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The 12 days of Christmas plants - amaryllis

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If it has red flowers and blooms in winter, it's likely to be called a Christmas plant. Not that anyone really needs a push to buy an amaryllis. It's so over the top -- that tall, gangling stalk; those enormous flowers; the crayon-bright colors -- that it's hard to resist.

Besides, an amaryllis is easy to grow (outdoors in Zones 8 and warmer and as a houseplant everywhere) -- the first time around, anyway -- and it's relatively inexpensive unless you buy one already in bloom from a florist.

I'd always thought that these big beauties originated in South Africa, but the National Arboretum says that it's the Americas instead.

Care is simple. If the bulb you bought was in a pot, just water it thoroughly with warm water, making sure that all the soil is soaked. (Many amaryllis bulbs are potted in peat moss, which is hard to wet.)

If you bought only a bulb, you'll need fast-draining potting soil and a sturdy pot (with drainage holes) that's wide enough so that it allows one to two inches of space all the way around between the bulb and the edge of the pot. Plant the bulb so that half or a little more of it is above the soil's surface and water thoroughly.

Then, whether you started with a bulb in a container or potted up your own, place the amaryllis in a warm spot until you see a green shoot.

That's your sign to move the plant where it will receive bright light, including some sun, and to water whenever necessary to keep the soil slightly moist. Fertilizer isn't necessary.

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