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how to grow south african dutch amaryllis van engelen john scheepers

Growing Amaryllis - What's Hot!

by Mary Jasch

Classic red and white amaryllis with spectacular color and vibrancy have always been part of the natural way to adorn your home for the holidays. But move over ‘Merry Christmas,’ 'Apple Blossom,' and ‘Wedding Dance.’ Make way for some hot varieties recently off the research benches and some new ways of using these unbashful blossoms.

With one of the largest Hippeastrom amaryllis collections in the United States, Van Engelen in Bantam, Connecticut, carries 53 varieties of Amaryllis from South Africa and the Netherlands.

“Amaryllis is one of my favorite topics because earlier in the fall I have a very strong nesting desire to clean up the gardens, get them ready for the winter,” says Jo-Anne van den Berg-Ohms, president, John Scheepers. “Once that is buttoned up, I turn my enthusiasm for gardening indoors. Amaryllis is one of the best flower bulbs for easy, lush and opulent blooms for winter.”

Van den Berg-Ohms is fourth generation in the family businesses: Van Engelen (wholesale flower bulbs and large retail orders), John Scheepers (retail flower bulbs), and John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds (vegetable, herb, flower seeds).

Her father Jan Ohms, CEO of all three companies, is from the Netherlands where, for generations, the family hybridized flower bulbs. When Jan Ohms came to the US after World War II, he and his wife created Van Engelen Company with the country’s first wholesale flower bulb catalog. Jo-Anne works with growers in the Netherlands to select varieties. She also develops the catalogs and collections along with her father.

Color, form and fragrance top the list in breeding trends.

Fragrance: Trumpet amaryllis with delicate, Easter lily-like blossoms
Varieties: white ‘Amputo’ and rosy pink ‘Misty.’ Van den Berg-Ohms describes their scent as “a pale fragrance of roses and raspberries.”

Form: double flamboyant varieties and species-like varieties.
Varieties: crosses with the double ‘Nymph’ to breed with different colors with perfect Nymph form. Exotic evergreen species-like Cybister varieties have slender leaves and flower petals. ‘Emerald’ is white and green with red striations and dots. Cybisters grow year-round.

Color: yellow, apricot-salmon, pink, and bi-color amaryllis
Varieties: new bi-color ‘Gervase’ is a pale to magenta blend with striations and red stamen and anthers. The pale yellow ‘Lemon & Lime’ is the best yellow on the market so far. The green and burgundy coloration of 'Papilio Improved' resembles an orchid.

There’s an amaryllis for any cold month of the year – in the form of Dutch and South African bulbs. What’s the difference, you say? Hemisphere and length of time to blossom.

Van Engelen receives South African Amaryllis (grown in South Africa in the southern hemisphere) in August, already coming out of dormancy. They bloom in 4 to 6 weeks – perfect for the winter holidays. They receive amaryllis grown in the Netherlands (northern hemisphere) still in dormancy in October. These Dutch amaryllis take twice as long to bloom - 8 to 12 weeks – and are great for the rest of the winter.

“We call our South African amaryllis ‘Christmas Amaryllis’ because they’re better for holiday blooming. The amaryllis from the Netherlands, we call the “Royal Dutch Hybrids.” Both are sold now.

A little hesitant because you don’t know where to put a tall, top-heavy, accident prone beauty?

Van den Berg-Ohms has the answer: “Amaryllis have grown so far beyond decorating one’s home for Christmas. The blossom is gaining new popularity as a cut flower, especially for dining table bouquets.” With four to six flowers a stem and two or three stems per pot, people cut them and put them in bud vases down the center of the dining table. Be elegant with pink single amaryllis on a white table cloth with white china. Or use red and white varieties for Valentine’s Day.

But where to get them? Why, grow your own, of course, right in your own living room.

Here’s how:

Potting: Use sterile, neutral pH soil in a cozy, heavy pot with an inch between bulb and container. Keep 20 percent of the bulb exposed above soil level so that water does not collect in the neck of the bulb and cause the base of the stem to rot. Water around the bulb. Use a heavy pot or put stones on soil to weigh down the pot.

Water: after the initial drink, let the sprout green up before giving it more water. Continuously watering a bulb just coming out of dormancy inhibits its root development. (Amaryllis naturally grow in a drier environment with well-defined rainy and dry seasons.) If the sprout doesn’t green up, kick-start it with bottom heat (radiator, heating pad, food warming tray).

Temperature: They pop out of dormancy in response to warmth, which promotes growth. Once it blooms, the cooler the environment, the longer it lasts.

Food: The bulb has everything it needs for its first growing cycle inside of it already.
Flamboyant display in a large, decorative container: Plant bulbs in individual pots, as above, then sink them in a decorative pot. They don’t necessarily come out of dormancy and bloom at the same time. If you grow enough plants, you can rotate them as desired. If you want a standing display and don’t mind that all of the bulbs are not blooming at the same moment, then a mass planting in a large pot is fine.

Saving the bulb for next year: After it blooms, deadhead, and grow the foliage into a big plant. Bring indoors at beginning of July and put where you will not water or see it. Lack of water is key to return it to dormancy. Do not cut the foliage even when it disintegrates. At end of October, bring the plant out again and then cut off dead foliage. Give light feeding of dilute houseplant fertilizer. Do not break roots; refresh soil with sterile potting soil (not soilless mix).

“I think of flower bulbs as full suitcases when you get them. So when you get your amaryllis bulb it has everything it needs to flower beautifully,” says van den Berg-Ohms.

*All photos courtesy Van Engelen Flower Bulbs

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published November 26, 2008

Photos to enlarge

Classic favorite Dutch 'Apple Blossom'

Dutch 'Floris Hecker,' perfect to grow for Valentine's Day.

Fragrant Trumpet 'Amputo,' stunning as a cut flower for dinner parties.

Fragrant Trumpet 'Misty,' one of the new class of Amaryllis with a slight fragrance.

Miniature Dutch 'Papilio Improved' is evergreen.

Cybister 'La Paz'

Dutch 'Exotica'

New Dutch 'Gervase'

Dutch Lemon & Lime

Bi-color 'Charisma'

Classic favorite Dutch 'Picotee'

Christmas flowering South African 'Amalfi'

South African 'Basuto,' the perfect red Christmas variety.

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