For a truly unique-looking perennial that can bring delicate beauty to gardens in a wide range of climate zones, look to the spider lily.
This is your guide for learning how to plant and grow spider lilies easily, even as a novice gardener. Use the advanced jump below if you need to jump quickly to a specific section, or read the entire guide to learn all about maintaining spider lilies.
- What Are Spider Lilies?
- Spider Lily Basics
- Where Do Spider Lilies Grow?
- Why Grow Spider Lilies?
- When Do Spider Lilies Bloom?
- How Long Do Spider Lilies Bloom?
- When to Plant Spider Lilies
- Ideal Growing Conditions for Spider Lilies
- How to Plant Spider Lilies
- How to Propagate Spider Lilies
- How to Care for Spider Lilies
- Recommended Planting Combinations for Spider Lily
- Spider Lily Landscaping Ideas
- Recommended Spider Lily Varieties
- Frequently Asked Questions About Growing Spider Lilies
- Where to Buy Spider Lilies
What Are Spider Lilies?
“Spider lilies” is actually a very ambiguous name. There are several different types of plants it can refer to:
• Plants that belong to the Crinum genus of the Amaryllidaceae family. That is the same family that contains amaryllis plants, though those belong to a different genus (also called Amaryllis). There are more than 180 species in the Crinum genus.
• White spider lilies, which are the species Hymenocallis latifolia. These are part of the amaryllis family too.
• Red spider lilies, which are the species Lycoris radiate. Once again, these plants are part of the amaryllis family.
So, all types of spider lilies are related to each other, but we are talking about several different genera.
The most popular type of spider lily to grow seems to be the red spider lily, so that will be our main focus in this post. Unless we specify otherwise, assume that most of what you read in this post pertains to Lycoris radiate.
As perennial bulb plants, spider lilies bloom yearly. When you see what they look like, you will not question where the name “spider lily” comes from, as it is a clear reference to the spider-like appearance of the blooms. In fact, spider lilies are quite distinctive and are hard to mix up with other flowers.
The word that gardeners often use to describe spider lilies is “magical.” You might think that this refers only to the amazing shape of the flowers—but it also refers to the way that spider lilies pop up. One day, you don’t notice any. The next, it rains, and then suddenly, there they are as if they magically emerged from thin air.
That means that even if you are expecting them given the time of year, they may still catch you off guard. When they do, you will experience that wondrous emotion that only a happy surprise can bring: delight.
Carolina County magazine explains the peculiar growing season of red spider lilies:
“Well, the strap-like leaves emerge in the fall and persist through the winter, but then they die down in the spring, leaving nothing to see during the shank of the growing season. However, in the heat of late summer — in other words, now — 18 to 24-inch (or taller), skinny spikes bearing brilliant crimson, spider-like blooms miraculously spring from the baked earth to put on a sassy show that can last up to two weeks. After the flowers finish their dazzling displays, the stalks fade and drop to the ground, followed by long leaves once again rising up to restart the odd cycle.”
Spider Lily Basics
|Zones:||5-10 (for red spider lilies)|
|Blooming season:||Late summer and early fall|
|Expected height:||Up to 3 feet|
|Sun:||Full sun or partial shade|
Where Do Spider Lilies Grow?
You can find spider lilies growing all throughout zones 5-10, which means that you can encounter it on most continents.
Some spider lilies are sometimes called “swamp lilies.” This is a reference to their tendency to sprout up in swamps and in other moist areas. If you are looking for them out in nature, this is where you are most likely to run into them.
Red spider lilies specifically are native to Asia. Clemson Cooperative Extension explains, “The first bulbs were brought to the United States in 1854 by Captain William Roberts, an amateur botanist who was part of the group sent to Japan to establish a trade agreement between the two countries. Although he only brought back three bulbs to America, spider lilies are now found in gardens all over the South.”
Why Grow Spider Lilies?
Here are some reasons to grow these unique perennials with their beautiful blooms:
• Spider lilies are a delightfully low-maintenance plant. They require very little effort and will bring you a great deal of reward year after year.
• Spider lilies are a favorite of butterflies, bees and hummingbirds. The red spider lilies, in particular, may exert a strong draw on these beautiful birds.
• Good news when it comes to pests—these lovely blooms do not have too many of them, and they are deer-resistant and rabbit-resistant. Hurray!
• Red spider lilies and others in the Lycoris genus are fairly disease-resistant.
• Regardless of what type of spider lily you plant, these perennials can produce wonderful cut flowers for flower arrangements. Of course, the red and white spider lilies are especially striking.
• Lilies in the Crinum genus can put up with the occasional flood conditions. Impressively, they are also drought-resistant. So, if your area is subject to extremes of dryness or precipitation, these perennials can weather the contrasting conditions admirably.
• Minimal maintenance is involved in the care of spider lilies, making them a rewarding and easy choice for gardeners of all skill levels.
