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How to grow and care for Amaryllis belladonna

How to grow and care for Amaryllis belladonna

Ah, behold the diva of the Western Cape, the Amaryllis belladonna, affectionately known as the 'March lily'! This botanical beauty heralds the end of summer with its glorious blooms. Back in the 18th century, it strutted into cultivation circles and hasn't looked back since, even snagging the prestigious Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit. Talk about a floral superstar!

Picture this: large clusters of fragrant, blushing pink or white trumpets atop stems reaching for the sky like floral skyscrapers (about 50-100cm to give you a more accurate idea). They even pop up from the ground stark naked, beating the leaves to the punch! No wonder they've earned the cheeky common name 'naked ladies' – they're the original streakers of the botanical world.

Where does A. belladonna grow best

The March lily’s natural habitat is usually in small dense groups amongst rocks, so if you have a rockery, that’s the perfect place for them. They’re equally at home in the garden or in pots filled with a very porous potting mix. They’re also pretty tolerant of arid conditions, but do keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t dry out in the summer months. As they’re from a winter rainfall area, they will need watering during their winter growing season. 

How to grow A. belladonna

  • A. belladonna should be planted with their necks at soil level, not submerged under the soil. 
  • You’ll get your best results growing the bulbs in full sun, in moist, well-draining soil, although they will tolerate some light shade. 
  • Plant them out about 10cm apart so they don’t get lonely! 
  • Wherever you’re planting them, make sure that the soil doesn’t get waterlogged. 
  • If you do need to transplant them, do it in autumn after the plant has finished flowering and just as the leaves start emerging. 
  • In a frost prone area, or areas that regularly hit below 2 degrees Celsius, plant them in front of a south facing wall, or in a pot that is placed in a sheltered area. 

How to care for A. belladonna 

  • Top dress your A. belladonna with good quality compost, and use an organic fertiliser, such as Hadeco Bulb Food, just before they flower, then continue through winter until they go dormant.
  • The leaves will start to die back in early summer. During this time you can fertilise the plant a couple of times before they die off completely to ensure that the bulb has enough energy to get through its dormancy, and will produce more flowers in the next season. Use a low-nitrogen fertiliser to avoid leaf stimulation close to dormancy. 
  • Once planted, it may take a year or so for the bulb to become properly established, so avoid disturbing the bulbs for a couple of seasons. 
  • They prefer less water in summer, so in summer rainfall areas, ensure sufficient drainage. 

The only pain in the March lily’s life are lily borer caterpillars, which will bore into the leaves and stem of the plant. If you see these destructive black and yellow striped blighters, remove the visible ones by hand and check in between the leaves to see if any are hiding there. You can cut off the affected foliage. 

Which plants go well with A. belladonna

These bulbs are happy to share the spotlight and look fabulous planted amongst agapanthus, as the foliage from these plants create a great backdrop for them. 

These luscious ladies don't stop at just one or two blooms either. Nope, they're like Oprah, generously sending out up to a dozen flowers per stem. That's some serious flower power and just when you think the show's over, in comes the encore – lush, green leaves to keep the party going all winter long. 

So next time you're strolling through the Cape late summer, keep an eye out for these fabulous flora, strutting their stuff like they own the place.

Disclaimer: Amaryllis belladonna is toxic and should not be consumed. Keep away from children and pets. 

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