Nurturing Nerines.

‘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

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.

Amarine belladiva ‘Aphrodite’

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.

Amaryllis belladonna

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.

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28 Responses to Nurturing Nerines.

  1. Brian Skeys says:

    They are must have plants for this time of year. I was given a pot of bulbs three years ago by a clients family after she had passed away. They look like Nerines but sadly haven’t yet flowered. I will have to repot them. Thanks for the informative post Chloris.

    • Chloris says:

      I am surprised that they haven’t bloomed after 3 years. They like to be potbound, my Nerine undulata have been in the same pot for 12 years. Have you tried feeding them with a tomato feed? That might help.

  2. tonytomeo says:

    I had no idea that nerines were so popular. There are a few article about them now. I rarely see them here, which is unfortunate. They probably do better than bulbs that need more chilling, such as tulips. (Tulips bloom only once here if left in the ground.) The belladonna lily however, has naturalized! Once planted, it spread. It even self sows in areas where not planted intentionally.

    • Chloris says:

      We have the same problem here, most tulips gradually decline after the first year. I am amazed about amaryllis seeding around. How lovely. Do you have very hot summers? They are shy to bloom here.

      • tonytomeo says:

        These are not the tropical amaryllis. They are the belladonna lily amaryllis, which are also known as naked lady. They are tougher than the tropical types. The bulbs form big colonies, and the seeds start new colonies. They are nice if they show up in the right situations. Sometimes, they follow the drainage ditches because the big seeds float around in there. It does not get too hot here.

  3. Kris P says:

    It frustrates me that the bulbs are so hard to find here. I see them offered by mail order nurseries only occasionally and I can’t recall ever seeing them in my local garden centers. However, according to my western (US) garden guide, they should present no problem growing here, although in an area like mine, placement in partial shade is recommended.

  4. March Picker says:

    Chloris, I will be seeking these out for growing in the U.S. Pacific Northwest. Thanks for the wealth of information!

  5. Christina says:

    Thank you Liz. Maybe mine are a little deep. But the leaves look very healthy and it could just be they’ll flower later here? I concur re Amaryllis belladonna. Mine gets plenty of sun (as you can imagine) but it still doesn’t flower every year.

    • Chloris says:

      Yes, give them chance to settle down. Funny about amaryllis not flowering but if even the experts have problems…But do look out for some amarines they are stunning. I got mine from Beth Chatto.

  6. Cathy says:

    You have got such a lovely collection of them all Chloris. I thought of you and your nerines last week, when I passed a huge clump on a weedy slope in front of a house in North Norfolk. 🙂 I like the idea of getting them on prescription!

    • Chloris says:

      You chose a lovely time to go to Norfolk. I love it up there. We spent a week at Salthouse this summer. Yes we should all get nerines on the National Health. Better than Prozac any day.

  7. A very useful post – and such pretty flowers. I only have 3 different types – they have are all flowering well this year !

  8. snowbird says:

    Some fabulous info here. I must get more, yours are utterly adorable!xxx

  9. Great article, fabulous photos!

  10. Anna says:

    Oh thanks for all this valuable information Chloris. I had to smile at your introductory quote.

  11. smallsunnygarden says:

    I am so glad to see this post, having just planted my first Nerines. I am happy to see I got the planting depth about right! 😉 I am trying N. sarniensis in the garden, as our mild winters are considerably kinder to plants than our desert summers. Very happy to get your advice that it may be some time before they or my Amaryllis will bloom – it may save a good deal of frustration! Thanks also for the feeding and watering info. And Amerines are now definitely on my wish list!

  12. They’re gorgeous, Chloris! I have Lycoris squamigeras here, which have a similar form and bloom. They’re so dramatic in the landscape. I didn’t realize Nerines were available in so many colors.

    • Chloris says:

      I have seen Lycoris, it is very pretty and yes, it looks just like Nerine sarniensis. If you can grow lycoris you should be successful with nerines too.

  13. You’re right, the Nerine blooms are gorgeous.

  14. Chloris says:

    Good, glad you are a fan too Jason.

  15. croftgarden says:

    Really helpful advice, thank you.

  16. Cathy says:

    I think we all feel we can safely trust your advice, Chloris (“Trust me, I’m a plant buff”). I am quite good at neglecting things but now know that I musn’t neglect them in the summer and keep them watered. Mine are in pots now and I will put them in the sitooterie over winter – do they need an occasional watering there?

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