March is the month for "naked ladies". We can credit Amaryllis belladonna for this spectacular nude display.They are often seen popping out of sunny grassland banks near the beach, in rocky places or any warm, dry position that bakes in the Summer heat. They also do very well in lightly or partly shaded positions provided their growing environment stays rather dry.
These South African bulbs get their common name because the long, smooth, bare stems of fragrant trumpet lilies arise before the foliage. They make brilliant cutflowers in various shades of pink, rose and white with some lovely picotee and variegated cultivars. Amaryllis are relatively hardy, performing well in USA climate zones 7a to 10b. Their cold tolerance ranges down to -17.7C/0 F. degrees which makes them quite hardy throughout most Southern Hemipshere climates. Even in colder climate zones, they are often most successfully grown beneath the eaves in a sunny and warm corner where the ground does not freeze, too deeply.
The large bulbs are best planted with necks protruding above the ground in freely draining soil. In colder climates where freezing might be a problem, plant the bulbs deeper. They will sometimes tolerate clay provided the site is extremely well drained and are famous for growing in gravel or sandy land. The best time to plant and shift Amarylllis belladonna is while theiy are dormant. In colder climates this can be in Early Spring. In the Southern Hemipshere, this happens as soon as all foliage dies away usually in Early to Mid Summer. In New Zealand, February is an ideal month to shift them before their bud spikes begin to shoot in Early Autumn. With care established clumps also can be lifted and divided at or just after flowering before new leaf growth becomes established. Remove flowering stems, replant immediately in well drained soil or larger containers and water in well.
Amaryllis belladonna is a fairly dominant plant within the garden. Once foliage begins to emerge after flowering its growth is rapid. Leaves can easiy attain 2ft/60cm or more with each mature bulb producing a dozen or more leaves. Since the bulbs usually multiply fairly rapidly, soon a clump of Amaryllis in full leaf can spread out to cover a meter or more in dense foliage. This pretty much precludes anything else growing in that space. Then once foliage withers away in Early Summer, there is a decided barren space. Most Gardeners simply leave this bare but it is possible to plant short-lived annuals to colour the emplty space. Alternatively, consider planting Amaryllis in bold patches between shorter shrubbery or hardy ground covers keeping in mind to provide enough room for all to have space to breathe and grow. Amaryllis makes a good companion plant to Lavender and Rosemary; Hebe and a variety of Australian and South African native species.
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