We all forget about the Spider Lily until the blooms arise to surprise us with their bright red spidery petals. This time of year our nursery receives numerous inquiries as to why we don't have these bulbs in stock. Unfortunately, September is not the time to plant Lycoris radiata.
Just as you wouldn't plant daffodils or tulips in the spring, Lycoris radiata cannot be planted in the fall during their bloom time. All flowering bulbs should be planted when dormant, and for Lycoris radiata, that optimum planting time is early summer.
To help you understand, let me tell you a little about the life cycle of the Spider Lily. One common name for Lycoris radiata is easy to understand--the petals have a spidery appearance, so many of us know this plant as the Spider Lily. But another common name, Hurricane Lily, was given to this bulb because of its surprise appearance in the middle of hurricane season. Lycoris radiata lies dormant all summer, during the heat and drought of July and August. Then in September, often right after a period of heavy rainfall, the stems shoot up seemingly overnight with a bright red spidery bloom at the top (no foliage!) Blooms last up to a month before fading. As the bloom begins to fade, grassy foliage begins to emerge. This foliage looks a lot like liriope. Don't cut it back. The grassy leaves must be allowed to remain all fall and winter to take in energy from the sun in preparation for multiplying and blooming next year.
Once the plant begins to send up the blooming stem, Lycoris bulbs should not be disturbed. If transplanted at this time, blooming and growth could be disrupted for next time.
If you like this unusual flower for your garden, make a note on your calendar right now to remind you to look for Lycoris bulbs in June. You probably won't find Lycoris radiata at your local super center, but they are available from several online sources, including Shady Gardens Nursery. June and July are the best time for planting these bulbs so ordering can usually be done as early as May.