Naked Ladies!

Do you have naked ladies in your garden? No. Not that! Amaryllis belladonna, also known as naked ladies, are blooming right now in our area. These are a beautiful, long-lived plant, but they can present some unique growing challenges in gardens and flower beds. Let’s take a look at their uncommon growth habits and some tips for growing these beauties.

Amaryllis belladonna is a flowering bulb native to South Africa, but they can survive in many regions. In our region they grow several strap-shaped green leaves per bulb in the early spring and eventually die back by late spring. The bulb is then dormant until late summer. The aboveground portion of the plant is not frost-tolerant, nor does it do well in tropical environments since they require a dry resting period between leaf growth and flower spike production.

From the dry ground in late summer (August in zone 7) each bulb produces one or two leafless stems 1-2 feet tall, each of which bears a cluster of 2 to 12 funnel-shaped flowers at their tops. The usual color is white with crimson veins, but pink or purple also occur naturally. The common name "naked lady" stems from the plant's pattern of flowering when the foliage has died down. The flowers are also very short lived. The spikes grow amazingly fast, and they can bloom and die back in a matter of days.

Naked ladies present a challenge in gardens and flower beds because they are dormant during the spring growing season. A large grouping of them would essentially force you to leave a blank spot in your flower bed. However, I have had luck in previous years with covering my amaryllis with a layer of mulch and the loosely planting over the area with plants that have a shallow root system and tend not to spread. For example, this year I planted celosia (cock’s comb) over them after the leaves died back in the spring. The celosia left plenty room for the spikes to push through this past week. In the fall pansies make a great choice because they will survive through the winter to add a bit of color among the amaryllis leaves in the early spring.

In Victorian times, certain flowers had specific meanings because the flower selection was limited and people used more symbols and gestures to communicate than words. Amaryllis was the flower that represented drama. These amazing plants will definitely make a dramatic statement in your landscape.