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The Rolla Daily News - Rolla, MO
  • Gardening to Distraction: Hello there, naked ladies!

  • One of the reasons I know August is around the corner is because "naked ladies" are popping up around town, and in my hillside garden.
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  • One of the reasons I know August is around the corner is because "naked ladies" are popping up around town, and in my hillside garden.
    A cousin of South American Amaryllis, the pink flowers on top of two to three-foot stems are also known as surprise lilies because the stems seem to pop up out of nowhere.
    Surprise lilies have been cultivated for centuries in their native Japan. They were first introduced to American gardeners around 1880.
    There are a number of different colors and shapes; the most well known variety here is the pink surprise lily, Lycoris squamigera.
    Surprise lilies store energy in bulbs that can grow to 3 inches wide. One-inch wide green leaves emerge in late winter or early spring and then turn yellow and die away. The plants go dormant until flowers emerge in mid-summer, which allows them to survive prolonged periods of summer drought.
    Overnight, they seem to pop out of the ground with little fanfare, often growing several inches from one day to the next!
    Surprise lilies are quite hardy and easy to grow. They grow well in full sun, part shade, and even heavy shade. By planting them in different sunlight conditions, I can extend the surprise lily season in my garden from mid-summer through the green dearth of August, when little starts blooming. They also thrive in both sandy and heavy clay soils.
    Because bulbs multiply, it's best to dig them up and divide them every 5 years or so. I think about dividing them but I am not that disciplined. I do have several patches around my hillside garden only because I inadvertently dug them up when planting something else in a spot I thought was vacant.
    They look best planted in clusters. Depending on your soil, bulbs can be planted from 3-6 inches deep - the deeper the better so they can be assured winter protection. Like daffodils, surprise lilies are toxic to  deer, mice and other bulb-eating garden residents, including insects.
    To transplant, dig up bulbs in spring after leaves have turned yellow.
    They can also be dug up after blooms fade in August, assuming soil is not as hard as concrete from lack of rain. Plant them quickly after digging them up so roots have enough time to establish themselves before the first hard frost.
    I love seeing them clearly when they bloom but you can also plant them in the middle of a garden bed so the naked stems will be covered by surrounding plants.
    Blooms are long lasting and fragrant, making them good cut flowers. I like to put them in a white flower vase so I can enjoy how the stems curl up at the bottom.
    Charlotte Ekker Wiggins is a certified gardener sharing gardening tips in a rapidly changing climate. Copyright 2014 used with permission by Rolla Daily News and Waynesville Daily Guide. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Contact Charlotte at chargardens@ gmail.com.

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