Hardy Amaryllis Flowers for the Holidays

Hippeastrum SA 'Graffiti'

Hippeastrum SA ‘Graffiti’

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Have you heard of  ‘Sonatini Hippeastrum‘  dwarf Amaryllis bulbs? This is a new discovery for us.

The Sonatini bulb is a fairly recent innovation in traditional Amaryllis plants  grown indoors at the holidays.  First, these beautiful bulbs produce smaller plants overall.  That is good news if you wrestle with your Amaryllis plants, as I wrestle with ours, to prevent their tall, heavy stems from falling over as the blooms open.  I devise all sorts of supports, but still often end up letting the flowering stem finish in a tall vase while still managing the 2’+ leaves for several months after the blooms fade.

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The Sonatini Hippeastrum, developed over the last 15 years or so in the Netherlands, grows to only 13″-18″.  This is good news for those of us growing the bulbs in table arrangements during the holidays.  But even better, these bulbs have proven hardy in Zone 7, and even in Zone 6 with some protection.  Which means that I can plant our bulbs out into a permanent place in a perennial bed this spring, and leave it there indefinitely to grow like any other perennial bulb.

We visited the Bulb Shop at Brent and Becky Heath’s gardens in late November to finish off our fall bulb purchases.  I had planned to purchase at least one Amaryllis bulb for our dining table to grow and bloom through the new year.  Imagine my delight to discover these beautiful little H. ‘Graffiti’ bulbs already in bud, and marked down by half.

I knew they were a smaller variety of Amaryllis, but since have done a little research to learn more about them. The two blooming bulbs in this arrangement are both H. ‘Graffiti’.  We also purchased the last H. ‘Trentino’ in the shop that day, also a Sonatini type Amaryllis; which has budded, but has not yet bloomed, in this arrangement.  It should also have a white flower, with a blush border around each blossom.

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I love Amaryllis for their elegant flowers.  This is the sweet reward for growing them each winter.

I love Amaryllis for their elegant flowers. This is the sweet reward for growing them each winter.

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Not only are the Sonatini Amaryllis varieties bred to be smaller and hardier than earlier cultivars; they also produce lots of blooms.  Each bulb is advertised to produce multiple bloom stalks and multiple blooms per stalk over a fairly long period of time.  They also last well when cut and kept in a vase.

These bulbs came to me already under stress.  The whole crate of bulbs in the shop had already sprouted, and a few had flower buds already opening with absolutely no fresh root structure at all.  The bulbs were in growth with only the reserves in their bulb to power them.

These have probably begun rooting now, but have been in their pot for just a little more than a week.  I will be happy for whatever flowers they produce this year.  But I expect them to be even better next winter after spending the summer out in the garden.

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Potted Hippeastrum bulbs should have about the top third of the bulb showing above the soil line. But  planted outside in the garden, these Sonatini bulbs should be planted fully under the soil to remain hardy over our winter, and perhaps even mulched a bit in Zone 6.

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The bulbs are growing around a ‘Frosty Fern’ Selaginella krausiana variegatus, which isn’t really a fern at all.  This clubmoss, or spikemoss,  shows up at our local Trader Joe’s each December and makes a great winter houseplant.  It likes cool shade and moist soil, and will eventually grow quite a bit.  Growing it in this large bowl helps it, as it needs humidity and even moisture to thrive.

Under optimal conditions, Selaginella krausiana can grow to a foot tall and  creep to a foot or more wide.  It can be grown outdoors as a ground cover in cool, moist shade.  Sadly, it won’t overwinter outdoors in our Zone 7 climate, and so I haven’t kept one going for a full year, yet.  I’ll often move the overwintered plant outside into a pot come spring, but often our climate grows too hot for them by mid-summer.   Or perhaps I haven’ t found a shady enough spot for them yet outdoors?

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That isn’t to say that we don’t thoroughly enjoy watching this lovely little plant grow indoors all winter!  This combination will look great for several weeks, and I’ll have another potted Amaryllis, with another ‘Frosty Fern,’ ready to take center stage after this one finishes blooming.  Both the Selaginella and Hippeastrum are native to South Africa.

You may remember that I’ve grown and photographed Amaryllis bulbs indoors every winter for the last several.  A few of the traditional ‘florist’ varieties do prove hardy here and can survive a mild winter out of doors, re-blooming the following summer.

But not taking any chances with our collection, I dug them all up about three weeks ago, before our first frost.  They have been growing all summer in sunny perennial beds, growing great huge strapping leaves, but not showing a single flower bud.  Not to worry….

I have them all resting in the garage, bare root, and will begin potting them up again, one by one, shortly.  Online sources indicate they prefer a couple of months of dormant rest before starting their cycle of bloom and growth once again.

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I’m frankly amazed that the leaves have remained green and healthy looking this long!

If you are curious about the new, smaller Amaryllis varieties, Brent and Becky’s Bulbs will continue shipping for about another week.  They still have a few of the Sonatini (designated as ‘Hippeastrum SA’ in their catalog) varieties in stock.

Whether you order these for your own enjoyment, or as gifts, this looks like a promising improvement in  Amaryllis culture.

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Woodland Gnome 2016

Our A Forest Garden 2017 gardening calendar is filled with photos taken in our garden over the past year. 

To order a copy, write to me at woodlandgnome@zoho.com.

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About woodlandgnome

Lifelong teacher and gardener.

9 responses to “Hardy Amaryllis Flowers for the Holidays

  1. Lovely soft yellow. I’ve grown ‘Trentino’ and it is lovely, too!

    • Why am I not surprised that you already have grown these, Eliza? Do you keep them year to year?

      • I do keep them, but ‘Trentino’ is yet to reflower. It might have needed a rest year?

        • Some bulbs do…. but in my reading, Eliza, it was mentioned that as natives of South Africa (and many are grown there still for the trade) their habit is to bloom this time of the year…. I’ve wondered if I plant these out, whether to still look for winter blooms…. Interesting, isn’t it?

          • Well, it is spring in S.Africa right now, I wonder if they are spring blooming, esp. since the leaves come out after bloom to restore the bulb for the next year.
            My suppliers catalog lists Dutch grown bulbs (northern hemisphere) as requiring several months to bloom vs. S.A. ones that will bloom 4-6 wks after planting.
            My guess is that they are spring bloomers. 🙂

            • Makes sense…. I never knew that about South African v. Dutch bulbs. Always more to learn 😉 If we let them bloom in December, keep them going all winter and then plant them out in April or May- when do you think they should bloom again here in North America, Eliza? Should we force a period of dormancy during the summer, do you think?

              • My experience is that they adjust to bloom in spring. I remember having them bloom the first time at Christmas and couldn’t figure out why they lagged all winter the following year to bloom in the spring.
                You could try cutting them back in mid-summer and placing them in a cool, dark place (cellar, fridge?) for a few months to get them to bloom again for the holidays. It’s a bit of work to get them to perform out of their natural cycle, but I suppose they could be ‘fooled’ into it.

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