If you want to add late season color and interest to your garden, why not try the red spider lily?
This is a distinctive flowering bulb that attracts scores of pollinators, butterflies, bees and birds to the garden. The plants also reliably provide you with color and interest just when other flowering bulbs are fading for the year.
An ideal choice for interplanting or combining with other annuals and perennials, if you want to learn more about the red spider lily, this guide will take you through everything that you need to know.
This attractive flower draws late season pollinators to your garden.
What is Red Spider Lily?
Part of the Amaryllidaceae or Amaryllis plant family, these attractive ornamental plants are herbaceous perennial flowering bulbs. Native to Asia, today the plants are naturalized in the southeastern United States.
A fast, vigorous spreading plant, the red spider lily is not currently considered invasive. Also known as the hurricane lily or naked lily, one of the main attractions of these plants is that they burst into flower just as other plants start to fade from their summer displays.
Laying dormant during the summer months, red spider lily bulbs send up tall flower stalks that hold umbels of bright scarlet flowers from late August to October. Each bulb can produce up to 4 floral stems meaning that you don’t need a lot of bulbs to create an eye-catching display.
Flowers typically last for around 2 weeks, gradually fading from bright scarlet to a light pink hue. As the flowers fade, foliage emerges. This dies away as the fall turns to winter. However, growers in warmer regions may find that the foliage remains on the plant throughout the winter months before dying back in spring.
These bulbs produce distinctive flowers on tall stems.
As well as being an attractive plant, the red spider lily is also quick growing. The plants can produce 1 ft of growth in just seven days. Mature plants typically achieve a height of 1 to 2 ft and spread around 18 inches wide.
Warning, like other members of the amaryllis family, red spider lily bulbs contain lycorine compounds. These are mildly toxic to both humans and animals. Wear work gloves when handling the bulbs and always wash your hands afterwards. If you have pets, planting the bulbs in containers or planters elevates them out of harm’s reach.
Types of Red Spider Lily
Unlike some flowering bulbs there is little choice when selecting a variety of red spider lily. The bulbs are often sold in pure species form from one of two naturally occurring variations. These are:
- Lycoris Radiata Var. Radiata is a sterile plant that doesn’t produce seed. Instead it focuses its energy on flowering and bulb production. A vigorous spreading plant, Lycoris Radiata Var. Radiat is suitable for naturalizing.
- Lycoris Radiata Var Pumila is a smaller plant. Less common than its larger relative it produces seeds.
In addition to these pure species, there are some cultivars available. These include
- Red Sunset which produces scarlet-pink flowers,
- Fire Engine, this cultivar is popular for its classic, bright scarlet flowers.
Finally, as well as the red spider lily you will also find the white, yellow and blue tipped pink flowering varieties.
Different colored varieties are also available.
Where to Plant
Getting your planting position right is important. If your bulbs aren’t planted in a favorable, sunny position they will struggle to grow and flower. It is vital that you get your planting position right the first time, these bulbs don’t like being disturbed.
The red spider lily is hardy in USDA Zones 6 to 10. In colder climates the plants are best planted in pots and moved undercover during the colder winter months or treated as annuals.
Red spider lily bulbs are best planted in a well-draining soil. A sandy or loamy soil is ideal. The plants tolerate mild to moderate alkaline and acidic soils but won’t cope in soils that are too extreme. A soil test kit can be used to discover the pH level of your soil as well as revealing any nutrient deficiencies that are present in the soil. These issues should be resolved before planting.
Finally, the soil should be rich in organic matter such as well-rotted manure or compost. This can be worked into the soil before planting.
Healthy bulbs are best planted in a full sun or partial sun position. In colder regions plant in a sheltered position to help protect the bulbs from the deep cold. For example, in a south facing bed in the shelter of a wall is a sunny position that wont get as cold as other areas of the garden during the winter.
How to Plant
Work in any necessary amendments and weed the soil before planting your red spider lily bulbs.
A good weed puller can help to speed up this task.
