Common Hippeastrum, ....How long can they live????

bronxfigsSeptember 11, 2011

I am not new to growing plants, and over the years I have had may successes, and as many failures. Almost always, plants die off because their cultural needs have not been met. Most of the "fall bulbs" that flood the market around this time of year, Amaryllis/Hippeastrum included, are bred to give a nice flower display, and then inevitably, die off so that gardeners can buy some more, new, flavor-of-the-day, introductions in the following seasons. The bulb industry relies on this constant die/renewal-cycle to stay in business. I doubt very much that commercial Hippeastrum breeders are not motivated by the same factors, and many, many, plants are introduced into the market that properly belong on a compost pile instead of our windowsills. Big splashy, gaudy flowers that stems can't hold up; disease-prone leaves; poor flower-form; flower substance like tissue paper; breaking color pigments; etc. etc. come to mind. The public will buy any crap that makes it into a garden center, or worse, catalogs. Too cynical? Have you REALLY looked at the "double-flowered" Hippeastrums? ...... stripes, blotches, malformed flower parts, bunched-up centers. "To each his own", I guess.

Hippeastrum bulbs hit the market after growing under very exacting cultural conditions. I doubt many of us can duplicate the lighting, feeding formulas, disease prevention routines that commercial growers use to produce the fat, guaranteed-to-bloom bulbs that we buy each year.

So, my question is this: How long can a hobby-grower keep these bulbs growing and producing flowers under less-than-optimal growing conditions. Sun porches, backyard decks, window sills, green houses, etc, etc, are NOT the same as the growing fields in Holland. This is just a general question, and I realize the more diligent growers out there can flower these bulbs for years, but I'll predict that these commercially produced Hippeastrum bulbs are NOT bred for longevity, and they will eventually lose vigor, and are then tossed. They are not Clivias that can live for decades, or longer.

I welcome some comments, opinions, thoughts.


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kaboehm (zone 9a, TX USA)

I have had the same Candy Cane bulb since the spring of 1992. I have gotten offsets, but the mother bulb still exists.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2011 at 7:52PM
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I still have bulb hippeastrum auliсum hybr. since 1967. And also x. Johnsonii. This was passed from generation to generation for over a hundred years.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2011 at 8:22PM
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I was quite surprised by the answers to this question. I never would have guessed that these bulbs would last that long a time. I figured, nice flowers... 5 years at the most, then loss of vigor, then in the garbage, then buy a new bulb and start over.

Thanks for the valuable information. Now I know.


    Bookmark   September 12, 2011 at 8:57AM
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Hippeastrums can live indefinitely. Breeding them to decline would create the difficulty of making it harder for sellers to mass-produce them commercially; mass-production requires rapid growth, so they have to be able to generate rapid growth. They propagate them by slicing the bulbs vertically into wedges which re-grow into clones; if you want those to be full size in 1-2 years, you need a bulb that is strong and easy.

The reason why spring bulbs normally die off is that they market the ones that they can farm in very ideal circumstances, but hardly anyone lives in such ideal circumstances, so they decline. Think about the climate in the Netherlands... it's very far north, so the day is quite long in the summer after bloom time is done, meaning lots of energy for the bulb. Yet due to the coastal location it doesn't get as cold in winter nor as hot in the summer.

But hippeastrums are one of the easiest houseplants I can think of, once you identify the proper conditions, and furthermore, since those are conditions produced indoors in a house, they can be replicated anywhere and in any climate.

They way bulb sellers can get rapid turnover to keep selling hippeastrums is the following reasons:

1) Hippeastrums are often sold in pots with no drainage holes. That will kill them quickly. Maybe that's an intentional market strategy; I don't know, but they thrive with well-drained soil and cannot be submerged, and can also survive considerable drought.

2) People who don't know much about plants think hippeastrums are dead when they go dormant and toss them.

3) Hippeastrums are marketed as disposable plants so people just assume they're difficult and toss them. They may be prejudiced by more difficult Christmas-season plants like pointsettias; hippeastrums are MUCH easier.

