Garden Tip: Don’t chuck your amaryllis in the new year

After it seemingly dies, let it recuperate—it might surprise you

Garden Tip: Don’t chuck your amaryllis in the new year
Don’t be hasty throwing these flowers out after the holidays

Photograph by Jacqueline Anders/Getty Images

Garden Variety is an occasional column about growing plants without grief.

The amaryllis plant has a superpower: In just a few weeks in a tiny pot of dirt, this giant onion-looking thing sprouts a giant trumpet-shaped flower—in winter.

Its other superpower is that it might grow outside after the holidays.

The thing that comes in the amaryllis box kits this time of year is a bulb. Bulbs spend much of their year dormant, underground (or in a box). But the right temperature or light level wakes them up. The warmth and light of the sun shining through a window in a house makes an amaryllis bulb think spring is here, so it springs. It springs in living rooms and on mantels and in magazine photo shoots.

Not pictured: the subsequent slimy dead bloom, decaying stalk, and raggedy leaves.

But rather than toss it after it blooms and seemingly dies, let it recuperate: Cut off the stalk at the very bottom. The plant doesn’t need it. Then, just let it be—indoors in a warm, sunny place. Water it every week or so, whenever the soil feels dry. The leaves are collecting energy and the roots are collecting nutrients, and that good stuff is building up in the bulb.

Come spring, plant it outside or move the pot to the patio. Pick a sunny spot where you’ll remember to water it. Amaryllis’ wild ancestors come from warm, damp parts of the western hemisphere, so try to figure out where you can mimic those conditions.

If the bulb is going into the ground, plant it deep enough that about an inch of soil covers the top. (Root end down, leaf end up.) That’s a little bit of frost protection.

Take everybody else’s spent amaryllis at the end of the year too. Because some thrive and some just don’t. My mom had a 50 percent success rate from her bulbs last year: One bloomed again and one didn’t. She reports similar results from kin in Auburn and Memphis.

Best case: repeated enjoyment of a bulb that was expensive. Worst case: You’ve dug a hole outside for nothing, which was at least some exercise.

Maggie Lee has been gardening in metro Atlanta for half her life and now runs Yonder Farm, a cut flower and herb farm in Fairburn.