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The amaryllis experiment. April 30, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood are lucky enough to have a 16-by-10-foot greenhouse here at Hawk’s Haven, the country cottage we share in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. (Well, it’s actually 16-by-16, but the north side is used for storing wood and as a hayloft, adding some insulation from the cold to the greenhouse part in the process.)

You’d think this would be plenty of room to overwinter tender plants. But you’d be wrong. Every year, we’d overwintered our amaryllises and cannas on the in-ground bed in the greenhouse, along with all our other tender plants, while those that stay in the greenhouse year-round make their homes on our raised bench across the aisle, and the hanging baskets hang out on a metal rod suspended along the length of the in-ground bed.

Then, last year, we realized that we just didn’t have enough space, thanks to our acquisition of more tropical and semitropical fruits, herbs, and spices. The cannas and amaryllis were just going to have to find another winter home. We were aware that many people let their cannas and amaryllis go dormant over winter, then stashed the bulbs and/or pots in the basement or another dark place until they returned to life in spring. But sadly, we don’t have a basement here.

We decided to put ours in our toolshed. But all our gardening friends raised a great outcry, insisting that the unheated toolshed would kill our plants. Thinking this over, we realized that there was only one dark, dry, warm space where there was room for our many pots of amaryllis and cannas. And that was the furnace room.

Huffing, puffing, and cursing, we hauled the bazillion pots of cannas and amaryllis into the furnace room, turned off the light, and closed the door. We weren’t going to look at our beloved collection again until spring. Would they really survive all those months with no water and no light? Would mice find their way in and eat the bulbs? We couldn’t bear to think about it.

Spring belatedly arrived, cold, dark, and unseasonably rainy as it’s been here. We didn’t dare set out our amaryllis and cannas before the night temperatures were consistently in the 40s, and that took a good month longer than usual. Finally, we decided we just had to get them outside.

Opening the door to the furnace room—talk about suspense!—we saw that, from the plants’ point of view, we’d waited about a week too late. They just knew it was time to start growing, and they did. We were confronted with leaves and even (in the case of a few amaryllis) bloom stalks that were a startling creamy white. We apologized profusely, pointing out that we couldn’t bring them out before they could go onto the deck or the cats and/or dog would destroy them, and took them all outside. Would they live or die, blanched as they were?!

We’re happy to report that it looks like everybody’s going to be all right. The foliage, stems, and bloom stalks have gone from cream-white to reddish to green within the week. Everybody’s growing rather than going into shock and dying. We may have a good amaryllis bloom season and a lusty canna foliage season after all. The stress appears to have taken more of a toll on us than on our plants.

Those of you who grow, enjoy, and overwinter amaryllis and cannas, we’d be thrilled to hear what you do and how it works. Relieved as we are that we didn’t kill off all our plants, we’d still like to avoid the anxiety and nail-biting this coming winter…



1. Nell Jean - May 1, 2011

We plant Amaryllis and Cannas in the ground here in zone 8b. The ground doesn’t freeze but we might have nights briefly in the low 20’s F. Our days always warm up to above freezing. We never have snow. When I force Amaryllis in a barely heated greenhouse, they may have a few nights with a brief chill near freezing but never below 32 F.

I hope that is helpful information.

Thanks, Nell Jean! Wow, I wish we could “overwinter” ourselves down your way!

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