These days, smart winter decorating schemes practically require amaryllis, with their great big trumpetty blooms in totally untasteful lipstick red. But while their impact is undeniable, what do you do with those pesky indoor-flowering bulbs once they've finished blooming? They work so hard during flowering season that it seems churlish to just chuck them; but getting them to rebloom the following year is a complicated business. Isn't it?
Not so. For a start, many amaryllis bulbs these days are sold in such a large size that they have plenty of energy left in them for next year's show. Throwing them away is a pointless waste – especially when really large new bulbs can cost up to £15. And even smaller amaryllis can be persuaded into a repeat showing with a bit of patience and consistency.
They do need the right routine over the intervening months, though. This time last year I had a nice lady from De Jager bulbs on the phone, who explained to me that the secret is letting them fatten up properly over the summer, then giving them a proper break in late autumn.
First, they should have a nice spring and summer, either sitting on a sunny indoor windowsill, well-watered and fed, or out in the garden. A word of warning on the latter option, though: slugs and snails can munch their way through the tender leaves in just a few nights. After having several of mine stripped completely, I gave in and brought them indoors, where they spent the summer making strappy green leaves and being fed with foliar feed (it comes in a spray that goes straight on the leaf surface) as well as having weekly watering.
By the time autumn came around, each bulb had put on an impressive number of oniony layers. One old house-plant book I found suggested that for every three to four leaves the plant grows during summer, one flower will be produced, so it's worth feeding them up and encouraging them to produce as many leaves as possible over the summer season.
Now comes the technical bit: you need to manipulate the bulb into thinking it's time to flower again, and for that it needs a short dry season. So in autumn, stop watering until the leaves shrivel up and go yellow (it feels counter-intuitive when you've cosseted the plant all summer, but it works). Leave the bulb dry for about eight weeks, then around November you can begin again, bringing the bulb somewhere warmer and starting to water again. A good amount of wintry sunshine should produce those great big fat flower buds once more, just in time for Christmas 2010.
It's come up nice again!
Cyclamen are some of the most rewarding of winter flowers. The large-flowered varieties are likely to be frost- tender, but the tiny ruby- and white-flowered species can be tucked into a corner of a flowerbed, to delight you with flowers when winter next comes around
Best appreciated the year you grow them first, as they end up almost exhausted. Try planting them in an ignorable sunny corner of the garden, where they may end up producing new blooms at some future point. But do it with low expectations...
Keep them away from cold windows and radiators, and when a flower spike has finished, cut back to the third node on the stem. Often this will encourage a second flushReuse content