Care Of Nerine Lily Bulbs: Growing Instructions For Nerines
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By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
If you are searching for a unique little flower to keep your garden company well into the end of the season, try Nerine lilies. These South African natives spring from bulbs and produce blooms with curly petals in pink hues or sometimes white, red, and orange. Site conditions and soil are important information on how to grow Nerine bulbs.
Nerine lily bulbs are not hardy below 38 F. (3 C.), so you should check your gardening zone before planting. You can also treat them as annuals but rather than waste these lovely flowers, pull the bulbs and overwinter them. Growing instructions for Nerine lilies are similar to most summer blooming bulbs.
Nerine Bulb Information
There are nearly 30 species of these bulbs, which are also called Bowden Cornish lily or Japanese spider lily. One fascinating bit of Nerine bulb information is in how they arise. Flowers start first and only after they are spent does the foliage appear. The more commonly grown forms of the bulb are N. bowdenii and N. sarniensis.
Nerine bowdenii is the hardiest of the species and may be grown in USDA zones 7 to 10b. The plants get up to 24 inches tall and around 9 inches wide. Stiff, strangely wiry stems sprout from Nerine lily bulbs in spring, followed by the brilliant blooms with strappy petals that curl gently backwards in fall.
These amazing blooms are usually included in a perennial border or bed. Place them near the back so the flowers can soar above lower growing plants. For gardeners in zones below 7, you will need to bring the bulbs indoors for winter if you wish to save them.
This leads to another of the Nerine uses — as a container ornamental. Plant the bulb in the center of a pot that is at least 18 inches deep and surround it with annuals or other flowering bulbs. If using bulbs, plant a succession of bloomers so you have bright color all season long. Then follow average growing instructions for Nerines.
Pair Nerine lily bulbs with crocosmia, lily of the Nile, tiger lilies and any other summer blooming bulbs.
How to Grow Nerine Lilies
Nerine lily bulbs require excellent drainage and slightly gritty, yet organically rich, soil. Amend the flower bed with generous amounts of compost worked in to increase porosity and nutrient content.
In spring, choose a location in full sun and plant the bulbs with an inch of the slender top above the soil surface. Install bulbs 8 to 11 inches apart for a massed look.
Cut spent flower stems but leave the foliage until the end of the season. If you are a northern gardener, pull up the bulbs and allow them to dry for a day or two. Then pack them in a paper bag, box, or just a nest of peat moss and store them indoors for the winter.
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To determine if a plant is sufficiently cold hardy, the USDA created numbered zones indicating winter low temperatures the lower the zone number the colder the winter.
- If the coldest winter temperature expected in your area is -15°F (zone 5) then any plants rated zones 3-5 will survive the winter temperatures in your area.
- If you live in very warm winter areas (zones 9-11) plants with zones 3-4 ratings are not recommended. The lack of freezing winter temperatures do not provide a time for winter dormancy (rest).
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Also referred to as Jersey Lily or Spider Lily. Plant Nerine bowdenii (Pink Guernsey Lily) in spring, and you will be rewarded with delightful fragrant pink blossoms from summer through frost. A South African native bulb, Nerine Lilies bloom in late summer with large clusters of pink, lily-like flowers. Long-lived, it takes a couple of years to establish and bloom.
Summer Blooming Bulbs, including popular varieties such as gladiolus and dahlias, are planted in the spring and bloom in the summer. Most of these bulbs are tropical and require warm weather to be planted. There must not be any danger of frost and your ground temperature must have reached 55 degrees Fahrenheit before planting. Many of our summer blooming bulbs can be planted as perennials in zones 9-10 (zone 8 if mulched), but should be treated as annuals in cooler climates. You can lift them and store them in the fall, or bring patio pots inside before frost. See page 15 of our Planting Guide for a bulb depth planting illustration.
View more Planting Guides, or download our complete Planting Guide for tips on caring for your plants when you receive your order, as well as planting instructions for Perennials, Spring-Planted Bulbs, Fall-Planted Bulbs, Cacti & Succulents, Xeric Plants and more.