• When we talk about spider lilies, we are actually referring to a few different types of plants in separate genera. That means that if we consider all of them lumped together, they cover an extensive range of climate zones. Wherever you live, there is a good chance that there is at least some type of spider lily hardy in your area unless it is quite cold.
• You can grow spider lilies as houseplants if desired. Keeping this type of lily as an indoor plant might be an option if you do live in a particularly cold climate zone.
• Spider lilies come in an array of colors, including red, white, pink, yellow and more.
• These spidery lilies produce gorgeous blooms that tend to draw a lot of attention. You can expect them to impress everyone who wanders near your garden.
• The unusual bloom time for these plants adds to their fun, gracing your flower beds unexpectedly in summer and fall. You will be hard-pressed to find another plant type that follows this pattern.
When Do Spider Lilies Bloom?
Spider lilies bloom in late summer and early fall. Usually, you will see them flower after your area receives rainfall.
Try not to panic if you plant spider lilies, and they do not bloom the first year. Do not give up on them—they are probably fine and will bloom next season. This happens a lot with freshly planted spider lilies.
How Long Do Spider Lilies Bloom?
Your spider lily blooms will last a couple of weeks and then fade. They will not bloom again that year. Instead, they will go dormant until the next year. So, be sure to appreciate their ephemeral display while it lasts each year.
When to Plant Spider Lilies
You have two seasons in which you can plant spider lilies: fall or spring.
Ideal Growing Conditions for Spider Lilies
To enjoy the burst of color that spider lilies can bring to your garden, you need to ensure the right sun, water, and soil conditions for these plants. Let’s go over each in detail.
How Much Sun Do Spider Lilies Need?
Regardless of the type of spider lily you are growing, these plants tend to appreciate sunny locations or ones that feature partial shade. Before you decide on a sunny spot vs. one with some shade, look up the ideal hours of sunlight for the particular species you are growing.
We will say that if you are planting red spider lilies, that species definitely can use a bit of shade for the most abundant blooming.
What Type of Soil is Right for Spider Lilies?
The ideal soil types for your lilies depend on which type you are planting. If it is red spider lilies, then they will appreciate well-drained soil that is still moist. Ideally, it should be well-draining alkaline soil rather than acidic soil.
As rich, well-drained soil is best, poor soil should be improved with the addition of compost.
As to Crinum lilies, moist soil is definitely appreciated by these plants, which are among the ones that sprout up naturally around marshes and pools. Nevertheless, you can get away with sandy soil. These plants can even survive a drought if you are watering them sufficiently. But if they get their feet wet now and again, they also will not protest.
While red spider lilies want their soil a bit on the alkaline side, Crinum lilies are less fussy. They will be fine if your soil is neutral, slightly acidic, or slightly alkaline.
So, if you are planting spider lilies from both genera, you would do well to go with slightly alkaline soil; that way, they will all be happy.
How Much Water Do Spider Lilies Need?
Consistent watering once a week is good for red spider lilies when they are in their growing season. Like other bulb plants, they should be watered less when they are in their dormant period.
The watering frequency for Crinum lilies can be relatively high, given how fond they are of wet locations. That said, your regular watering should not result in standing water; ensure adequate drainage of your soil. Just because these plants can survive occasional flooding, that does not mean that they want it all the time. Basically, your aim should be to maintain consistent soil moisture.
How to Plant Spider Lilies
When you purchase a spider lily, you will receive a bulb to plant. Below, we go over how you can plant that bulb either in your flower bed or in a pot.
1. Pick a location for the spider lilies where the sun conditions are favorable, and enhance the soil if needed. Amending soil with compost can improve its richness and drainage.
2. Dig holes for the bulbs 8 inches apart.
3. Insert the bulbs so that the pointy ends are facing upward.
4. Backfill the soil, leaving the tops of the bulbs uncovered.
5. Water well.
1. Choose a container that features drainage holes and which is fairly large. We recommend that, at a minimum, the depth should be 18”. Spider lilies need plenty of room for their roots to grow down. If they do not get it, the plants may be unable to flower.
2. Begin filling your container with potting mix.
3. Insert the bulb into the potting mix with the pointed end facing upward.
4. Fill in the potting mix around the bulb, but do not plant it deeply. The top of the bulb should be exposed, while the bottom should be submerged.
5. Water well.
6. Find a spot for the container where the plant will get the right amount of sunlight.
How to Propagate Spider Lilies
With most garden perennials, you have multiple options for propagation. Usually, these include dividing the plant, growing new plants from cuttings, or growing new plants from seeds.
Spider lilies are different. You can still propagate them through divisions, but gardeners typically do not attempt propagation using cuttings.
Moreover, propagating them from seed isn’t even an option. The majority of resources say that red spider lilies do not produce seeds at all. We have found some gardeners who contest this (see posts here from user jon_z6b), though it seems that seed production is rare, and there may be challenges with rot.
