Nerines

Nerines are grown for their showy, long-lasting autumn blooms in shades of pink, red and white. Grow hardy Nerine bowdenii in a sunny border or tender forms in a conservatory or greenhouse.

Nerine bowdenii

Nerine bowdenii

Quick facts

Common name Nerine
Botanical name Nerine
Group Bulb
Flowering time Autumn
Planting time Spring or summer
Height and spread 45cm (18in) by 8cm (3in)
Aspect Sun
Hardiness Hardy to frost tender
Difficulty N. bowdenii easy. Other species moderate or difficult

Cultivation notes

There are about 26 species of Nerine, native to Southern Africa. All have six narrow petals recurved at the tips with prominent stamens. The leaves are usually strap-like, appearing with or after the flowers.

Nerine bowdenii is hardy outside while N. sarniensis (Guernsey lily) and its hybrids are suited to greenhouse or conservatory cultivation. 

Planting

Nerine bowdenii can be planted outdoors in well-drained soil in a sunny, sheltered position in open borders or at the foot of a wall. They will not flower in shaded situations and do not compete well with other garden plants. They are also suitable for container cultivation.

Ideally plant bulbs 10cm (4in) apart with the neck of the bulb just exposed. However, in cold areas plant 5cm (2in) deep to help protect from frost. Leaves appear in spring then die down naturally at the end of summer. Flowers follow in the autumn. Bulbs in the ground should be left undisturbed until they become crowded and flowering declines.

Nerine undulata Flexuosa Group can also be grown outdoors in the UK but flowers even later than N. bowdenii (November-December) making it susceptible to weather damage and slugs. Nerine filifolia may be grown outdoors in warmer regions.

Containers

Nerine sarniensis (Guernsey lily) and its hybrids are best suited to container cultivation in a frost-free greenhouse or conservatory with a minimum winter temperature of 7°C (45°F). Use an open, free-draining growing media made up of equal amounts of John Innes No.3, multipurpose compost and gritty sand. Do not over-pot bulbs. A 10cm (4in) pot is suitable for a single bulb. In larger containers space bulbs close but not touching. Plant with the neck of the bulb just exposed.

Water moderately as the flower spike emerges in autumn and increase as the stem and, later, the leaves develop over winter. From January to April feed every two weeks with a potassium-rich liquid feed such as a tomato feed. Cease watering once the foliage begins to yellow. Keep plants slightly dry during their dormant summer period but, contrary to opinion, they do not like to be ‘baked’ in summer. Repot on a regular basis at the end of summer.

Pruning and aftercare

If seed is not required remove spent flower heads. Clear away the foliage once it dies back as the bulbs become dormant.

Propagation

Nerines can be propagated by division, seed or chipping.

Lift congested clumps in early summer and divided.

Nerines may be raised from seed which should be sown as soon as it is ripe. Use a well-drained mix of John Innes seed compost with plenty of added grit. Sow thinly with just the lightest covering of compost. Germinate at a temperature of 10-13°C (50-55°F). Seedling bulbs will remain in growth during the first year if kept frost-free and watered after which they can be potted individually. They take 3 to 5 years to reach flowering size. 

Large bulbs can also be chipped.

Cultivar Selection

Nerine bowdenii ‘Isabel’: Dark pink flowers on 45cm (18in) tall stems. Hardy.

N. bowdenii ‘Nikita’: Fragrant pale pink blooms on 50cm (20in) stems. Hardy.

N. bowdenii ‘Blanca Perla’: Bright white flowers on 75cm (30in) stems. Hardy.

N. ‘Afterglow’: Bright rose, wavy-edged flowers on 55cm (22in) stems. Tender.

N. ‘Mr John’: Deep pink blooms on almost black stems to 50cm (20in). Tender.

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Problems

Pest and diseases: Nerines are prone to very few pests and diseases. Mealy bug is the worst pest. Virus diseases cause striped and distorted leaves.

Non-flowering: It is not unusual for newly planted bulbs to often take a year or two before flowering. Where clumps of bulbs become very congested the size and number of flowers will eventually decline if they are not divided.


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