To plant, dig a hole in the soil large enough to hold the bulb. When placed in the hole the neck of the bulb should sit level with, or sit slightly above, soil level. Center the bulb in the hole and backfill. The tip of the neck should remain exposed. Covering the bulb completely or planting too deeply can impact on flowering.
Firm down the soil and water well.
Red spider lily bulbs look best in groups. Spacing the bulbs 6 to 8 inches apart gives the bulbs room to grow whilst also ensuring a full floral display.
Planting in Pots
You can also grow healthy bulbs in pots. Pick a large, deep pot to allow for the plants extensive root growth. Pots at least 18 inches are perfect for these plants. While they may produce foliage, the bulbs are unlikely to set flower if the pot is too small.
Fill the pot with a rich, well draining potting soil and plant as described above. The bulbs should sit, pointed end up, close to the top of the surface. When the hole is backfilled the pointy tip of the bulb should stick slightly out of the soil.
Space your bulbs 6 to 8 inches apart.
Despite spacing out, new bulbs will form causing a clump of flowers to develop.
Bulbs growing in pots require repotting on a regular basis to prevent overcrowding. Overcrowded bulbs are unlikely to flower. Repotting is best done during the summer months, when the bulbs are dormant.
To repot, gently dig the bulbs out of the soil, aim to take as much of the root system as you can. Replant some of the bulbs in the pot. This is also a good time to work some fresh compost or potting soil into the pot, ensuring that your bulbs are always sitting in a fertile growing medium. The excess bulbs can either be planted in other pots or gifted to friends and family.
How to Care for Red Spider Lily Plants
In the right position these are pleasingly low maintenance plants. Just a little regular care is all that is required for the plants to grow and produce eye-catchingly attractive flowers.
When to Water
As with other bulb flowering plants, it is important not to overwater your floral bulbs. Too much water can cause the bulbs to soften and rot.
When the bulbs are active, this means producing foliage or flowers, try to keep the soil moist. Don’t allow the soil to dry out too much. This means watering as needed. On average, an inch of water a week should be enough if it hasn’t rained. During wet spells there may be no need to water the bulbs.
Plants growing in pots require more frequent watering than those growing in the ground. Self-watering pots are a great idea if you struggle to keep up with your watering routine.
During the summer months, when the bulbs are dormant, there is no need to water unless your garden is experiencing a particularly dry spell. Red spider lily bulbs set out deep roots; this enables them to survive dry periods by drawing water that is stored deep down in the soil.
Do I Need to Fertilize?
A regular dose of fertilizer encourages growth and flowering. In the spring apply a dose of nitrogen rich fertilizer. This provides all the nutrients that the bulbs need for late summer and fall growth.
A tomato fertilizer, such as Espoma Tomato Plant Food is high in nitrogen and can be safely used on your red spider lily plants. Exactly how much fertilizer you apply depends on the product. Read the information on the side of the packet before applying.
Once flowering has finished apply a fertilizer that is rich in both potassium and phosphorus. Alternatively you can give the bulbs a dose of Miracle-Gro All Purpose plant food. A water soluble product, it is easily incorporated into your watering routine.
Feeding the plants now, at the end of the flowering season, encourages root development and improves hardiness, meaning that the bulbs are better able to survive the winter.
When to Prune
A low maintenance flowering bulb, there is no need to regularly prune your red spider lily.
Allow yellowing foliage to remain on the plant. While it may look unsightly, yellowing foliage is still playing an important role, helping the plant to take on nutrients.
Allow the foliage to yellow and wither before pruning.
Wait until the foliage is completely withered and dried up before using garden scissors to cut the leaves from the bulb. When cutting away the foliage try to cut around 1 inch above soil level.
Be careful not to damage the bulb when pruning.
How to Overwinter Red Spider Lily
In warmer areas, the red spider lily should survive the winter without any extra protection. In colder areas, USDA planting zones 6 and 7, or if an unexpected cold spell is forecast protect the bulbs by adding a thick layer of organic mulch to the soil above the bulbs. This can be placed over the bulbs as soon as the last of the foliage has dried up and been cut from the plant.
