Jekyll/Hyde, or, The Best Tulip for Southern California

Christmas Amaryllis, those inexpensive (or not so inexpensive) flowering bulbs sold around the holidays by everyone from White Flower Farm to Home Depot to your local grocery store, are actually hybrids from the genus Hippeastrum.

In a pot on the dining room table in December, they bloom and then proceed to fall over a lot, being ridiculously top heavy. Or they don't bloom at all because you forget to water the pot, or because the bulb got too dried out from sitting in Santa Ana winds at the big box store. Then it is January and the flower is dead, or smashed up from falling over, and the foliage half-heartedly sprouts and you throw the bulb out right along with the left over candy canes. This is the Mr. Hyde version of the Christmas Amaryllis (Mr Hyde was the bad guy).

There is also the Dr. Jekyll version, the good guy, who mainly hangs out in coastal Southern California, where it is warm enough so he doesn't freeze, and dry enough so he doesn't rot. This is the Christmas Amaryllis that doesn't get thrown out, but gets planted in the garden, in the ground, in a dryish spot in morning or all day sun, and who then proceeds to create a clump of strap-shaped foliage that dies back come winter. And then in April, flowers. Huge flowers, and more of them than ever develop in a sad little pot on the dining room table at the end of December.

My clump, which three years ago was originally one sad bulb bought for a dollar the day after Christmas, is now that one bulb and her five offspring bulbs. This year, each bulb has a flower spike and each spike has four to six flowers, or twenty-seven flowers, each over six inches wide, for that one dollar plus three years of neglect.

They are not directly irrigated. I give them a couple good drinks of water a month in the heat of summer, but they are better off fairly dry, to avoid rot. You plant them with about 1/3 of the bulb out of the ground: you don't even need to dig that deep a hole--how lazy can you get? I suppose you could fertilize them without harm, but I've never bothered. The main potential problem is snail and slug damage, though if they are located in a dry area, that is not so much of a problem. Snails don't like dry.

Which brings me to the other part of the title. Tulips in Southern California are annuals, and often just as the glorious chalice of color emerges, we get a heat wave that fries it in an hour. Rather annoying if you've stored the bulbs so carefully in your fridge for the 6 or 8 weeks of chill they need, and then carefully planted them, and then waited and protected. Not to mention the cost of the bulbs.

Why all that work? Plant Hippeastrums, and be happy.


  1. Oh, I SO wish I could plant them in the ground, but it's too cold and wet up here. Yours is gorgeous!!!! I bought a green-flowering one this year - it is about to crack open. Usually, I put them outside in the summer, stick them in a protected spot, and bring them in in the fall. That way they usually miss that Christmas glory, but I'm happy whenever they open - usually spring some time.

    1. We are so very lucky to be able to grow them here in the ground--and we know it. You method sounds like it works very well for your climate. They are happy in pots here also, but so much easier in the ground.


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