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These elegant, South African natives are amongst Peter Valder’s favourite bulbs. They are hardy, easy to grow and they add a splash of colour to otherwise drab, autumn gardens. Peter particularly likes the white Nerine flexuosa ‘Alba’, but there are many other kinds available.
Nerines should be planted in summer when they are dormant. They like a well-drained, sunny position. Plant the bulbs about 10cm (4″) apart, with the neck of the bulb above the soil. They also do very well planted in pots, and can be brought inside the house when in flower.
Water well during the growing season, but allow them to dry out during the dormant period. Feed occasionally with liquid fertiliser.
Nerine bulbs do not like to be disturbed. Do not lift and divide the clump unless the bulbs are so overcrowded that they are not producing many flowers.
Nerines like a cool to temperate climate.
Nerines shown in our segment:
A strong, vigorous nerine that is very easy to grow. Clusters of pink flowers with reflexed petals and frilly tips are produced in autumn. The strap-shaped leaves do not appear until spring, then die off to make way for more flowers the following autumn. Because its leaves are largely absent during winter, it can withstand lower temperatures than most nerines. There are several colour forms available.
‘Alba’: A beautiful white-flowered nerine. Clusters of up to 15 flowers with narrow, reflexed petals are produced on stems to 60cm (24″) tall. It is a little more difficult to grow than other nerines. The leaves appear at the same time as the flowers and can be damaged if the climate is too cold, but if it’s too hot the plant won’t flower. Most nerines need full sun to grow and flower well, but ‘Alba’ will flower in shade.
Nerine fothergillii var. major:
The large tangerine flowers of this nerine have a golden sheen on each petal. They appear in autumn on 60cm (24″) tall stems.
This plant occurs naturally in the mountains of the Cape Province in South Africa. The flowers are bright red, with reflexed petals and prominent stamens. The strap-like leaves appear after flowering. This nerine is sometimes called the Guernsey lily, because in the seventeenth century bulbs from a shipwreck are said to have washed up and naturalised on the English Channel island of Guernsey.
Nerines can be obtained by dividing a friend’s clump, or by mail order from specialist bulb nurseries such as the ones listed below. They cost $2.50-$4.00.
Nerines: About Guernsey lily or The Bowden lily Flowers
Nerines are popular bulbs grown in many house yards across Australia. They are well suited to the Australian climate by surviving the harshest winter weather conditions. This means that nerines are frost hardy, tough, easy to care for as long as you give them the right cultural requirements. In Australia, these flowering plants are trouble free and will certainly cheer up a cold rainy day. The rules of growing Nerines are they need to be watered during their growing period of autumn and winter and kept perfectly dry during the summer months. Nerines are usually for sale during summer when they are dormant. The leaves and the flower buds will start to appear during the late summer through to winter depending on the exact coloured variety you have. These plants are elegant, colourful and attractive and look attractive when planted in clumps. They require very low maintenance. Nerines take 4 years to flower from seed.
Flower, Leaves And Characteristics Of Nerines
Nerines are flowering plants that belong to the Amaryllidaceae family. Even though they are called lilies, they are not true lilies and resemble the Lycoris and Amaryllis. The bulbs have a very short neck. They have a common name of Guernsey lily or Bowden lily. These bulbous perennial bare funnel shaped flowers before the leaves during winter. Each spherical umbel contains 6 or 8 individual flowers, each flower having 6 colourful narrow recurved petals that radiate outwards with wavy edges. These flowers are found in a variety of shades from pure white, pale pink to deep rose pink through to crimson to scarlet red. They have glittering gold and silver dustings just like some daylilies. This is seen on the red petal forms. In Australia, the Nerines flower in March and love to grow in cool and in subtropical climate areas.
Here is a list of the common varieties of nerines that you see in people’s gardens around Australia.
- Nerine Winter Cheer has a rich pink flower.
- Nerine Bowdenii is an old time favourite, lolly pink flowers grow on leafless stems to 50cm long.
- Nerine Rosa has a soft pink flower.
- Nerine Fothergill Major have bright orange scarlet red blooms peppered in gold dust. Grows to 50cm.
- Nerine Sarniensis have diamond dusted flower heads of cerise red height 45 to 50cm.
