Growing Amaryllis with Dugald Cameron (+ Giveaway)

Amaryllis in a pot

Each Autumn, big, beautiful Amaryllis bulbs show up in stores alongside spring blooming bulbs. And every year I hesitate, full of guilt about the indulgence at a time when I have so many houseplants to shift indoors for the winter. However, once the snow is settled over the garden and the world has lost its colour, that first bloom is greeted like a miracle unfolding. We watch the developing bud with anticipation and when it opens we circle around it with our cameras, taking in every crumb of colour and life while we can. No summer flower receives such hyper-gleeful fanfare.

Most people associate amaryllis with the Holidays, but I don’t care when it blooms just as long as it does. It’s big, bold flowers are a beacon in the depths of winter, and when they come, I look back on my hesitation in the fall and realize how grateful I am for the indulgence.

I’ve been growing Amaryllis bulbs for years, but they’re a plant that I take for granted and one that I know so little about. As with all things bulb-related I turned once again to Dugald Cameron to shed some light on this seasonal plant. Dugald is the owner of Gardenimport, a Toronto-based business that specializes in offering unique bulbs, perennials, and seed that are hard to find in Canada. You may remember him from an interview I published here in the spring on growing bulbs in containers. Gardenimport has since become a sponsor of this site and I’m pleased to be working with a company that I’ve been buying from for years and a fellow gardener whom I respect. Dugald is also the cofounder of The Greater Toronto Bulb Society and the person who knows more about bulbs than anyone I know.

Amaryllis Evergreen

Amaryllis ‘Evergreen’ a bulb from my collection that I am hoping will re-bloom this year.

Amaryllis Bulb Rio Negro

A bare ‘Rio Negro’ Dutch Amaryllis bulb prior to planting.

Growing Amaryllis with Dugald Cameron of Gardenimport

Along with the large, Dutch cultivars that we are used to (these are the sort with the very big, apple-sized bulbs), Gardenimport carries smaller sized South African hybrids that I had never even heard of until I first noticed them in the store’s Fall 2010 catalogue. I first fell in love with a green variety called ‘Green Dragon’ and went on to grow a few more. When it comes to Amaryllis we are conditioned to think that bigger is better, but I have come to prefer these diminutive types and find they are better suited to apartments and small spaces where you may have some trouble finding a place to cram in one of the really big varieties. I also prefer their short stems, which are not tall and floppy and in need of support like the larger types.

Q: Can you tell me a little about the smaller South African hybrids? I’ve got to admit that I’m a little confused by the Amaryllis genera and the origin of the cultivars we grow here in North America. Are these Hippeastrum hybrids or are they hybrids of the South African Amaryllis belladonna?

Dugald: Although Amaryllis belladonna is from South Africa, it isn’t related to the South African grown Amaryllis we offer which are actually hybrids of Hippeastrum, a central and South American native. The breeding work in the smaller South African grown varieties is from crosses among the various Hippeastrum species. Their charm is not only their smaller size, but by potting several together you get a show of many small flowers all together. Besides, it’s always fun to grow something different.

Amaryllis want to bloom in the spring. Fortunately for us, springtime in South Africa is around Christmas here, so for that reason the South African bulbs (aka Southern Hemisphere bulbs) are more reliable about flowering when we want them during the Holidays. The Dutch go through clever techniques to make theirs bloom near Christmas, the peak time for sales. We keep them from flowering early by storing them at 5-8 degrees C and 80% humidity; however, they are unpredictable.

Note: African amaryllis come in different flower sizes that are indicated by musical names (from largest to smallest): Symphony, Sonata, and Sonatini. The smallest look great when grown 3 bulbs to a pot.

Amaryllis Rio Negro Graffiti

‘Rio Negro’ a gorgeous, Dutch cultivar and ‘Grafitti’ one of the diminutive African types. Photos courtesy of Gardenimport.

Q: Can you recommend a few favorite varieties, particularly a few compact and easy-to-grow types for those of us who live in apartments and small spaces?

Dugald: Both Dutch and African are worth growing but I do agree that the little ones are really fun.

As a lover of bulbs, I hate the question of favourites. It’s is kind of asking a parent what their favourite child is. Each variety is unique, preferences depend on ones taste. Nevertheless, I do have some I’m particularly keen on. ‘Trentino‘ is perhaps the top performer of the small amaryllis we offer. Easy to rebloom and a lot of flower per bulb. The real appeal of these smaller ones is in planting several to a pot which gives you a blooming bouquet instead of the gobsmacking huge display of the larger bloomers like ‘Gold Medal‘ which is an amazing performer of the big flowered Africans.

