How to Grow and Care for the Spider Lily (Lycoris)

Red spider lilies (Lycoris radiata) shot from below against a bright blue sky.

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The Spider lily (Lycoris) gets its name from its striking blooms. Thin, delicate petals and long stamens result in blooms that resemble spider legs. The large, 8- to 10-inch blooms emerge on tall, naked stems in the late summer to fall with no prior foliage to indicate they are coming. This unique feature has led to other common names for the Lycroris genus which include “surprise lilies” and “magic lilies”.

Despite their common names, spider lilies are not true lilies at all and are actually a part of the Amaryllis family. Similar to Amaryllis plants, spider lilies are dormant in the summer months with blooms and foliage that last throughout the fall and winter.

These bulbous perennials are wonderful in the garden and also last exceptionally well as cut flowers. If you are looking for beautiful, low-maintenance flowers that will add a pop of color to your garden, spider lilies are a great choice

 Botanical Name Lycoris
 Common Name Spider lily, surprise lily, magic lily, resurrection lily, naked lily, hurricane lily
 Plant Type  Perennial
 Mature Size  12-32 inches tall
 Sun Exposure Full sun, partial sun 
 Soil Type Well-draining 
 Soil pH Alkaline
 Bloom Time Late summer, fall 
 Flower Color White, yellow, red, pink, blue, purple 
 Hardiness Zones 6 to 9 (USDA) 
 Native Area China & Japan 
 Toxicity Toxic to pets, toxic to dogs, toxic to cats
Close up shot of a white spider lily (Lycoris)
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Spider Lily (Lycoris) Care

Spider lilies are low-maintenance perennials that add a pop of color to any garden. Unlike most perennials, spider lilies are dormant in the summer months and should not be watered or disturbed during this time. Normally this means that spider lilies should be planted away from any existing garden irrigation systems to avoid accidental watering during the summer.

Spider lilies are not prone to any serious pests or diseases and do not require pruning. 

Light

Spider lilies flower best in full sun to part shade. Choose a location that receives at least 5-6 hours of direct sun throughout the day.

Soil

Spider lilies require soil that is well-draining, and they do best with alkaline pH levels. Amending the soil on an annual basis with bark, compost, and mulch will help to keep the soil healthy and provide adequate drainage.

Water

In their active growing period, spider lilies have moderate water needs and the soil should be kept consistently moist to encourage vigorous growth. Avoid saturating the soil, however, as Lycoris species are prone to bulb rot.

Spider lilies should not be watered after their foliage dies off in the spring until they flower in the late summer to early fall.

Temperature and Humidity

The spider lily is hardy in USDA zones 6-9, but doesn't tolerate cold temperatures well and can suffer when winter temperatures dip below 28 degrees Fahrenheit. If you live in a region that experiences cold winters, protect the bulb and evergreen foliage from freezing temperatures with a thick layer of mulch.

Fertilizer

In the early spring, spider lilies benefit from an application of high nitrogen fertilizer, such as an 8-2-4, to encourage blooming after their dormant period. In the autumn after flowering, spider lilies should be fed with a high phosphorus fertilizer, such as a 3-5-4, to help them survive the winter cold.

Are Spider Lilies Toxic?

Spider lily bulbs contain the poison lycorine, making them toxic to humans, cats, and dogs if ingested. While the bulbs have relatively low doses of this alkaloid toxin, and serious complications such as convulsions or even death are rare, homeowners with pets or children should exercise caution with spider lilies in the garden. On a positive note, due to the presence of lycorine - spider lilies are both rodent and deer resistant.

Symptoms of Spider Lily Poisoning

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Convulsions
  • Excessive salivation
  • Death (in serious, rare cases)

Spider Lily (Lycoris) Varieties

There are more than twenty different varieties of spider lily, but the following are some of the most popular: 

  • White spider lily (Lycoris albiflora)
  • Golden spider lily (Lycoris aurea)
  • Red spider lily (Lycoris radiata)
  • Electric blue spider lily (Lycoris sprengeri)
  • Resurrection lily (Lycoris squamigera

How to Grow Spider Lilies From Seed

Spider lilies are grown from bulbs and should be planted in the late summer to early fall. Space the bulbs approximately 6-9 inches apart and leave the top ¼ of the bulb exposed above the topsoil. Choose a location in your garden that is out of range of any existing irrigation systems as spider lilies should not be watered during their summer dormant season - which is when most garden plants require the most water. Spider lilies normally don’t flower during the first year after planting.

Propagating Spider Lilies (Lycoris)

Healthy spider lily bulbs will multiple in clumps as they mature. After a few years, you can dig up the bulbs and separate them to create new plants. Ensure that you water the bulbs before uprooting them, and then use a shovel or spade to gently dig up the bulbs and the surrounding soil.

Growing Spider Lilies in Containers

Spider lilies can be grown in containers, although they should be deep to allow for healthy root growth. Since spider lilies don’t tolerate cold temperatures, if you live in a region with extreme winter temperatures growing spider lilies in containers and moving them indoors for the winter months can help them survive throughout the year.