- Nerine Alba is pure white variety is just beautiful growing in my garden it grows a little taller than the other varieties usually in flower in autumn around mother’s day.
Caring For Nerines
Nerines are very low maintenance, which means then need next to no care, maybe clean up the dead foliage and flowering stalks once they die down and propagate them by division. Only divide the bulbs when it is necessary and this is when they do not flower.
Planting The Nerines
From my experience Nerine bulbs do extra well planted close to the trunk of deciduous trees. If planting under trees don’t mound the dirt up around the tree it is not good for the tree. Just like fritillaria meleagris, narines need to be planted somewhere where they will not receive any water during the summer months. Nerines are very versatile they will grow well in pots and containers. You can move the pots around and place them on a patio or a veranda when they are in full bloom. But remember these bulbs do not like to be disturbed while in the ground. If the bulbs are lifted and replanted they will not flower for 2 years. Dividing the bulbs must be undertaken only when you feel that they have become overcrowded and this can take many years. So if you live in an extra cold climate and have to lift the bulbs each year chances are you will never see your nerines bloom. Under these circumstances, it is best to grow them in pots. They will rarely flower if they are planted in deep shady areas in the winter.
How To Plant?
- Planting them in sunny areas will ensure that the plant flowers well.
- Prepare the soil to plant your new Nerine bulbs during summer.
- Choose a sunny position or an area around a deciduous trunk of a tree .
- Add some well rotted manure to your existing soil and dig it in well.
- Plant the bulbs in the soil with the neck pointing upwards and the neck of the bulb should be fully exposed above the ground level.
- Each bulb should be placed at least 10 cm apart. Water well around the bulb after planting.
- You can also plant the Nerine bulbs in containers. Apart from using a well drained soil, make sure that you add organic compost some quality potting mix and some river sand mixed together to the planting container to improve the growth of the plant.
- Adding fertiliser by scattering blood and bone after flowering is also a good option and can never hurt.
Nerines are so laid back I never ever fertilise mine I planted them in good soil to start them off 10 or more years ago. I have never ever done anything to them since, yet they burst into bloom every year. They are white nerines growing under a big claret ash tree where they put on a mass display every year. Under the tree where they are growing is full of tree surface roots. This is one of my experiences growing these colourful garden bulbs. It sounds like neglect doesn’t it…..
Mulch your plants once they have finished blooming as this will provide winter protection whilst retaining moisture levels and suppressing weeds. Nerine are intolerant to disturbance so once they are planted out, avoid transplanting them if you can. They do not need pruning, although you may wish to cut off spent flower heads to neaten the plants overall appearance.
Nerine bowdenii blooming
Nerine is a genus of 25-30 species of bulbs native to South Africa. These plants in the amaryllis family (Amaryllidaceae) have been widely hybridized and are now cultivated world wide. The common names Guernsey lily or spider lily are sometimes applied to the entire genus.
N. bowdenii, from the KwaZulu-Natal Drakensberg and Eastern Cape Province, is a summer-growing species which flowers late in the season and is deciduous in winter. It is similar to pink surprise lily (Lycoris squamigera), but is not as hardy as that plant, surviving outdoors only into zone 7. It has been awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit (AGM).
Early spring growth
In late winter or early spring, several strap-shaped leaves are produced from the bulb. The ½ to 1″ wide medium- green leaves are not very stiff, so tend to flop over when they get longer. The plant remains in leaf through the summer. In late summer or early fall, the leaves will begin to gradually die back.
Late in the season, just when you think nothing is going to happen this year and often before all the foliage has died back, each bulb produces a single, leafless 1-2 foot tall scape with a cluster of flowers at the top. There are four to 10 funnel-shaped flowers in each umbel. The individual flowers are about 2″ inches across, with six narrow, strap-like recurved petals with wavy-edges and prominent pink stamens and anthers. This species blooms in shades of pink from very pale to almost neon, and occasionally white. There are a few named cultivars, including ‘Alba’ (white), ‘Mark Fenwick’ and ‘Pink Triumph’ (larger flowers) but they may not be readily available.
