Friday, July 4, 2008

Advice for the Lazy Gardener: Amaryllis Tubs

Ok, so lots of people have amaryllis bulbs. You go into the garden center, and there they are...tempting you... But most people think of them as a Christmas flower, and so force them to grow at that time of year. Very few actually realize the bulbs are summer growers and are actually hardy to zone 8, even 7 if in the right spot, planted deep, and mulched over winter. Growing them in such a way means you have BIG impressive flowers followed by nice foliage in your garden in summer with very little effort vs. attempting to grow them well in a pot during the dimly lit winter months, which generally results in weak growth.

I however live in zone 6. I used to plant them out in the garden every year, and dig them up in the fall just before or just after the last frost and store them in the basement in a plastic bin. This is a hassle, and they take up space that could be filled by the weedy fiesta I call my veggie garden. So this year I decided to try something different.

I got some 14 gallon plastic bins, the deep kind with good handles on the side, and drilled about 4x half inch holes in the bottom plus a couple on the sides about 1 inch up. Fill to a depth of 1-2 inches with some aggregate (non-biodegradable styrofoam peanuts are ok) then dump in your favorite potting mix. Mix in a bit of bone meal and/or whatever other goodies you have around, then set in your bulbs and fill in with soil. I recommend setting the bulbs so the top of the bulb is just below the rim of the container (I shall explain in a moment). You can also add some nice mulch on the top if you like.

Voila! Stick that sucker out on your deck or back patio in full sun. In the top photo you can see I also have some basil plants co-habitating in the tub on the left. Growing them in summer means they can get lots of light, and they can be watered frequently with the hose.

As the weather starts cooling, water less. When first frost sets in, drag that sucker into the garage or basement and let it dry out completely, then put the lid on the container and stack them up (hence the need to set the bulbs below the rim). Instant out of the way storage free of digging, wriggling messes and extraneous effort. Next spring, drag them outside and open them up as soon as the temps are consistently averaging around 50F at night. If they stay with the lids on too long they'll grow funny - they always know when its spring even if you don't bring them out of the basement.

PS: the flowers currently in bloom are slightly fragrant. They smell a bit like pine.