We also offer some of the latest Dutch varieties because of their different colours and flower forms. ‘Evergreen‘ and ‘Rio Negro‘ are great examples of some of the extraordinary flower forms coming from Holland.

Amaryllis Zombie

‘Zombie’ a double flowering, mid-sized (Sonata) African amaryllis. Between the softly undulating petals and hints of green deep inside the folds, the flower has an ethereal quality about it. (Fela Kuti’s politically charged Zombie plays in my head whenever I see the name. I’d love to know the origin of this variety’s name.) Photo courtesy of Gardenimport.

[Gayla Aside: I have grown 'Evergreen' in the past and it is indeed a good choice if you favour boldly green flowers. Dugald sent me a 'Rio Negro' bulb so I will be updating on it later in the season. I love the candy-cane-like stripes complimented by shades of green. He also sent me 'Zombie' (depicted above), a double-form African type that I had to try because, ZOMBIE, as well as a smaller, Sonatini type called 'Graffiti.' I'm not going to lie: a certain percentage of my plant choices are made, at least in part, because of the name. However, I do love their graceful, butterfly-like petals.]

Amaryllis Bulbs

Compare the size of a Dutch bulb next to its smaller African cousins.

Growing Amaryllis Bulbs: Liquid or Soil?

Q: Through my friend Margaret Roach I have learned of gardeners either growing their amaryllis bulbs in a dilute alcohol solution or adding a slightly stronger solution to soil-grown plants to help keep them standing upright. Apparently this also works for paperwhites. Have you tried this? What is your opinion on the practice?

Dugald: I’m not aware of using an alcohol solution with Amaryllis. If a bulb doesn’t grow straight or grows too tall it’s usually due to too little light (daily turning of the pots 1/4 turn will minimize this), too cold (they like it warm – 25 degrees C), or simply an inferior bulb.

However I did learn at a lecture by a professor from Cornell at the 2006 PPA in Montreal that an alcohol solution would indeed keep Paperwhite Narcissus shorter without affecting the flowering. I’ve included the recipe in our catalogue since then under the title “Drinking Stunts Growth”. I’ve updated our Paperwhite Narcissus ‘White Giant’ to include a link to this recipe.

    Dugald’s Paperwhite Brew

    To make a 4-6% solution, add 1 part rubbing alcohol to 7 parts water.

Q: On the topic of growing in liquid, do you prefer growing amaryllis in soil as opposed to water? If yes, can you explain why?

Dugald: I’ve never grown Amaryllis in water but I do know that it certainly isn’t the way to get the best flowers (the International Bulb Society doesn’t recommend it) and bulbs grown this way can’t be flowered again, but must be thrown out.

Coaxing Amaryllis to Bloom Again

Q: Most of us who have had experience growing Amaryllis can usually get it to bloom once — it’s the reblooming that can be challenging. Do you have any special tips for keeping a bulb happy and reblooming over the long term?

Dugald: Cut off the spent flower stalks but keep the foliage and keep your plant growing in a sunny spot until the risks of outdoor frosts are gone and it’s warming up. Move your pot outdoors to a shady location for a few weeks to acclimatize to the different light and temperatures after which you can move it to a bright shade. Feed it with a fertilizer with a higher middle number. The ideal being something like 18-20-16, but anything close to this should be fine.

Stop watering and feeding in late August, bring your pot indoors, cut off all the foliage and place your pot in a dark spot. Laying the pot sideways seems to help (a tip from a customer).

Q: What are the chances of reblooming a bulb if you do not have a place to put it outside for the summer months?

Dugald: Reblooming is a simple process provided you can give your amaryllis what it needs. Light levels indoors may not be sufficient for it to form the next season’s flower but you don’t know until you try. Or you could make friends with a neighbour who has some outdoor space.

Q: Say you have a “friend” who forgot to put their amaryllis into its dormancy period in September, as one should, and it is now November, two months late. Can that “friend” go through all of the same steps (discontinue watering and placing in a cool, dark spot) or is there something else that they can do to prompt the bulb to flower this year? Or are they better off waiting until next September?

Dugald: Your friend probably may not see flower but it may be worth a try. Or they could just keep it growing and try again next year.

More Amaryllis Growing Tips from Gardenimport

  • Never let the bulb freeze.
  • If you are not ready to pot when your bulb arrives, as long as no bud is showing you can keep the bulb in the crisper of your refrigerator.
  • Plant in a tight-fitting pot (about 1″ space between the bulb and pot) with the “shoulder” of the bulb above the soil, using a rich but well-drained commercial potting mix, free of tree bark or fresh manure. Water once, then not again for a week.

