How to Grow and Care for the Spider Lily

Spider lily plant with red spider leg-like petals and long stamen on thick stems

The Spruce / K. Dave

Spider lily is the common name of numerous plants, including those of the small Lycoris genus. Spider lilies are known for their striking blooms. They feature thin, delicate petals and long stamens, which result in flowers that resemble spider legs—hence the plant's common name. The blooms stretch about 6 inches across and emerge on a tall, naked stem in the late summer to fall. Blue-green foliage follows after the flowering is finished and remains until spring. 

Despite their common name, spider lilies are not true lilies. They are actually part of the amaryllis family. And similar to amaryllis plants, spider lilies are dormant in the summer months, but they grow quickly after they sprout. The bulbs are best planted in the late summer or fall. Be careful where you plant because spider lilies are toxic both to people and pets due to the alkaloid Lycorine that's found in the plants.

Common Name Spider lily, hurricane lily, cluster amaryllis, naked lily, surprise lily
Botanical Name Lycoris
Family Amaryllidaceae
Plant Type  Perennial, bulb
Mature Size  1–2 ft. tall, 1–1.5 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full, partial 
Soil Type Well-drained
Soil pH Acidic, neutral, alkaline
Bloom Time Summer, fall 
Flower Color Red, orange, pink, white, yellow
Hardiness Zones 6–10 (USDA) 
Native Area Asia
Toxicity Toxic to people, toxic to pets

Spider Lily Care

Spider lilies are low-maintenance perennials that can add a pop of fall color to any garden. Because they're dormant in the summer months, they shouldn't be watered during this time. It's best to plant them away from automatic garden irrigation systems to avoid accidental watering. Likewise, avoid disturbing them by digging in their area; make sure you know where your bulbs are in the ground.

Spider lilies are not prone to any serious pest or disease issues. They also don't require pruning, as the foliage dies back to the ground on its own.

Spider lily stem with bright red spider leg-like petals and long stamen closeup

The Spruce / K. Dave

Spider lily plants with long thick stems and bright red stamen and spider-like petals

The Spruce / K. Dave

Spider lily plant with bright red stamen and long spider leg-like petals closeup

The Spruce / K. Dave

Close up shot of a white spider lily (Lycoris)
DigiPub / Getty Images

Light

Spider lilies flower best in full sun to partial shade. Choosing a location that receives at least five to six hours of direct sunlight on most days is best.

Soil

Well-draining soil is essential for spider lilies. The bulbs can rot in waterlogged soil. An organically rich sandy or loamy soil with a slightly acidic to slightly alkaline soil pH will do. Amending the soil annually with bark, compost, or mulch will help to boost its nutrient content and improve its drainage. 

Water

When they’re actively growing, spider lilies have moderate water needs. The soil should be kept lightly moist but never soggy. Then, as soon as the foliage degrades, cease watering until flowering begins again the next summer or fall.

Temperature and Humidity

Spider lilies don’t tolerate cold temperatures well. Temperatures below freezing can damage or even kill the plants. Humidity typically isn’t an issue as long as soil moisture and drainage are sufficient.

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.

Types of Spider Lily

There are several varieties of spider lily, including:

  • White spider lily (Lycoris albiflora): The blooms of this spider lily are a delicate white.
  • Golden spider lily (Lycoris aurea): This species sports golden yellow flowers.
  • Red spider lily (Lycoris radiata): This plant features bright red blooms.
  • Electric blue spider lily (Lycoris sprengeri): This species has pink flowers with blue streaking. 
  • Resurrection lily (Lycoris squamigera): The leaves of this species grow in the spring, die back in the summer, and then are followed by the flowers.

Propagating Spider Lilies

Healthy spider lilies will multiply in clumps over the years. So the best way to propagate your plants is by division once they are at least a few years old. Plan to divide a clump right after it goes dormant in the early summer. Not only does dividing provide you with new plants you can locate elsewhere, but it also prevents clumps from becoming overcrowded and losing their vigor. Here's how:

  1. Water the bulbs to loosen the soil.
  2. Gently dig up the bulbs.
  3. Separate and replant the bulbs in suitable growing sites. 

How to Grow Spider Lilies From Seed

Plant spider lily bulbs approximately 6 to 12 inches apart, and leave the 1/4 inch of each bulb top (the pointed end) sticking out above the soil. Gently firm the soil around the bulb. Note that it's likely you'll have to wait until the next year after planting for flowers, as spider lilies generally don't bloom in their first year.

Potting and Repotting Spider Lilies

Spider lilies can be grown in containers, though the containers must be large to accommodate their expansive root system. Opt for a container that's at least 12 inches wide and deep. It also should have ample drainage holes. Unglazed clay is an ideal material, as it will allow excess soil moisture to evaporate through its walls, helping to prevent the bulb from rotting. Avoid having to repot by using a large container from the start, as spider lilies don't like to have their roots disturbed.

Overwintering

If you live in the coldest parts of the spider lily’s growing zones, you might want to add a layer of mulch around your plants for winter to help insulate the bulbs. Another option is to plant your bulbs in containers that you bring indoors to overwinter. 

How to Get Spider Lilies to Bloom

Spider lilies should readily bloom if their growing conditions are met. A common problem that results in a lack of blooms is the bulb being planted too deep or facing the wrong way. That pointed tip must be slightly above the soil line for blooming to occur. 

The naked flower stems will grow quickly, seemingly out of nowhere, in the late summer to early fall. It's not essential to deadhead, or remove the spent blooms. But it can help to promote further flowering. Overall, the blooming should last for a couple of weeks.

Common Problems With Spider Lilies

Spider lilies have very few issues when their soil, moisture, and light needs are met. However, they are not immune to growing problems.

Leaves Turning Yellow

Usually when you see your spider lily's foliage turning yellow, it's a sign that the bulb is heading into dormancy. This should occur in the springtime. If leaves are yellowing when the foliage should be actively growing, that might be a sign of overwatering. Make sure soil is just slightly moist to the touch rather than waterlogged.

FAQ
  • What's the difference between Lycoris and Crinum spider lilies?

    Both the Lycoris genus and Crinum genus have the common name of spider lily. And they're both part of the Amaryllidaceae family. However, the Crinum genus is much larger with more variety in its species, though they do appear similar to the plants in the Lycoris genus.

  • Where should I place spider lilies outside my house?

    It's essential that anywhere you grow spider lilies has good soil drainage. A fairly sunny spot is also a must. The bulbs can be ideal for garden beds to fill in space after spring and summer flowers have depreciated.

  • Can spider lilies grow indoors?

    Much like amaryllis bulbs are grown as houseplants, spider lilies also can be grown indoors. You just need to have a large enough container and a bright window or grow light.

Article Sources
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  1. Lycoris radiata. NC State Extension.

  2. Amaryllis. ASPCA.