Red Spider Lily: History And Important Tips


Red Spider Lily

Red Spider Lily

Red spider lily is probably one of the most beautiful bulbs that we can grow. However, a group or drift that has more than 100 plants can be pretty spectacular.

I have always wondered if someone has ever planted so boldly. Last weekend, I was able to see them and couldn’t wait to get out of my car.

These spider lily bulbs can be seen all over Savannah and the Lowcountry. You can also see butterflies such as the Cloudless Sulphur or bumblebees enjoying the blooms if you are close enough.

These bulbs surprise everyone every September and October, and it is almost like magic. They are also known as red surprise lilies in some areas.

They are botanically known as Lycoris Radiata and are related to the amaryllis family.

They are actually Japanese, and they can be naturalized with ease. They can be enjoyed in most parts of the country as they are zone 5a cold-hardy.

The common name they go by is a red surprise, but they also go by schoolhouse lily and hurricane lily.

This refers to the season they bloom. They are sometimes called naked ladies because they don’t have any foliage.

How To Grow

Red spider lilies growing requires some effort to plant the bulbs. It is not so much about tilling the soil but finding them.

Plant your bulbs in spring in fertile, organically-rich, well-drained soil in full or partial sunlight.

Place the bulbs 3 inches deep and 6-8 inches apart. You can plant them in straight lines to create a formal appearance. I’ve also seen beautiful plantings along with decorative iron fencing.

My attention is drawn to the bold informal drifts and mass planting.

The foliage will grow from the finished flower to provide food for the bulb in early fall, winter, and spring. It is tempting to cut back the naturalized plants or mow them, but this will cause damage to the next growing season’s flowers.

Divide plants in spring when the foliage turns yellow. This is the best way for a great stand. You can even buy more bulbs for winter.

Animals, Pests, And Diseases

Red spider lilies are disease and pest-resistant, though they occasionally attract slugs. Copper flashing or a copper foil-wrapped collar around the base of the plant is an easy way to control slugs.

One advantage of red spider lilies is that they are not as attractive to deer and squirrels as many other bulbs are.


Red spider lilies thrive in almost any soil type as long as it drains well. It is unconcerned with soil pH and will grow in heavy or poor-quality soils, making it an excellent choice if your garden contains these less desirable soil types.

If you have the choice, red spider lilies thrive in fertile, organic soil. A well-draining soil is critical for root rot prevention and water drainage away from the plant.


These plants require an abundance of light, approximately 6 hours per day, to bloom profusely. Your red spider lilies will thrive in a location that receives sun for the majority of the day but is in the part shade during the warmest part of the afternoon.

This will shield them from the sun’s rays when they are at their most intense, which is especially critical if you live in a hot climate.

Red spider lilies will tolerate full sun, especially if your climate falls within the appropriate hardiness zones. The most impressive flowering bulbs blooms are produced when these plants are allowed to sit in the sun for the majority of the day, with a few hours of shade.

This can be accomplished by planting the red spider lilies beneath the sparse canopy of a tall tree, where the branches will provide dappled shade.

If you grow this plant in a container, you can experiment with different lighting positions, moving the pot around until you discover the best location for the red spider lily in your climate.

When grown in partial shade, red spider lilies bloom earlier in the year than when grown in full sun. You could scatter the bulbs throughout your garden to stagger their blooming times, providing you with flowering plants for a longer period.


Red spider lilies are hardy in USDA hardiness zones 7 to 10, though many growers report success in zones 6 as well. They prefer warm temperatures and will perish in climates that experience freezing temperatures throughout the winter.

If you’re growing red spider lilies in the lower end of the hardiness zones, it’s a good idea to bury the bulb slightly deeper than usual when planting, as this will provide some protection from freezing temperatures.

In colder climates, this plant will also require winter protection in the form of thick layers of mulch.


The red spider lily is a short-lived flower that doesn’t bloom for long so it can be used in beds with groundcovers like ivy. The flowers will grow above the groundcover, but they will still be visible when they return to the ground.

They have long stamens that give them a tropical look, which makes them ideal for use in the vicinity of bananas or elephant ears. It took a lot of imagination to create great agave and yucca plantings.

My favorite is a bold, informal drift in a meadow-type setting.

The red spider lily, Lycoris Radiata, is listed in most references as winter-hardy to zone 6, but one listed it as zone 3. We are in zone 6. The higher the zone number assigned, the less hardy it is.

This plant has pink flowers in the summer, and it is cold-hardy.
Red spider lilies have a lot to offer when it comes to beauty and functionality.

They are beautiful and exotic in appearance, as well as attractive to pollinators. Find your source for spring planting now.

Don’t confuse red spider lilies with Hymenocallis, white spider lily; the large, strap-like leaves 30 inches long make a clump 3 feet wide. Some people call them to spider lilies because of their flowers’ thin, white sepals that can measure 11 inches long.

Where To Find

You will find spider lilies in old neighborhoods, sometimes on vacant lots that no longer have a house.

These are most likely Southern heirlooms, which is a triploid. The majority of spider lilies that you can buy are imported from Japan and are diploids.

The genetics of the plants determine whether triploids or diploids. It’s enough for me to explain how to plant something.

Spider lily has very long stamens, similar to a cat’s whiskers. It blooms a bit later, and its life cycle is different than our common surprise lily.

The leaves appear in fall, hang around all winter and die in early summer, and then flowers.

Lycoris sanguine with its orange-red flowers has the same life cycle as the red spider lily. I suspect really wet soil will wipe these out.

Tie-dye surprise lily, Lycoris sprengeri, is listed as zone 5 or zone 6. It’s a bit shorter at 18 inches tall. Its small dark pink flowers have tie-dye blue streaking.

If you enjoy experimenting, these naked ladies deserve an invitation to your garden party.


Comments are closed.