Giveaway

To help get you started, I’ve purchased a $25 gift certificate from Gardenimport to give away to one randomly selected winner. To toss your name into the hat, comment below, answering the following question:

What is your favourite amaryllis colour?

As always you can also enter with the words “Count me in.” I’ll select one name at random at midnight EST on Thursday, December 5, 2013. Canadian and Continental US residents only this time around, thanks.

Disclosure: Gardenimport is a year-long a sponsor of this site. The giveaway prize was purchased by me.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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93 thoughts on “Growing Amaryllis with Dugald Cameron (+ Giveaway)

  1. Thanks for this great article. I’ve just finished planting 3 amaryllis and 2 pots of paper whites and can’t wait to watch them grow. I’ve planted indoor buIbs for years but always just the same old grocery type colours but I’m really attracted to the Evergreen. Thanks for all your advice and great ideas. I’m going to be on the lookout for those smaller Amaryllis bulbs as well, love the idea of 3 to a pot.

  2. I love the green ones but my daughter in law gave me a red one last year and I was unexpectedly captivated by it as well.

  3. My first Amaryllis was a gift from a 6 year old student, many years ago. We turned it into a science project in the classroom, graphing daily growth spurts of the stalk on a 4×4 foot piece of roll paper. Fascinating to all who saw the plant and the graph. That single bulb became many, filling a planting tray for years afterward. It was the “Apple Blossom” variety. Eventually I passed it on to a fellow gardener as my interests changed to other bulbs that needed the coveted winter space in the garage. I have never forgotten the excited kindergarten faces, children jumping with glee at an open Amaryllis flower, staring into its depths with concentration. I was also scolded for not watering, which the kids perceived to be the reason why the flowers eventually dried up … another lesson in life cycles.

    • I went with a gift certificate just in case there are any specific geographic- based restrictions. It can be used to purchase anything and beyond this specific season. The catalogue changes seasonally so things like spring seeds are still an option.

  4. I like the look of the Rio Negro. I have an Amaryllis (Apple Blossom) that I have successfully gotten to flower for 3 years now. I’m courageously looking to move on to a new one now that I seem to have the hang of it …….. lol

  5. Thanks for all the great info in this post. I am going to try and save my bulbs this season! I love me a red Amaryllis!

  6. I love the pinks and reds, but this year I think I will try the white with the red stripes. Or a green one for something interesting!

  7. I am quite partial to pink in most flowers, but for Christmas I like the red. That being said, Zombie looks spectacular and I will probably add one to my growing collection of bulbs. Wish it was a big-sized one, though. Imagine that!

  8. In the late 1980s a friend gave me a single amaryllis bulb that was an offspring of hers. I still have it. It still blooms every year in January. From the bottom of the bulb, little bulblets are produced. They will colonize, I share. I don’t know the variety but love it. Atop each stalk are two bright orange flowers with a white throat and a hint of lime green at the very center. They are more delicate in shape and are about the size of a lemon. As much as I love them, it would be nice to have a showier variety for contrast.

    • I like the sound of that colour combo. I also love that you’ve had it since the 80s. Gives me hope that I can get some of mine to survive for a good while.

  9. I’ve always been partial to nostalgic colours in flowers, so traditional red has a lot of appeal, but the various greens are very intriguing.

  10. I agree, anything that flowers this time of year is a gift. My favorite amaryllis is the ivory, soft green and burgandy Chico.

  11. Great post Gayla. Normally I would say red, but I love the picture of Zombie. Two years ago me and friend did a flower arranging workshop with cut amaryllis, they are very versatile for arranging and last about one week after cutting. I have two bulbs growing now, but would love to win the GardenImport certificate. Count me in.

  12. I’m growing Amaryllis for the first time this year (seemed a bit of a luxury) and mine is in bloom right now. It is white with a green throat, and gorgeous pink stripes around the edges of the petals. Really nice, though I’ve seen some other beautiful ones here.

  13. For me it’s a Christmas plant, so red, for sure! I tried putting mine to sleep two years ago for the first time and had beautiful blooms last winter! Sadly the plant met it’s maker this spring. Many thanks for the super post!

  14. OHHH it is so hard to decide. But I would say the pink or beautiful red. Great article thank you for sharing the information.

