nursery and TJ Maxx, but in a reversal of the usual American marketing arc, all the fancy garden catalogs picked them up and decided they should be expensive winter gifts in cachepots, crates with moss, glass forcing pots, glass forcing medium, and whatever.

    And because I refuse to patronize a local store that proclaims a 300% increase in sales every time they get their name in the paper, I get the bakers dozen in the kits with the soil pre -measured and plastic pots with restricting snap-on lids, so I do not have to stake or otherwise mess with soil or running around buying pots.

    With apologies to the doyenne of homemaking shows, I do not over summer them. They are a leafy mess, which will flop and yellow. The code words are to put them behind something in the greenhouse so that their poor leaf structure is hidden while they gather strength for the next season. Since I do not have a greenhouse and I do not like floppy foliage and because the blooms are always vastly diminished the second season, I pitch them into my compost just as soon as the second stem’s blossoms have faded.

    And I am quick to cut the first stem into an arrangement to get on with the show. There is nothing precious about amaryllis for me; they are a cheap thrill in the darkest part of the winter and for that one season I am thankful. I will agree that they look incredibly posh, depending on how you want to present them, but I have learned my lesson. Keeping the bulb is for people who have a greenhouse and a place to hide them and the generosity of spirit to be happy with a diminished bloom.

    Best Regards,


    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Mark, thank you for your letter. Wed buy our bulbs bare-no fixings. I am not a fan of kits, as the soilless mix is so light that the bulb tilts and the flower stalks go over just as the stalk is in full bloom. I am no fan of soilless mixes for anything. They were developed for growers, not gardeners. We sell our bulbs bare, or started in very tall amaryllis vases. In water. If I plant them in pots, I use a pot barely bigger than the bulb, in our soil mix. It is topsoil based, and loaded with compost. Not that an amaryllis bulb needs any medium that retains water, but I like how its weight keeps the bloom stalks upright. Jane suggested using sand in the bottom of a pot-what a great idea. As I despise any seasonal plant that wants me to care for it months beyond that season to no good end, I agree with your idea to pitch them in theory. But have you never laid awake at night wondering about what an old and overwintered amaryllis bulb 10 years down the road throwing 25 flower stalks would be to experience? I dream about things like this. I have way too much romance in my genes for my own good. You are a very practical, maybe an analytical gardener. I am a mush push gardener. Thank you much for writing. best regards, Deborah

      • Dear Deborah, I regretted writing so tersely before you replied. I am a big fan of yours and the Garden Cruise and think that your store and approach is just the right mix of elegant and earthy. Since I am allergic to all things precious in the garden, I misread the wonder and romance. I am sure you have, or will develop, the expertise to make an overwintered amaryllis bulb with 25 flower stalks. Thank you for sharing the wonder of amaryllis. Mark

        • Deborah Silver says

          Dear Mark, I did not in any way take your comment to be terse! I totally understand what you are getting at.They are a nuisance before and after they bloom. That moment when they are in full bloom is precious to me-not the plant, but the moment. I have always been interested in perfect moments in the garden, and certain things/plants in a garden can help create that moment. I suspect we are not that far apart on a lot of things! Hope to see you this spring. all the best, Deborah

  14. Judy Murrett says

    Watch out or you’ll be drawing and painting them! The growing is just the beginning of their seduction! And my young adult children have started the growing of amaryllis too…. Just watch out….

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Judy, you may be right. I do need to watch out. I am already in too deep, dang it all!! best regards, Deborah

  15. Sandy Agosta says

    I tried a beautiful big bulb in a heavy glass vase last year. It looked like a huge hyacinth bulb suspended over the water. On the day it opened several blooms, it fell over, out of the vase, and broke several of the blooms. Guess you’d have to find an attractive stake to wedge between the bulb and side of the vase. Remember to change the water frequently or quickly pot in soil after blooming. Oh, and that bulb has just popped a flower bud for this year!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Sandy, the amaryllis bulb vases we carry are very tall. The bloom stalks cannot fall over, even if they tried. We do change the water frequently, and are sure to keep the water level below the basal plate of the bulb. Dang, do I really have to worry about what will happen to these bulbs after they bloom? Oh no……. all the best, Deborah

    • Barbara Ottolino says

      One of the best displays I ever saw was decades ago at Crate and Barrel in Chicago area, Two companion heavy V shaped low containers were filled with ruby red glass pellets which buried all but the top of bulbs of several paper whites. Their roots were out of site, but it was easy to monitor the water level lower in the vase, whose V taper hid roots that ventured through the marbles contacting the vase sides. Of course the halogen down-lighting was perfect and I purchased both the large and smaller vase – then picked up a small fortune in ruby red gems. The weight of all this glass would keep amaryllis from toppling too, I am sure. Like Deborah’s winter pots, weighted with gravel in the base to keep tall centerpieces from listing in strong winds, ballast is very important for anything tall. Interestingly enough, the gems aren’t too slippery for roots. Plants are amazing!

