Red Spider Lily: Plant Care & Growing Guide

Plant these late bloomers for stunning flowers when the summer ends

Red spider lily plant with bright red umbel flowers in sunlight closeup

The Spruce / K. Dave

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

Common Name Red spider lily, naked lily, hurricane lily
Botanical Name Lycoris radiata
Family Amaryllidaceae
Plant Type Herbaceous perennialA
Mature Size 1-2 ft. tall, 12-18 in. wide
Sun Exposure Full, partial
Soil Type Well-drained, sandy, loamy
Soil pH Acidic to alkaline
Bloom Time Late summer, early fall
Flower Color Red
Hardiness Zones 6-10 (USDA)
Native Area  Southeast Asia
Toxicity Toxic to humans

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. Pant 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 deep cold.

Otherwise, red spider lily is a care-free plant with no serious disease problems.

Red spider lily plants clustered together with tall stalks and bright red umbels on top

The Spruce / K. Dave

Spider lily plant with bright red umbels in sunlight closeup

The Spruce / K. Dave

Light

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 full sun.

Soil

Plant your red spider lily in soil that is 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.

Water

During the summer when the plant is dormant, the red spider lily does best in dry soil. With its deep roots, it 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.

Fertilizer

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.

Pruning

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

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.

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 8 inches apart in a container as you would in the ground.

How to Get Red Spider Lily to Bloom

Be patient, 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 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.

FAQ
  • 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 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.

Article Sources
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  1. Lycoris radiata. North Carolina State Extension.

  2. Lycoris radiata. North Carolina State Extension.