4) Hippeastrums like a lot of light. Most people intuitively think that putting them where they keep other houseplants - on a coffee table, on a kitchen counter, on a fireplace mantle, etc... is plenty of light, but most herbaceous houseplants are adapted to grow under thick, dark canopies in rainforests in the wild. It's very low light compared to the average environment for a plant anywhere else, including under a temperate forest. Hippeastrums like what would be equivalent to "part shade" outside, which is going to be in the sunniest possible place inside your home: directly in the windowsill of your brightest window, most likely a South-facing one.

Also, they can't be a few feet from the windowsill, or on a table next to the window... they need to be on the windowsill itself; the light is dramatically brighter there though most people do not perceive that.

5) Most people want their hipepastrums to bloom for Christmas but at home under normal light cycles they'll bloom February-May.

6) Hippeastrums are often sold in pots that are a little smaller than what they should be planted in.

So, that aside, here's what you do to get them to not only thrive, but multiply.

Pot them in high-organic soil with a lot of vermiculite or perlite, and make sure it drains well. I say a 60/40 mixture of potting soil to perlite will be ideal; it seems like a lot of perlite but it's what they like. Their roots are succulent so like a lot of air and like also to get dry periodically.

Plant them high so that the bottom 1/3 of the bulb is all that's covered in dirt. Most of it will be exposed.

Put them in a south-facing window or one that gets light most of the day. Direct sun is fine if it's through glass; the direct sun will likely occur in winter when it's less intense, while in summer the sun will be coming from overhead where it won't strike the leaves all day. You can keep hippeastrums in such a windowsill year-round if there are no trees that block out the light. If you choose to put them outside for summer, afternoon shade is best. Full shade is probably OK.

Hippeastrums like diluted fertilizer every couple weeks starting after bloom time, and extending for the next 6 months or so. The more material a bulb is shedding in the form of dead flower stocks or leaves, the more fertilizer it needs to replace it, so I fertilize a lot right after they blooms go.

The soil will get old and should be changed about every 5 years, though this has less of an impact on hippeastrums than other things.

Let the soil get dry between waterings; normally over summer you get kind of bored with them (since they aren't blooming) and want to focus more on other plants, so the amount you of attention you intuitively pay them ends up being just what they like. They thrive on periodic neglect. Too much poking/prodding/turning/propping is bad for them. They prefer to not be moved a lot so that their leaves can develop the exact positioning to get the most of the light.

Not only have I gotten hippeastrums to re-bloom reliably year after year, but they also reproduce by setting off bulblets that grow leaves while they are still on the plant, and take about 2 years to detach and become full-sized plants that bloom. In one variety (I don't know what it is), I got one bulb about 15 years ago and now I have about 7 of them, which I have divided between 2 pots so there are big shows every March.

Mind you, 15 years ago I was about 11 years old, so if a kid can do it, it's very easy.

In a more difficult variety, Apple Blossom, around the same time. There are 3 of them now... they are more picky, but they still grow. Red Hippeastrums are a little easier than other ones, I have no idea why.

I've also taken seeds from hippeastrums and gotten them large enough to bloom on their 3rd year. That's in normal home conditions in a South-facing windowsill, where there were not a lot of plants/trees in front of the window blocking the light.

Just be confident, and give them lots of light and neglect them otherwise.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2011 at 8:59PM
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Thank you for the above post, it was very informative for ALL of us...

    Bookmark   September 12, 2011 at 9:23PM
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pizzuti: .....Thank-you so much for encouraging me to strive to keep these bulbs thriving for years to come. I honestly thought it would be an uphill battle, and that they were genetically programed to "flame-out" after a couple of years, so that we are forced to always buy new bulbs. Your information about commercial growing methods was very interesting and enlightening.

Your section on cultural growing methods was equally informative, especially to someone like me who will be growing these bulbs in the house, for the first time. After reading your posting, I can't wait to start growing some plants. I grew some Hipps. many years ago, in a south-facing window. The bulbs flowered beautifully. I can't remember how I killed them, but they eventually succumbed to my cultural ignorance. That was then, and this is now. Things will be much different with my new bulbs, and 30 years more experience growing plants.

