Falling for Nerines

Falling for Nerines
Nerines are considered to be some of the finest fall-flowering bulbs, reliably brightening up an autumn garden with their soft pastel colors. With nearly thirty species, these South African natives are made up of small to medium sized bulbous plants. The name Nerine refers to the Nereids, or sea-nymphs, of Greek mythology. Nerines are also known as the Guernsey Lily because at one time some of the bulbs washed ashore Guernsey in the English Channel from a passing ship, establishing themselves at that spot. Nerines are elegant and dainty flowers with long stems and slender, curled petals. Nerines make great cut flowers as they retain freshness for a considerable amount of time and in the garden, Nerines look great placed against dark or evergreen backdrops.

These bulbs should be planted in the spring in well-drained soil and preferably in a location where they can receive plenty of sun. The bulbs should be placed in the ground, or a container, with the neck above the soil. Additionally, water should be withheld until the flower spikes appear, and then freely watered during the growing season until the foliage begins to turn yellow. After the leaves die down, keep them dry. Once emerging flowers begin to reappear in autumn, give them a thorough watering. Bulbs should be left in pots in full sun without any water at all until flower spikes appear again. They are considered tender; therefore, in colder climates Nerine bulbs, with exception to N. bowdenii, must be grown under glass or indoors, as they cannot withstand heavy frost on their foliage. These bulbs do well in, and prefer, a Mediterranean-like climate.

The bulbs multiply quickly and may be transplanted at any time of the year provided they are not in bloom. However, Nerines do not appreciate being disturbed, and as a result, will not bloom as freely. In fact, Nerine plants prefer to be overcrowded and actually bloom more profusely under these conditions. Only lift and divide the clumps when serious overcrowding diminishes the number of flowers. Common pests affecting Nerine species includes the amaryllis caterpillar, which can easily be picked off by hand.

Commonly known as the Cape flower, N. bowdenii is the best-known variety. It is a summer-growing species, blooming in the fall and is deciduous in winter. It has pink flowers, but there are also white-flowered forms available. N. bowdenii reaches about 12-25 inches tall and is the hardiest of the Nerine species. N. sarniensis, has reddish-orange flowers that appear around the Christmas season. This species is regarded as the most beautiful; unfortunately, it is also the most notorious for erratic flowering. N. undulata is a summer-growing species and blooms freely in the fall with several pale pink flowers having crinkled edges and nearly evergreen foliage. The species N. krigei is characterized by the spiral twist in its leaves. Unlike the other Nerine species, which bloom in the fall, the light pink flowers of N. krigei bloom during summer. While most Nerines produce abundant offsets and bloom sporadically each year (may or may not bloom), this species produces few offsets and blooms every season.

These exquisite bulbs may be somewhat sporadic with their flowering; nonetheless, they are certainly worth falling for once they do decide to bloom.

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