Step By Step (see below for full details):
1. After blooms are spent, remove flower stalks all the way to foliage. Keep all leaves intact, continue to water plant when it become dry.
2. In early fall allow the plant to experience two early frosts outdoors, just enough for the leaves to die back.
3. Cut back foliage and remove bulb and root balls from the pot.
4. Once bulb and roots are fully dry, wrap individually in newspaper and store in a dark space in the garage or other space where plant will get cold but never freeze.
5. After 8 weeks of cold slumber, repot plants, move indoors, and begin watering.
6. Plants should bloom within 8 weeks of repotting.
The Dirty Details:
Last year I fell in love with amaryllis and bought one for each of my friends and family members. After the New Year and the blooms were spent, however, we were left with pots filled with sprawling green leaves--flower-less but happy and healthy. I did some research and discovered that amaryllis can easily be overwintered and over-summered so that they produce new blooms the following year. At $20 a bulb I decided this was totally worth the effort. (Note that this will only work for bulbs grown in soil, not the trendy water only bulbs or wax dipped bulbs, those have to be thrown out after use).
I also learned that paper whites, which are from the narcissum family and related to the daffodil, can also be overwintered and forced again, however, these smaller bulbs will only produce blooms every two years and at less than a $1 a bulb when bought in bulk, I determined that they were not worth saving and instead put a few out for the hungry rabbits and the rest straight into the compost bin.
About the first of February last year I gathered up about a dozen of the amaryllis plants I’d gifted (I know, kind of strange that I asked for my gifts back, but I promised to return them flowering anew the next Christmas!). As amaryllis are native to South America and actually a tropical plant, I moved them into my arboretum, a sunroom that we keep at about 60 F over the winter and open during the summer. There the plants thrived in all of their green leaf glory for the next eight months.
Come September I moved the plants outdoors and allowed them to experience enough cold nights that their leaves finally yellowed and died. I then cut all of the foliage off, pulled them from their pots, and gently knocked and brushed most soil from their roots and the bulb. These I wrapped individually in newspaper and stacked inside of a paper box, which I placed (unsealed for air circulation) against an interior wall in the garage. I chose an interior wall up against the heated house so that the box would be slightly warmer than the far side of the garage and not freeze.
The bulbs slept in their cold storage for about 8 weeks and the 1stof November I pulled them out, repotted them, watered them sparingly (like once or twice a week) until greenery appeared. At this same time I potted up new paper white bulbs as well. While I waited for growth I initially kept them in the 60 F arboretum but growth was slow. The second week of November I moved the lot of potted bulbs to a sunny bay window in my house and growth skyrocketed!
Once growth reached about 2 inches I began watering the bulbs with a mixture of 1/7 parts hard alcohol and water on the suggestion of a friend.
I used Scottish whisky because it tastes like smoke and I can’t stand to drink it, but we’d received a bottle as a gift so I re-gifted it to the plants. The result was that my living room smelled like a men’s lounge for about 3 weeks whenever I watered the bulbs. The idea behind the alcohol mixture is that it slightly inhibits water absorption in the plant, stunting their upward growth while doing nothing to bloom production.
This is useful in such tall plants that reach their blooms to the sky in search of sun but in the process create spindly stems that often snap under the weight of their blooms. I also gave the plants a dose of bloom boosting fertilizer twice during this period.
My paper whites, all new, one-time-use bulbs, bloomed like a white, spicy, cloud all at once about January 1st.
The amaryllis is just now (February 1st) blooming. This is all about 2-6 weeks later than I would have liked so this year I will try a slightly earlier schedule. My biggest issue there is getting the plants to experience enough cold to loose their foliage prior to October as it just doesn’t get that cold here at night that early. What am I supposed to do, put them in my fridge?!? I could only fit one at a time and even that might stretch my husband’s compassion for my gardening obsession…argument #739 for buying a cooler for the garage.
Once potted up, I will move the plants straight inside instead of the stint in the arboretum at 60 F, this should also speed up growth by about a week. I’ll update after next year’s experiment.
Good luck saving your bulbs, it’s a bit of work but totally worth it if you love amaryllis and don’t want to drop hundreds of dollars a year on new bulbs.
As an added bonus, the process is nearly identical (if opposite timing wise) to overwintering and splitting dahlias, another beautiful, but expensive flower!