While synthetic mulches are effective, organic mulches have the added benefit of slowly breaking down over time, adding nutrients to the soil and boosting your plants growth.
Pull back the mulch in spring to allow bulbs to flower.
Remember to pull back any remaining mulch in the spring.
If you are growing the bulbs in pots, you can overwinter them by simply moving the pots inside or into a greenhouse for the winter months. Placing your pots on a Gartol Metal Plant Caddy enables you to easily move them around the garden.
In the spring, remember to harden off the bulbs before fully returning the pots to their usual position.
How to Propagate the Red Spider Lily
Unlike many flowers, the red spider lily does not produce seed. This means that the only way to propagate the plants is to dig up large, mature bulb clumps and divide. Not only does this provide you with new bulbs for free it also helps to rejuvenate the bulbs, improving foliage and flower production.
Don’t attempt to divide your bulb clumps every year. Instead allow the bulb clumps to grow and mature for a number of years. Only when the clump is suitably large enough, or the red spider lilies start to outgrow their space, it is time to divide.
Divisions can either be planted in other areas of your garden, discarded onto a compost pile or gifted to plant loving friends and family.
Divisions are best made in the summer when the bulbs are dormant.
Begin by watering the soil. This helps to loosen the soil around the roots, making lifting the bulbs a lot easier. Use a spade to gently dig around the clump before lifting it from the ground. You can use a spade or garden fork to lift a large clump.
Separate the red spider lily bulbs from the clump by gently pulling or twisting apart. Soft or damaged bulbs should be discarded. Replant the healthy bulbs in suitable growing sites, planting as described above.
Space the small bulbs 6 inches apart and water well. Depending on their size and how many roots the bulbs have they may not flower for the first year after dividing. Continue to care for the bulbs and they should flower in the second year.
Preventing Pests and Diseases
In addition to their attractive flowers, one of the main attractions of the red spider lily is its lack of any real problems. Not only are the plants largely pest and disease free they are also deer resistant.
While problems are rare, you should still regularly check the plants for any signs of infestation or disease such as powdery mildew. Pests can be washed from the leaves with a garden hose or an application of neem oil.
Check the flowers and foliage for signs of infestation or disease.
One of the few serious issues that can develop is bulb rot. This is usually caused by overwatering your bulbs or planting in poorly draining soil. Working in sand or compost can help to improve drainage.
If you find that you tend to overwater your plants, or struggle to know how often to water them, a soil moisture sensor is a great investment. This reliably tells you how wet or dry your soil is, enabling you to work out exactly when to water and helping to prevent issues such as root rot from developing.
Why Isn’t My Red Spider Lily Flowering?
The main attraction of the red spider lily is its flowers. However, if you want flowers to form you must be patient. It can take a few years for small bulbs or offsets to grow and mature. Until they are mature these bulbs won’t set flower.
As long as they are healthy your mature red spider lily bulbs should send up stalks from their leaf cluster in August or September. Exactly when the plants flower depends slightly on your climate and how sheltered their growing position is.
If healthy, mature bulbs fail to flower it could be because they are not receiving enough light. Not planting your red spider lily bulbs in a light enough position can cause them to struggle to grow and flower.
If light isn’t an issue a failure to flower could be caused by planting the bulbs too deeply in the soil. The top of the bulb should sit just below or in line with the top of the soil.
Exposure to severe weather during the winter months can cause the bulbs to skip flowering the following year. This is a form of self-preservation; the bulb is ensuring it has enough energy and strength to survive.
If the following winter is not too severe, flowering should resume. Fertilizing the bulbs and mulching the soil in the winter helps to protect the bulbs and ensure a healthy floral display.
In short, if planted in rich soil, in a sunny position healthy red spider lily bulbs will, with a regular dose of fertilizer and drink of water, flower profusely year after year.
With the right care and in a favorable position red spider lily bulbs can last for decades, consistently producing attractive, colorful blooms year after year. Now that you know how easy it is to care for the red spider lily, why not add some bulbs to your garden?
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.