Buds emerge from the bulbs (L), elongate (LC), and burst open to reveal several flowers (RC), each with recurved petals once open (R)
The faintly scented inflorescences make great cut flowers. But if not deadheaded or used as cut flowers, the plants may produce large, round green seeds.
Nerine in full bloom
Because these plants will not survive Wisconsin winters and also bloom late in the fall (often well after regular frosts), they are best grown as container plants. Use a rich, well-drained growing medium, and set the bulbs with the neck well above the soil level so only about half the bulb is buried. Place the bulbs 2-3 inches apart. The bulbs can be left in the same pot for several years, as they bloom best when crowded. Water freely when the plants have foliage but do not water when the bulbs are dormant. Nerines do not need much fertilization, so apply dilute fertilizer only once or twice a season when the leaves are actively growing. Place the container in full sun during the growing season. It can be moved to another location once in bloom, if desired. Although they will tolerate a light frost, it is best to move the plants indoors (at least temporarily during cold nights) to prevent damage to the flowers. Once the bulbs go dormant, the pot can be stored in a cool basement until spring without any water.
Nerine is easy to propagate by division after flowering or when dormant, although they bloom best when crowded so regular division is not necessary or recommended. Bulbs will often delay blooming for a year after being divided. Plants will also set viable seed if the flowers are pollinated. The large, fleshy seeds should be sown when fresh they will germinate in storage. The seedlings can remain in leaf through the winter and following growing season. It will take 3-4 years before the seedlings will bloom.
Seeds form after flowers are pollinated (L and C). Seeds germinate quickly after dropping from the plant (R).
N. sarniensis is another species that is sometimes available. It also blooms in the late summer or fall, but loses all its leaves in midsummer. It then produces new leaves as the flower stalks are produced and remains in leaf through the winter (making it harder to keep over the winter than the deciduous N. bowdenii that goes dormant in winter). These two species have been used extensively in breeding many of the new hybrids.
– Susan Mahr, University of Wisconsin – Madison
Nerine Uses In The Landscape - How To Grow Nerine Lilies - garden
Many new and interesting hybrids have been created in this genus. Of particular interest are the Nerine sarniensis and N. bowdenii hybrids that have been bred and propagated across the entire globe. What a wonderful bulb the Nerine is! Generally easy to cultivate, dying down when finished it's cycle, rewarding us with many blooms reminding us that they are still there in the same spot and quite happy to share their beauty with as annually.
Nerine are by far one of the most popular bulbs in the world. Foliage and flower types vary considerably. One can easily landscape with different Nerine species. Nerine bowdenii with strap-like medium green leaves at the back row, N. krigei with it's twisted foliage in the middle row and N. masoniorum with thread like foliage at the front row just for example.
|Pictured left is Nerine angulata from Mt. Thomas, RSA. An easy to grow Nerine, this one can handle a range of conditions, both in soil and water content. It is a very versatile species indeed. Growing up here in the mountains, it looks so serene waving around in the breeze. What an excellent way to spend the day, fining such beauties as these high above the worries of the world.|
Another interesting habitat of Nerine angulata, below, is by the water near Cathcart, RSA. Seen here along the banks, it is obvious that this species can handle lots of water! Well, at least form can anyway. And herein lies one of the secrets to cultivating species bulbs. Find out where they come from and what conditions are they in. Soil, rainfall and position of the bulb are all important factors when cultivating species.
Below, a rare and not too often seen from of Nerine. N. laticoma ssp. sandersonii. Not the best image sorry. Still, one can see that this is a truly eligible candidate for breeding potential. Large leaves, tall peduncle and showy bloom. All the necessaries for a parent or pollen plant. This plant closely resemble Nerine laticoma in growth.
A disk of images and cultivation information called 'East Cape Bulbs' is available from Cameron McMaster. This disk is a highly informative and extremely pictorial collection, captured by Cameron whilst collecting seeds out in the field. Cameron McMaster is one of South Africa's most noted naturalists, whose enthusiasm shines through on this information available. His love of the plants and the surrounding environment resounds through this disk. I consider myself very lucky to have a friendship with such a dedicated and personable gentleman.