'Tis the season to call into question the way people grow amaryllis, one of this season's holiday plants.
OK, so you brought home your fat amaryllis bulb, or it arrived in the mail, some weeks ago. If that bulb was out of soil, it should have at least had some fleshy roots still attached. Without those roots, the flower bud seated deep within the bulb will either never appear or else make a poor showing.
An amaryllis bulb needs to be grown in potting soil, not water, as some people suggest. Their roots, in contrast to those of hyacinth, which is often grown successfully in water, need plenty of air. Amaryllis roots will rot in water. Furthermore, you'll never get your amaryllis to bloom again next year if it's growing in water and the plants are too expensive to throw away after they've bloomed, as we do with forced hyacinths.
After your amaryllis's blossoms fade, give the plant the best possible growing conditions -- bright light, and adequate water and fertilizer -- to feed next year's blossoms. The better the growing conditions, the more leaves the plant grows, and more leaves means more flowers. For best growth, put the plant outdoors in spring to bask in the sun all summer.
Waning summer sun brings with it the Really Big Amaryllis Myth. That myth, as often recommended in gardening books and magazines, is that the bulbs need to be dried off so the leaves die down and the bulb can take a rest, a prerequisite to making flower buds. But look again: Amaryllis leaves never really totally dry up and fall off. That's because amaryllis is an evergreen plant in its native haunts.
Amaryllis does need a change in conditions to make flower buds. What's needed is two months of cool temperatures, between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
The myth about driving the plants to leaflessness each autumn arose from commercial convenience. It's easiest to transport and sell leafless bulbs. Amaryllis tolerates, but does not need this treatment.
So, enjoy your amaryllis blossoms now, give your plants good growing conditions until next autumn, then give them a slight chill so that you can enjoy the flowers again next holiday season.