Issue: December 27, 2003

Leaves dying on amaryllis


I found your article on the New Mexico State University web site about how to make an amaryllis blossom. I have done as you explained. I stopped watering a couple of months ago and put the potted bulb in a cold room that doesnāt freeze. Now most of the leaves have turned yellow or brown. There is only one green leaf on each of a few of the plants. Iām worried! Is this supposed to happen?


Yes, things are normal. If the room has not dropped below freezing, what you are seeing is natural. If it did freeze briefly, but the bulb didnāt freeze, it is probably still okay. If you look in the garden centers that carry amaryllis bulbs, you will notice that the bulbs have no leaves or roots. The stress (drying and cooling) mimics the natural conditions of the dry season in the native habitat of the Hippeastrum species (the plants we call amaryllis). Under these conditions the plants become dormant, lose their leaves, and are induced to flower.Ź

It is okay to provide a little water (very infrequently) at this time. By giving a little water, you can sustain the roots that do not die off completely during dry season in the native habitat of the Hippeastrum. If the roots have died completely, that is okay as long as the bulb is still firm (remember the bulbs in the garden center). However, donāt let the bulb shrivel.Ź

In a couple of months or less, you will notice a flower spike beginning to grow from the bulb. At first this may look like a leaf developing, but as it grows you will notice that it is a flower spike. At this time, begin to gradually increase the water you give the plant.Ź

There is a chance that this growth will be a leaf. That probably indicates that the plant received too little light or water during the growing season and the leaves did not provide sufficient food reserves to the bulb. In that case, begin watering as mentioned above, fertilize lightly (after flowering you would fertilize anyway), and give the plant a sunny location where it receives at least 4 to 6 hours of bright light (not necessarily direct sunlight) every day.

If you have a friend who likes to garden, this is a good plant to give as a holiday gift. If you are a gardener, this is a good plant to receive. It can provide winter color for many years, and years of challenge encouraging it to re-bloom.

The NMSU web site mentioned in the question is University web sites offer a great wealth of information to residents of each state.

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Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, email:, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.


For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension Horticulture page at Desert Blooms and the NMSU Horticulture Publications page.

Send gardening questions to Southwest Yard and Garden - Attn: Dr. Marisa Thompson at, or at the Desert Blooms Facebook.

Please copy your County Extension Agent and indicate your county of residence when you submit your question!