If paperwhites are the “winter quick fix” bulb, amaryllis are more of a legacy bulb.
When I lecture on house plants, I have a handout that says that none of our “Christmas” or holiday gift plants have to toss aways after the holiday is over. Most people toss the poinsettia because they can’t bear to look at the plant–or because it really hasn’t been properly cared for in the home and has lost its leaves and colorful bracts and is nothing but twigs by this time of year.
But in Mexico, where it is a handsome shrub, it is clearly a perennial and it clearly blooms each year on its own without anyone resorting to uprooting it an putting it in a closet (can you imagine? What nonsense!) We just need to get over our idea of what the “bloom” looks like.
The same with amaryllis. These plants can live for years provided that no disease or insects infest them. If that happens, because I am an organic gardener, I always practice triage–depending on the severity of the disease or insect, I will generally compost the bulb rather than have it infest the rest of my collection. I probably have 16 amaryllis and I don’t want anything damaging the rest of healthy collection!
I am a bit “un-traditional” about when I ask mine to bloom as well. I don’t try to force them into bloom for the holidays. There’s just too much going on at that time of year. I don’t appreciate their beauty then. Now is when I want to see amaryllis blooming and so I have one in bloom and several coming along behind it. It makes a long winter bearable.
For a great idea about care from how to select a bulb all the way through to care after blooming, several of the extension services have nice fact sheets. This one from the University of Minnesota (where, with their long winters they are no doubt as starved for color as I am!) is exceptionally good!
Finally, because choosing a bulb is so important, try to choose one from a garden center where you can pick it up and touch it yourself, or order it from a reputable bulb grower.
While there’s nothing wrong with those “bulb kits in a box,” the bulbs tend to be smaller, and I have gotten bulbs with red blotch fungus. The only time this happens to me is from those kits in the box. You get what you pay for!
In fact, if you notice in the above photo, the bulb in bloom is from a “kit in a box.” First, notice how it is significantly smaller than the other two, both of which were purchased from reputable growers.
Next, notice the red line all the way up the stem–that’s not a good sign. Finally notice the distortion on the flowers–again, not good.
Don’t be alarmed by the “pale” color of the foliage on the other two bulbs. In this photo, they had just come up from my basement forcing room, which had no natural light. They are now a healthy green.
So I will repeat–you get what you pay for–be careful of the bulbs in the box!
Paperwhites happen to be one of my favorites; but I do not force them. I just hate to waste them. I would rather just enjoy them as a cut flower, and let the bulbs naturalize in the garden. My only amaryllis bulbs had been forced, but somehow survived. Of course, they did not bloom their second year, but bloomed for their third year for a friend who knows how to grow them. (I kept them for the second year to fatten them up.)
So you must live somewhere warm enough for paperwhites to be able to winter outside. That’s wonderful. That doesn’t happen for me–my only option is forcing, and I do agree about not liking to waste them so I don’t get a lot.
Amaryllis always come back for me, even indoors, forced in pots. The trick is to really treat them as bulbs–as you say, to fatten them up, –& then to let them have their dormant period. Then I sort of do what they would do naturally if they were in the garden– let them stay dormant until they tell me it’s time to wake up. I will bring them outside around Memorial Day here in the northeast and they bloom for me in the summer