One traditional flower that graces many homes through the holidays is the amaryllis. This is the common name for flowers and hybrids of the genus Hippeastrum.

You have probably seen these giant bulbs. First encounters bring an initial impression of, “This bulb is only half buried in a pot that appears way too small!” Nevertheless, the magic of this bulb’s life cycle fascinates young and old alike.

It begins as a tip of green nestled in the scales of the bulb. Daily the stalk grows, reaching for light as the flower buds develop. Eventually the bulbous tip separates into three or four buds each opening into a large flower.

Individual amaryllis flowers are trumpet shaped, between four and ten inches in diameter. Colors range from traditional red into bright orange, pink, blushed apricots and white. Varieties with stripes, picotees, variegated foliage and double blooms add wonder and excitement to holiday displays.

Follow these simple instructions for best results. Many amaryllis are available pre-potted. If you purchase only a bulb or want to change the container, plant the bulb with the top half protruding from the soil and water sparingly. (Before and during bloom, the bulb grows few roots. Excess water at this point is detrimental to the plant.)

Place in a sunny or bright location. Insufficient light causes a tall, weak stem that may have trouble supporting the flowers.

A South African native, Hippeastrum’s growing environment consists of a season of fast growth followed by a season of complete rest. After enjoying the blooms for four or more weeks, foliage should start to appear. At this time increase water and feed a bloom fertilizer (2-10-10) each time you water. This will replace the energy the bulb expended while flowering.

Around July 1, stop the water. Trim the foliage off at the neck of the bulb. Allowing the foliage to die naturally may deplete the food stores to some degree. Many growers remove the bulb from the soil during the rest period, though this is not necessary.

Move the pot to an out of the way corner in the garage, closet or under the kitchen sink. Mark your calendar and bring the pot out around October 1. Give each pot a little new compost or well-rotted manure and water thoroughly. Allow at least eight weeks for the flower stalk to develop and begin reblooming.

Amaryllis are great gifts, classroom projects and conversation pieces. Enjoy one this season.