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Amaryllis sparkles during holiday season

A bright amaryllis is a cheery addition to holiday decor. (Photo: Debbie Arrington)

Big bulb is easy to grow, easy to love

Amaryllis are the winter star of indoor bulbs. New hybrids boast blooms that are more than 8 inches across on strong 2-foot stems. With a succession of buds, these gigantic flowers last weeks in a sunny window.

And the large bulbs can rebloom for years to come outdoors, transplanted into the garden. They're hardy in USDA Zone 9, which includes Sacramento.

These bulbs, native to Mexico and Central America, have been winter favorites for generations, but their name can be confusing. What we popularly call amaryllis aren't actually Amaryllis, the genus that includes Naked Ladies (Amaryllis belladonna, a South African native). About two centuries ago, botanists split these hollow-stem varieties off into a separate genus, Hippeastrum (which mean's horseman's star). About 90 species are part of this genus with hundreds of hybrids available on the market.

In the Victorian language of flowers, amaryllis symbolize strength and determination. They're also associated with beauty, love and hard-won success. In Greek, amaryllis means "to sparkle."
And yes, the name Amaryllis comes from Greek mythology.

A maiden named Amaryllis fell in love with a flower-crazy shepherd, Alteo. Amaryllis asked the Oracle of Delphi for help in winning his heart. On the oracle's advice, Amaryllis stood outside Alteo's house for 30 nights, each night piercing her heart with a golden arrow. On the 31st night, a red flower sprouted from her blood - and won her Alteos affection.

That legend inspired the meaning behind the flowers.

Amaryllis bulbs are easy to love; no arrows necessary. Choose a firm bulb and a snug pot, only an inch or two larger than the bulb. Use a fast-draining mix of perlite and peat moss; add 1 tablespoon bone meal. Plant the bulb shallow, so about half of it sits above the soil line. Place the bulb in a sunny window, water once, then wait.

As the flower shoot starts to appear, water once or twice a week, turning the pot a quarter turn every few days to encourage the stem to grow straight. Otherwise, it will grow towards the light.

In spring after the blooms are spent, the bulb will push out strappy green leaves. Transplant the bulb into a protected spot with partial or full shade, such as on the north or east side of the house. Once established, the bulb will rebloom, but in May or June -- not December.

Amaryllis bulbs are now available at local nurseries such as The Plant Foundry and Green Acres. Also, check out the selection at amaryllis specialist White Flower Farm ( ), which offers more than 70 varieties.

The one downside: Amaryllis contains a toxin that is poisonous to cats. Keep away from curious felines. Fortunately, this plant tastes bad, so cats rarely ingest too much.


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 26:

Sacramento can expect another inch of rain from this latest storm. Leave the sprinklers off at least another week. Temps will dip down into the low 30s early in the week, so avoid planting tender seedlings (such as tomatoes). Concentrate on these tasks before or after this week’s rain:

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* Knock off aphids with a strong blast of water or some bug soap as soon as they appear.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prepare summer vegetable beds. Spade in compost and other amendments.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Feed camellias at the end of their bloom cycle. Pick up browned and fallen flowers to help corral blossom blight.

* Feed citrus trees, which are now in bloom and setting fruit.

To prevent sunburn and borer problems on young trees, paint the exposed portion of the trunk with diluted white latex (water-based) interior paint. Dilute the paint with an equal amount of cold water before application.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Seed and renovate the lawn (if you still have one). Feed cool-season grasses such as bent, blue, rye and fescue with a slow-release fertilizer. Check the irrigation system and perform maintenance. Make sure sprinkler heads are turned toward the lawn, not the sidewalk.

* In the vegetable garden, transplant lettuce and kale.

* Seed chard and beets directly into the ground.

* Plant summer bulbs, including gladiolus, tuberous begonias and callas. Also plant dahlia tubers.

* Shop for perennials. Many varieties are available in local nurseries and at plant events. They can be transplanted now while the weather remains relatively cool.

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