  15. This is FABULOUS information, especially the part about reblooming!! I have recently become obsessed with the papilio (butterfly) amaryllis. It is so exotic with green and purple colors beyond the normal red and white of the season. This bulb is becoming so irresistible, I just might have to shell out the bucks and try one this year!

    Oh, and count me in!

  16. Although I’m always a fan of a big, bold red, I love green blooms because they demand closer investigation. Green blooms are shy yet beautiful. You’ve got to get close to them, tip them up gently with a finger and peer deep into the blossom. :)

  17. I currently have last years bulb with green leaves. Guess I should have cut them off in Aug. Will do it now and see what happens. Thanks for all the info.

  18. Hard to pick a favorite color but pinks are usually my first choice. I love to see amaryllis bloom in the darkest days of winter. They brighten my days. Count me in and thanks for the wonderful information on the many varieties and on the care of amaryllis.

  19. I really love stripy pink ones, but any amaryllis that is in bloom at my house is my favourite of the moment!

  20. I’ve only grown dark red Amaryllis (which I loved), but I am very tempted to try a green variety. Waiting patiently for my order of species tulips from Gardenimport (Batalini, Salmon Gem). Sadly, the originals I purchased at the Tulip Museum in Amsterdam were unceremoniously taken away by the customs agent at Pearson (I should have known better!).

  21. Love them all but – if really pressed to chose a favorite color – ORANGE is the winner.
    Thanks for the great post about the Amaryllis – I will definitely save it for future reference.

  22. Green…or is it red…but oh my…orange…and then there’s classic white…can I like them all!

  23. Would love to win the gift card. My gardens have fallen out do to some health issues but I got my greenhouse rebuild and would love the gift card to get up and growing again!! (I also love the ‘zombies’!!)

  24. Thanks for the article. I’m guilty of loving and knowing the large blooming amaryllis but now that I’ve seen photos of the African smaller variety, I’m going to try a few. For now, I’ll stick with big beautiful red!

  25. The pink Zombie is breath taking. Count me in! I haven’t grown any Amaryllis in several years but I really enjoy them. I like all colors.

  26. The zombies is gorgeous! When I was a child we were told that talking to amaryllises is what made them grow so fast. :)

  27. Great and informative article, I’m growing my first Amaryllis this year. I can’t say I have a favorite but I find myself drawn to the green and pink varieties.

  28. Gayla I tried my hand at growing an amaryllis last year. “Apple Blossum” was stunning, and made the winter months not so colourless. I am waiting with much anticipation to see if it will bloom again this year. Count me in. Your blog is one of my favorite gardening sites.

  29. I am koo koo for the green ones too, Gayla. I have Evergreen, and I think one called Green Dragon which I loved, but bit the dust. I also love the white ones. Intokazi is spectacular. I love the small reddish-orange ones, that have multiple stems. After lusting after the dark striped Papilio for years, I got one last year. Hope I can get all of mine to rebloom.
    I loved your story about the “friend.” I also have a “friend” who didn’t put her bulbs into dormancy this year. I’ll advise her to try now anyway, to see what happens.

  30. I really love the big dark reds and I have one bulb that regularly gives me at least 6 ( and sometimes more!) large flowers. It is about 10 years old – I think. It is one I grew in my office one Christmas before I retired. I have a friend who has a true orange naturalized in his yard that belonged to his grandmother (San Antonio, Texas); they are prolific medium-sized bloomers. His grandmother collected the bulb from an old graveyard here (plus some wonderful old roses.) He and I are in our late sixties so those are old old varieties. I really want to try some of the mini ones though because I do a lot of faux bonsai (don’t much like gardemomg rules, lol) for my own amusement and gifting.

  31. Crimson red for color fav in depths of winter but would use a gift certificate to purchase Rio Negro . The flower form is so beautifully articulated .

  32. Recently I am germinating an amaryllis plant in my garden and My kids really love the amarylis plants that’s the big reason to plan this bulb in my space area.

  33. I love the white with a red picotee edge in the larger Dutch forms, but the smaller flowers of the papillio types in any color appeals to me too.

  34. Wow! What an amazing group of Amarylis lovers! I have about a dozen bulbs, many of which have rebloomed one or more times. Not usually in love with doubles but that Zombie sure is attractive. Keep on growing.

  35. I’ve never grown Amaryllis, and last year was my first attempt to force bulbs at all (the daffodils never disappoint!) because the hordes of squirrels always feast on whatever I plant outdoors. I’ve never seen these other varieties — mostly only red and white here — and I am so intrigued by Zombie! Just gorgeous. Please count me in!

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