Although I’ve been aware of them for over fifty years, surprise lilies still impress and amaze me. The first experience with them was in my Mother’s garden, and she called them “naked ladies.” Another common name for them is hardy amaryllis. Their botanic nomenclature is Lycoris radiata.
Hardiness is definitely one of the Surprise Lilies strong points giving enjoyment and wonder year after year.
Surprise lilies deliver a double bonus. Depending on planting location and weather, they may emerge as early as March 1, an extremely welcome harbinger of spring. By April 1, their strap-like leaves may be over a foot long, and will remain green for the next two months. In June they will die, and all appearances point to their season being finished. So, it is helpful to mark their location when the leaves start to die, as the best is yet to come, and you don’t want to miss or disturb it.
Usually, sometime between July 25 and August 15, stems poke above the ground. In only a few days the tips will split, flower buds will appear, and you’ll see a cluster of flowers at the end of each long and narrow stem. The flowers are lavender to pink, and have a very slight fragrance. Their bloom time is brief, but fascinating. No leaves will appear until next spring.
Surprise lilies are bulbs. I have planted them in spring and in fall, and they don’t seem to care. Look for them in catalogs and at garden centers. Planting them 4-6 inches deep, pointed side up, is a safe bet.
Like all bulbs, they like well-drained soil, and sunshine. I have never fertilized them. Some of the lilies are in a more shaded area, and as a result, they are later to sprout and bloom, although this is not a problem.