‘Nerines, like some plants and many people, give no trouble provided that they are given precisely what they want’. Peter Smithers.
I wrote an article about nerines recently for the Suffolk Plant Heritage Journal and since then people keep ringing me up to ask about their non-flowering nerines. This seems to be a concern of some blogging friends too. So this is a quick post about caring for these fabulous plants and making sure you have plenty of blooms to enjoy in the garden, in pots, a vase or the greenhouse.
First of all, if you want them in the garden make sure they are bowdenii hybrids. These get their leaves in summer before the flowers. Once the flowers form or shortly afterwards, the leaves die down and once the flowers die down the bulb will be dormant until spring. The bulbs are frost hardy down to – 15 degrees but having said that, the embryo flower buds could be vulnerable to severe frost, so it is a good idea to mulch them if the winter is harsh. On the other hand if it is very wet rather than frosty, the mulch could rot and damage them. So watch out for that. I live in the relatively mild East of England so I rarely bother with a mulch.
One cause of flowering -failure could be bulbs planted too deeply. They need their noses just protruding. They need a sunny site, the base of a south facing wall is ideal and they are happy in a poor soil as long as it is well drained. If you give them a nitrogen rich feed they will produce an abundance of glossy leaves at the expense of flowers. If they are not flowering well give them a high potash feed in summer when they are making next year’s flower buds. The other magic ingredient is summer watering. Just because they like to be baked in the sun doesn’t mean they can go without watering to initiate flowering. Once planted leave them alone, they resent disturbance. They probably won’t flower the first year, they need time to settle into their new home. Once they get going they should get better and better and they will spread by off-sets and the clump will get bigger. If you want to propagate them you can remove offsets when the bulbs are dormant.If you buy nerines as dry bulbs then plant them in a pot and plant them out once they have developed roots. You can also sow the fleshy seeds when they are fresh, they contain food and water for the young plant so don’t let them dry out. Sow them very shallowly in gritty soil. They take about 5 years to get to flowering size but you might produce something a bit different.
Any nerine which has leaves in winter rather than summer is a sarniensis hybrid and so not hardy. Efforts were made to cross bowdenii with sarniensis nerines in order to get the jewel like range of colours combined with hardiness. The resulting plants are beautiful but not necessarily; in fact rarely, hardy. Nerine sarniensis comes in a range of gorgeous colours and many look as if they have been sprayed with shimmering glitter. This scintillation is caused by the crystalline structure of the petals and I have not seen it in any other plant. Obviously they need to be kept in pots in the UK. All nerines respond well to pot culture, they like to be overcrowded.
Nerine sarniensis needs to be kept reasonably dry when dormant in summer with just enough watering to stop the bulbs from shrivelling. In winter ideally they need temperatures of 8 C – 10C) ( 46F-50F.) Having said this, I keep mine just frost proof and I haven’t lost any yet.
The larger flowered amarines are a recent introduction, they are a cross between Amaryllis belladonna and nerines. The flowers are gorgeous. I have Amarine belladiva ‘Aphrodite’ but there are several beautiful ones available.
They need just the same care as Nerine bowdenii. When I say amaryllis I am not talking about the long necked plants you have in a pot at Christmas, they are hippeastrums and I don’t know why people persist in calling them amaryllis. Amaryllis have large trumpet shaped flowers and they are very temperamental when it comes to flowering so I would chose amarines any time in preference. I spoke to somebody who grew Amaryllis belladonna commercially as a cut flower and he said he was giving it up because they are so unreliable when it comes to flowering. Perhaps they need more sun than we can provide in the UK.
If you don’t already, I do hope you will try growing some nerines or amarines; you won’t regret it. What else can give you so much delight as we wave goodbye to summer? If you have a greenhouse full of jewels like this you can’t feel depressed. They should be offered on the national health.