When many other plants are slowly shutting down for winter, the red spider lily is just getting started. After its summer dormancy, this member of the amaryllis family sends up tall flower stalks with umbels of bright red flowers. Each bulb should produce up to four stems which will sprout from late August to October, then grow over a foot in about seven days. They last for about two weeks and gradually fade to a lighter pinkish hue.
Although it is a native of Asia, the red spider lily has adapted and become naturalized in the southeastern United States. Though not considered invasive, it is a fast and vigorous spreader and a good choice to interplant with annuals and perennials in spots where you want a vibrant splash of color in the late summer and early fall.
Be aware that red spider lily, like other members of the Amaryllis family, contains lycorine compounds that are mildly toxic to humans and pets.
|Common Name||Red spider lily, naked lily, hurricane lily|
|Botanical Name||Lycoris radiata|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous, perennial|
|Mature Size||1-2 ft. tall, 12-18 in. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full, partial|
|Soil Type||Well-drained, sandy, loamy|
|Soil pH||Acidic, neutral alkaline|
|Bloom Time||Summer, fall|
|Hardiness Zones||6-10 (USDA)|
|Toxicity||Toxic to humans, toxic to pets|
Red Spider Lily Care
When selecting a location for red spider lilies, make sure it will be permanent because the plants do not like to be moved. Plant the bulbs so that the necks rise just above ground level, spaced 6 to 12 inches apart. Avoid fully burying the bulbs, as this can affect the plant's ability to flower. They prefer well-drained soil and full afternoon sun. In colder regions, it helps to plant the bulbs in sheltered locations to protect them from the deep cold.
Otherwise, the red spider lily is a carefree plant with no serious disease problems.
Red spider lilies can grow in full sun to part shade. For best flowering, however, part shade is best. Also, in a partially shady location, it tends to bloom earlier than in the full sun.
Plant your red spider lily in soil rich in organic matter and well drained. Plant each bulb about 8 inches apart, with the top neck of the bulb just protruding above the ground, which will encourage good flowering.
During the summer—when the plant is dormant—the red spider lily does best in dry soil. With its deep roots, this lily can tap into water reserves deep in the soil. Overwatering during the summer can lead to bulb rot.
Once the growing season has begun—which you can tell from the buds forming—the soil should be kept moderately moist but not saturated. In the absence of rain, water the plant as needed. In average soil, the standard "1 inch per week" rule is more than sufficient for this plant to flourish.
Temperature and Humidity
Red spider lily is reliably hardy in zones 6 to 10, but in zones 6 and 7 it is best to protect the leaves and exposed bulbs from winter freezes with a layer of mulch. After its bloom, the red spider lily develops new leaves, which in warmer regions will be evergreen and persist throughout the winter until they die back in the spring. The plant will then go dormant until new growth begins in summer.
In the spring, add a high-nitrogen fertilizer, which will provide the plant with the nutrients it needs for its late summer and fall growth. After the bloom, add a fertilizer that is high in potassium and phosphorus to encourage root growth and improve winter hardiness.
Types of Red Spider Lily
The plant has different names, each describing a special feature. The flowers appear before the evergreen leaves unfurl, hence the name “naked lily.” The name “spider lily” comes from the stamens of the flowers that resemble spider legs. In Florida, the bloom coincides with hurricane season, earning it the name “hurricane flower.” This plant is quite often sold in pure species form, in one of two naturally occurring variations:
- Lycoris radiata var. radiata is sterile and thus does not form seeds so it can spend all its energy blooming and producing bulbs, by which it spreads fast and vigorously. It is the most suitable for naturalizing.
- Lycoris radiata var. pumila is a smaller, less common variety that reproduces by seeds.
In addition to the natural genetic variations of the species, there are also two popular cultivars to consider:
- 'Fire Engine': This cultivar has classic, bright red flowers.
- 'Red Sunset': This variety offers flowers with a more reddish-pink hue.
It's important to know when to prune the red spider lily. Though they do not really need any pruning, you may be tempted to clean up their appearance. Do not prune the flower when its foliage is yellowing. That is the time when the bulb is receiving nutrients to make its best blooms in the next year. Instead, wait until the foliage is completely withered and dried up before pruning.
Propagating Red Spider Lily
The red spider lily does not produce any seeds and is reproduced through bulbs. When spider lilies have developed large clumps or outgrown their space, you can carefully divide them and replant the bulbs in other locations. Do this in the summer when the plants are dormant. Depending on how many roots the bulbs have, they do not bloom the same year or the next until they are fully established. Here's how:
- Water the bulbs to loosen the soil.
- Use a spade and gently dig up the bulbs.
- Separate the bulbs by pulling them apart.
- Replant the bulbs in suitable growing sites, spacing at least 6 inches apart, and water.
Potting and Repotting Red Spider Lily
If your local winter is too cold for red spider lilies in a perennial flower bed, you can grow them in containers filled with organically rich soil. The containers must be very large and deep to allow for expansive root growth. The plants won’t bloom if the container is too small. Plant the bulbs right side up (pointy end), so they are just sticking up through the soil, which will encourage flowering. Space bulbs 6 to 8 inches apart in a container as you would in the ground.
If you live in the coldest parts of the spider lily’s growing zones (zones 6 and 7), you should add a layer of mulch around your plants during the fall for overwintering to help protect the bulbs. If you've planted them in containers, simply bring them indoors to protect them during the winter, just make sure that they're in an area where pets and small children can't get into them due to their toxicity.
How to Get Red Spider Lily to Bloom
Be patient, as it can take a year or two for this plant to mature and flower, especially when propagating new plants with small offsets that are split off from the main bulb. Healthy, mature bulbs will normally produce flowers from stalks that quickly shoot up from the leaf clusters in August or September.
Provided the plants are getting enough sun, the most common reason for a red spider lily failing to bloom is because the bulbs are planted too deep. Try replanting them so the necks of the bulbs just barely protrude up from the ground.
Unusually severe winters can cause these bulbs to temporarily refuse to flower. Provided the temperatures were not too severe, the plants normally return to a typical bloom pattern in subsequent seasons. However, extreme cold may permanently kill the bulbs.
These plants also need rich soil, and twice-a-year feeding—in spring and just after blooming is completed—will help ensure good flowering.
Common Pests and Diseases
The red spider lily has no known pests or diseases. It is also deer-resistant. Just be careful not to overwater or it can develop bulb rot. The one thing this lily attracts is a lot of pollinators. Bees, butterflies, and birds flock to the red spider lily when it is in bloom.
How long do red spider lily bulbs live?
Unlike many hybrid bulbs, red spider lily bulbs do not decline over time, provided they are properly fed. You can maintain red spider lily bulbs for decades, though it is necessary to lift and split off the offsets periodically, as clumps become overgrown. If parent bulbs become soft or develop rot, they can be discarded in favor of continuing the lineage with the offset bulbs.
Will red spider lilies bloom twice in the same year?
No. After its initial bloom, which lasts for about two weeks, this plant will not send up new flower stalks until the following year. Deadheading does not prompt another flush of flowers with this plant.
What do I do with a potted red spider lily plant after it blooms?
In the regions where it is hardy, the foliage on red spider lilies remains evergreen through the winter. Allow the leaves to remain in place, as this will help the bulbs restore themselves. The yellowed leaves can be removed in the spring, then the pot can be set aside in a sheltered, dry location until summer, when new growth will begin.