Marc wrote, “…and I've attached a couple pictures of my Amarylli that's getting really crowded in my patio pot. When is a good time to break them apart into separate pots? All the leaves are still green.”
Laura then sent this, “…but when is the proper time to dig and divide the Dutch amaryllis bulbs growing in my garden? They still have some leaves, but many have withered and fallen off.”
As I wrote in a previous article, fall is bulb planting time. It is the season when we plant the stunning spring daffodils, tulips, and Dutch iris that so many gardeners cherish. Fall is also the time to divide these beauties.
Amaryllis plants are prized for their large, exotic trumpet-shaped flowers which can be forced indoors to bloom during the winter months. After receiving festive potted amaryllis plants as gifts or using them for holiday centerpieces, gardeners in warm climates often plant them in perennial beds outdoors. Like many bulbs, in time and with the right environmental conditions, outdoor amaryllis bulbs will reproduce and naturalize.
Amaryllis plant division is not only a way to control amaryllis colonies, but it also keeps plants healthy while allowing you to make more of your own amaryllis bulb centerpieces.
When to split amaryllis plants will depend on what you intend to do with the bulbs. In late summer and fall, amaryllis can be taken from the garden to force into bloom for the holidays. However, garden amaryllis plants are usually divided right now, in our autumn months of October and November. Dividing outdoor amaryllis plants at these times will allow them their natural dormancy period to form spring blooms.
Before amaryllis plant division, you should prepare the new site or containers. Add soil or amendments to provide a well-draining, healthy soil to reduce transplant shock. Amaryllis bulbs will benefit from the addition of rich, organic matter. Pre-dig holes with a bulb planter or auger. In regions with dry winters, it may be necessary to water the planting site deeply 24 hours before digging to make the soil easier to work with. You can also trim off any stalks and foliage remaining on the amaryllis at this point. Use a sharp garden spade to cut a circle around the clump of amaryllis bulbs. Keep the spade a few inches away from any bulbs and cut deeply down into the soil. Then gently lift the bulb clump out of the earth; many gardeners prefer to use a garden fork for this step. Once the selected amaryllis has been dug up, carefully remove the soil around the bulbs. Rinsing the bulbs with water or gently shaking them can help remove the dirt to allow you a better view. While some bulbs may easily separate or fall off the clump of bulbs, it may be necessary to use a clean, sharp knife to cut the bulbs apart. Look over each bulb carefully and discard any that look sick, mushy or have signs of insects, such as boring holes. The remaining healthy bulbs should be planted immediately in the garden or designated containers. Plant bulbs 2-4 inches deep and water thoroughly.
Personally, I have always favored the Dutch amaryllis, Hippeastrum, it is one of the largest and easiest to grow bulbs for either pot or garden culture. The standard-sized bulbs are about three to four inches in diameter and produce flower stalks two feet tall topped by several six-inch flowers. There are also miniature selections that grow to about half that size but are just as decorative and easy to grow. Flower colors include various shades of red, white, orange, and rose in both single and double forms. Because amaryllis bulbs are considered tender, they are typically grown in the United States as potted plants, but in our location, they can do quite well in the garden.
Amaryllis bulbs growing in the ground have a different blooming period and require a different timetable than amaryllis bulbs growing in pots. The best time to lift and divide your amaryllis bulbs is when you notice the leaves beginning to wither from the shorter days and cooler weather of late fall. In most cases we are talking from late October to late November but if your micro- climate differs let the leaves be your guide! So far this year, our weather has been quite hot, so I’ll be waiting into November to lift mine.
The process for the Dutch Amaryllis is pretty much the same as for any other. Lift the bulb clumps with a sturdy shovel or a potato fork, being careful not to cut or damage the bulbs. Wash off as much soil as possible, to reveal the individual bulbs. Gently separate the individual bulbs, taking care not to break off the base from which the roots originate. I sometimes use an old steak knife as a wedge to pry the bulbs apart. Discard any bulbs that are not sound. Replant the sound bulbs immediately while they have nice fresh roots, allowing sufficient space between them so they will not need separating again for a few years.