  16. Lisa at Greenbow says

    This made my day. Big smile here. 🙂

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Lisa, I do admit I thought it was funny myself. I am always so irritated to be stuck with taking care of plants indoors. As soon as I let them in the door, they rule the roost. best regards, Deborah

  17. Deborah …
    I have only been introduced to your blog recently but am enjoying it immensely. As a garden designer with a small business in southwestern Michigan, I am so impressed with your obvious energy, talent, and success that I need to take a weekend road trip this summer, with 2 of my employees. I am hoping that you will still be hosting the annual garden tour (for the benefit of The Greening of Detroit) in July, so that we may meet you. Can you tell me if that event will be happening in 2018? Hopefully, Meribeth

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Meribeth, it looks like there will be a garden tour in 2018. It is always the third Sunday in July.Write in on the inquiry form on the Detroit Garden Works website, and ask to be put on the mailing list. Thanks for your kind letter. best, Deborah

  18. This made me laugh. You complain about having to take care of indoor plants, yet you’re coddling them, rushing in to see the amaryllis 4X daily. I think they can do with a good deal of neglect. Months ago I pitched the massive spent amaryllis out the back door into the dog run – container and all. Spurred by your post I retrieved it two minutes ago. 4 inches of a new stalk! I can’t wait.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear G, I am not a fan of plants indoors in the winter, as I cannot help but look after them. I like the winter time off from the demands of dealing with plants. Keep those houseplants away from me! You rescuing an amaryllis from the dog run-hilarious. Enjoy your winter flowers in good health. best regards, Deborah ps, you must live in a warm place, if the dog run treatment did not freeze it through and through!

  19. It was with a certain amount of excitement that I watched one of my three amaryllis bulbs develop beautifully, but the other two, sitting right beside my showy performer, went sulking and did nothing. Our distant family members came and went at Christmas time, admired the perfectly timed blooms of the performer, and aimed pointed questions at me about the two grumpy truants. It is assumed that I know something of gardening, but nothing I did worked at all on that pair. They were on strike, and it lasted for two months. Maybe the heat pad next year……

  20. A very kindly neighbor gave me a large bag of amaryllis bulbs that she had removed from her yard. And insisted they should be planted outside. So I did. Planted among my limelights. Frankly, I think they’re going to look horrible and I’m secretly hoping they die. Maybe next year I’ll bring them inside instead.

    • Barbara Ottolino says

      I have thrown them carelessly on top of one of my compost piles (40 mi NW of Chicago) where they bloomed happily in summer shade – along with a few paperwhites I forgot to plant. Dormancy followed eventually, and was broken by late winter bloom (March) inside. A class I took at MO Bot Garden (MOBOT) from bulb specialist introduced me to idea of planting out in summer where bulbs get much larger resulting in more flowers than previous year (really huge bulbs!) Deborah is right when she suggests leaving nature alone to fight its own battles. I didn’t have time for these bulbs, but they didn’t mind! 🙂

  21. I used to visit a friend in a memory care home where amaryllis were grown on dining tables, in sitting areas, etc. One of the visiting plant caretakers told me that residents who had become almost non-verbal especially enjoyed watching the progress toward a bloom and sometimes the only words they spoke would be in reference to a blooming amaryllis. So amaryllis has a wonderful function in some circumstances. And of course yours look lovely. I have great luck with reblooming them; orchids not so much.


  22. Your Amaryllis flowers are really beautiful. Like you, I also prefer growing outside. My indoor plants are limited to a large jade plant and a small, but prolific, lemon tree (the lemon tree will go outside for the growing season). Both are easy care. I have to say that lemon blossoms are fragrant and I do enjoy using the lemons. My winters are filled with anticipation for the upcoming growing season and feeding the birds. Susan, patiently waiting for Spring.

  23. Jennifer Taylor says

    Literally laughing out loud

  24. Karen Lewis says

    Deborah –
    Loved everything about your post. It made me laugh because I could see you making your way around the shop. I appreciate you taking the time to care for the amaryllis.
    There is something about having the beauty of a flower in the dead of winter.
    Thank you for sharing.

  25. This post made me laugh- and appreciate my luck in that I happened to grow my Amaryllis in a pot on my stone hearth that gets a ton of south light (nature’s heat mat!). I must admit, hearing you say you don’t enjoy inside plants gave me a little relief from my perfectionist tendencies of feeling like my indoor plants aren’t thriving…

  26. Barbara Ottolino says

    The white varieties tinged with green can’t be beat for spring bloom.. Pair them with Maidenhair or other ferns. Years ago I took a class in Chicago are (Chalet Garden Center) where a grower taught us how to wick potted plants. Sitting potted plants/bulbs atop their “snap top” water reservoir inside a basket of proper proportion, with pot tops covered with moss, I didn’t have to water for 3 months. Of course I lined the basket with heavy plastic. I made a cardboard collar that fit inside the basket perimeter, lined it with heavy plastic which I taped over the cardboard rim, and tucked it inside the basket – a homemade invisible waterproof liner. I got so used to not watering while enjoying my crafty invention that I forgot to fill the reservoir with water. You know how ferns are. It wasn’t a pretty sight! I have to pencil in a “reservoir check” on my calendar next time. I too HATE caring for indoor plants, so this is a nice way to circumvent dithering – and forget about them – for awhile. The downside, of course, is the 6 week excavation to check on plants, fill the reservoir, tuck wicks back into their water source – you get the picture. No such thing as maintenance free plants!

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