Passion for Red Spider Lilies

Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Red spider lilies are an unparalleled autumn treat. These bulbs and others of similar habit are often called ‘naked ladies’, because they bloom wildly on bare, completely leafless, stems. But the red spiders strike me as more macho than that name implies. They have sturdy stems and strong colors, and are very independent. They are Indiana Jones, garden adventurers who merrily strike out from their original planting site. Long-lived and able to survive under almost all conditions, Lycoris radiata really struts his stuff in well-drained, cultivated soils. The whirling dervishes can last a week atop their stems in the garden or cut for the vase. Soon after flowering, up comes a dapper clump of dark green leaves that puff up until late spring, then disappear to nourish the roots, new bulbs, and flowers. While the leaves are on, and if you want to encourage them, fertilize the plants with compost or a flower garden formula. You can also move or divide clumps while they are in leaf; replant right away and keep watered. After a wet day or two in late summer, watch for the red spiders to pop up wherever they please. It might be where you planted them last year or a decade ago and/or other places you didn’t expect. They’re unpredictable, like some men I’ve known, but just as delightful wherever they appear. I inherited red spider lilies from an unknown benefactor, who planted them somewhere on the acre in the middle of the last century. Each fall we celebrate the first sighting with a proper bouquet that includes roses and blackeyed Susans, ornamental grasses, or the spiders all alone. Like the plants themselves, the flowers are compatible with everything, but capable of making quite a statement all on their own. Shop for spider lily bulbs to plant this year for flowers next year and far into the future, and consider the dear golden spiders, too, even though they don’t spread like the reds. Be comforted knowing the bulbs will be dramatic in the fall garden, and don’t mind the price!
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