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Ask a Master Gardener: Amaryllis bulbs coated in wax don't need soil or water

Amaryllis bulbs can be grown in soil or forced in water. Getty Images

Q: I received an amaryllis bulb encased in wax as a gift this year. I placed it near the window, and it is sending up a flower bud. What can you tell me about these bulbs? Will I be able to get it to bloom again next year?

A: Amaryllis bulbs are readily available during the holiday season and can be grown in soil or forced in water. These plants are hybrids and cultivars of the genus Hippeastrum, a member of the Amaryllidaceae (amaryllis family) and originally from Central and South America. They have large bulbs with papery dry outer layers and fleshy inner scales, which are actually leaf bases. Most bulbs produce one or two flowering stalks, each with a cluster of 2 to 14 showy, brightly colored flowers.

Recently bulbs encased in wax were developed in Europe as decorative, easy-to-grow accents which can be placed just about anywhere and will produce flowers in 4 to 6 weeks. The bulb has all the energy needed to produce flowers, and the wax coating conserves the bulb's moisture, so no soil, no water, and little light are needed. A coil of wire embedded at the base of the bulb keeps the plant from tipping.

After blooming, the waxed bulb will be quite depleted, since it has had no nutrients or water while it produced its flowers. The roots and basal plate were probably also removed before the wax was added. It is doubtful you can get your bulb to bloom again, but it can be worth a try.

Carefully remove the wax and the metal wire, then peel off any damaged or moldy areas. Wiping gently with alcohol will discourage any new mold. Plant in a pot just a little larger in diameter than the bulb in a well-drained potting mix with one-third of the bulb above the soil line. Water moderately to prevent bulb rot. Once roots form, the plants can be lightly fertilized and even placed outside in the summer. If this process has been successful, the bulb will gradually recover and can be treated like a bulb that bloomed in soil.

Further information on amaryllis care can be found at extension.umn.edu/house-plants/amaryllis#control-blooming-858665.

Written by U of M Extension Master Gardeners in St. Louis County. Send your questions to features@duluthnews.com.