Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southern Coasts
October, 2000
Regional Report

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Magnificent Lycoris aurea blooms in October in my garden.

My Best Bulbs

I love bulbs - from garlic and shallots to jonquils and tulips. Now is bulb time in our region. You can plant all but the most tender bulbs sometime between now and December for blooms next year.

Bulb Soil Setup

To avoid compaction in clay soil and because I intend bulbs to stay in place for years, I amend my soil well before planting. I mix peat moss into the soil, because it's long lasting. However, peat moss alone makes the soil too wet, so I also add ground bark and leaf mold for better drainage in the bulb beds. I till up 2 inches of native soil, top it with a total of 4 inches in combination of peat, bark, and leaf mold, sprinkle on some lime, and till it all together very well.

Better Than Apples

Of all the bulbs, I love Lycoris best. My oldest plant relationship is with the spider lily (Lycoris radiata). Spider lilies have wax-petaled, coral red flowers with long, curled anthers. The autumns of my childhood were marked by the start of school and Jewish New Year, a good rain or two, and shortly after that, the bare stems and bright flowers of the spider lily dotting the lawn. I'd pick as many as I could in full bloom, and my mama would place them on the table in an old crockery pitcher, usually with yellow goldenrod and fragrant white butterfly ginger. For me, and now my kids, the spider lilies are better than apples when it comes to buttering up teachers. Grab a few oozy stems, wrap a paper towel around them, and secure them with a bit of plastic wrap or aluminum foil. The flowers will easily survive the bus ride to school and will last a week in water.

More Naked Ladies

The bulbs that bloom before sending up leaves are often called "naked ladies." Magic lily (L. squamigera) is nowhere near as reliable a bloomer as the spider lily, but nothing beats it for spring fragrance and pinky-lavender color. The trumpets are better defined than those of the spider lilies and bear a resemblance to those of Amaryllis belladonna. Lycoris is tidier in the garden, however. Hurricane lily (L. africana) does seem to send up its yellow flowers right after a storm many times, but it blooms in dry seasons, too, without much added irrigation.

My Favorite Lycoris

My current favorite Lycoris blazes with deep yellow glory in October. I'm hypnotized by the combination of trumpets and anthers that form in this flower in a huge whirl atop stems about a half inch thick. A gift from a true plant nut, the bulbs were labeled L. aurea, but I've seen the same flower listed as L. traubii. The blooms seem to grow from nowhere, and sure enough, the whole plant emerges, stems first, then after the fabulous flowers fade, a clump of strappy leaves marks the spot until late spring. Then the Lycoris go dormant to reappear as the original "bare naked ladies" in fall. Dig up clumps or plant these bulbs between November and March.

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