Thanks for taking the time to answer questions. Much appreciated, I'm sure, by all.


    Bookmark   September 12, 2011 at 10:08PM
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I applaud you :) I thoroughly enjoy reading your posts as they're SO informative and wonderful, it makes me so happy!!!!!!!


    Bookmark   September 12, 2011 at 11:20PM
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I have found Apple Blossom to be one of the easiest to raise, and I have to split them up every few years.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2011 at 11:50PM
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I enjoyed that Pizzuti. Now I feel justified for using more sand in my potting mix.

Have just planted mine from 2 different locations where I left them to sleep; a few in the fridge and others in darkness in my store room.

Am wondering if we'll get a good show by next Oct 25th? I live in a warm country, Malaysia. Next mth is Diwali.

    Bookmark   September 22, 2011 at 10:54AM
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You should feel justified in doing whatever works for you!

I think that you can use your local climate to judge what hippeastrums can tolerate. In a humid climate, you can dry them out more with fewer problems. In a dry climate, you can expose them to more water with fewer problems.

When it comes to soil, I don't think they care at all what's in there as long as the roots are getting three things they need: nutrients, water and oxygen. For all I know that means you can keep them completely exposed and mist them with water that has diluted fertilizer in it, and they'll do fine, because the roots are getting air, water and fertilizer. Or you can put them in any combination of organic/inorganic medium as long as it has some air pockets (so you couldn't for example, plant them in clay) and some minimally water-retaining material.

    Bookmark   September 27, 2011 at 5:43AM
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About 16 years ago a nice lady that I once worked with gave me a beautiful Amaryllis/Hippeastrum bulb, deep velvet red in color. The bulb did well in a pot at our Tennessee home for many years. When we moved from Tennessee to Florida back in 2003, I took the bulb with us and planted it in our daughters yard for safe keeping until our new house was built. I cared for the bulb for 7 months while we lived there. After we moving into our new house and living there for over a year I remembered I left my Amaryllis bulb in our daughters front yard planted between some shrubs. I couldn't wait to get down there find it and take it home. It took me just a minute to find the poor neglected bulb and dig it up. The bulb looked fine for not having any care for so long. Now 10 years later at our new home here in St Augustine Florida this Little Bulb That Could has produced many new babies. She now has produced 16 new bulbs and grandbaby-bulbs total. I think she likes it here. I think I’ll name her Super Grammy!

Here is a link that might be useful: Garden tenders

This post was edited by tjcarita on Sun, Apr 13, 14 at 13:44

    Bookmark   April 13, 2014 at 11:24AM
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Well that is a success story for sure, good growing! Those of us who have to resort to pot culture would surely have more trouble growing a bulb like you have in the ground for so many years!


    Bookmark   April 13, 2014 at 11:38AM
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"They" (namely the crop and the clone respectively) might live "forever". This does not say anything about the fate of an individual bulb thereof. I observed, that a Bulb will age during a Decade or so, which means it will gradually produce fewer leaves per time; the bulb will shrink and and it will eventually be overgrown by its own offsets (well if it produces some, which is not guaranteed in all Cultivars, particularly not in TETraploids.)
My handbook on "Growing Amaryllis" from 1970 clearly states that if you purchase bulbs for the production of Cut-flowers then you can "use them several years, after which they will be of little use". On another occasion I read on the web, that you actually can REJUVENATE old bulbs by a Hot Water treatment.
Btw: In my "Cluster" of (bulbs of) "PapDon2" and "PapDonAmb2" I can still identify the respective "Original Bulbs" which are "Mother Bulbs" in the utmost true sense of the term: Namely the individual bulbs which I received from the respective seed foils, and I always look at these seedling-bulbs with awe - these are approx. 12 years old! Both Mother bulbs are now smaller than the 3 strongest Daughter bulbs which surround them.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2014 at 1:31PM
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