So, if you are adventurous and determined, you can certainly try to harvest seeds from your spider lilies and germinate them, but you are likely to have a lot more luck if you just stick with dividing them (see below).
How to Divide Spider Lilies
Dividing your spider lilies is a great way to get new plants and also to maintain the appearance of your existing plants. The ideal time to take care of this is after the spider lily has entered dormancy. Here is how you can do it:
1. Wait for the leaves to die back for the season.
2. Use a trowel to dig in a circle around the plant you want to divide. Make sure that you are not cutting down into the bulbs or roots.
3. Push the trowel under the plant so that you can push it up out of the ground.
4. Gently shake loose the extra dirt to get a better view of what you need to do next. Be careful so that you keep the roots intact.
5. You will notice that the plant has more than one clump. You need only pry them apart to finish dividing the spider lily. You probably will not even need to do any cutting with a sharp knife. They will just break apart easily when you apply some pressure with your hands.
6. Dig holes and plant the newly-divided spider lilies, then backfill the soil.
How to Care for Spider Lilies
If you want to enjoy this beautiful flower year after year in your flower garden, then you need to learn how to care for it. Although these perennials are relatively low-maintenance, they still require a bit in the pruning, mulching and fertilizing departments.
How to Fertilize Spider Lilies
Many sources say that to achieve optimal growth, feed spider lily plants a balanced fertilizer. But some gardeners suggest that a nitrogen fertilizer may offer a more ideal blend of nutrients. We recommend you try an all-purpose fertilizer with balanced nutrients first, and if you think more nitrogen will help, try that later.
How to Mulch Spider Lilies
Carolina County magazine suggests that you should mulch red spider lilies during the winter.
This is most important if your area is cold. Of course, if it is too cold for these plants to survive the season, then you should consider bringing them inside for winter.
How to Stake Spider Lilies
You probably will not need to stake your spider lilies. Even though the blooms can be large, the sturdy stems can generally stay upright with no problems.
We have run into the occasional gardener who stakes their spider lilies; however, you can just use regular bamboo stakes and garden ties if you need to.
How to Prune Spider Lilies
To prune your spider lilies, you can deadhead them after their blooms wilt and trim them back at the end of the season. Let’s discuss both in more detail.
How to Deadhead Spider Lilies
Deadheading is the process where you pinch off spent blooms. Is it necessary or helpful with spider lilies? It can be—though it depends on what you want to accomplish.
We have seen mixed claims about whether or not deadheading spider lilies can promote a second flush of blooms.
Based on our research, we are pretty sure that deadheading spider lilies do not make them bloom twice in a season. Bulb plants like these often bloom a single time each year and then die back and start conserving energy to produce a bloom the following season.
When people talk about multiple “flushes of blooms” from spider lilies in their garden each year, they could simply be referring to individual plants popping up and blooming in several distinct waves following various rains. It does not mean the individual plants are necessarily producing repeat blooms during a single season.
There are still a couple of other reasons to consider deadheading your spider lilies, however:
• It will help the plants start conserving energy for the next season sooner.
• You can tidy up their appearance.
As we already discussed, many spider lilies do not regularly go to seed, so there is no reason to deadhead them to prevent it.
When to Cut Back Spider Lilies
You can cut back your spider lilies after the leaves turn yellow. That is how you know that the plant is becoming dormant for the year.
Are Spider Lilies Vulnerable to Diseases or Pests?
If you are growing red spider lilies or others in the same genus, it is unlikely you will run into diseased plants, though you might sometimes have to deal with root rot if you are not careful.
These spider-like flowers are seldom targeted by pests, but occasionally slugs and snails can pose problems. Deer, rabbits, and other mammals typically will not try to eat them since they are toxic (see the FAQ).
With Crinum lilies, some diseases that you may run into include powdery mildew, leaf spots, botrytis, mosaic, and nerine yellow stripe virus.
Damaged leaves on Crinum lilies may be the result of pests such as grasshoppers, mealybugs, and nematodes. Slugs and snails go after this type of lily too. Mammals usually avoid them.
Recommended Planting Combinations for Spider Lily
Here are a few ideas for companion plants to accompany your spider lilies:
• Ferns: If you are planting spider lilies in partial shade beneath the trees in your garden, they might be happy with some ferns planted near them.
• Spider flower: Given the name of this plant, it would be easy to mix it up with spider lily, but it is actually the species Cleome hasslerana. These tall plants do look quite different from spider lilies but make a lovely backdrop for them when they bloom concurrently in autumn.
• Hosta: Many gardeners associate hostas with full shade, but you will discover that they also thrive in partial shade conditions, making them suitable companions for spider lilies.
Remember, if you want your spider lilies to spread, do not plant them too close to other plants. Make sure they have room to spread into.
Spider Lily Landscaping Ideas
Spider lilies can be used in several different ways in your landscaping to great effect:
• Groundcover: If you want a plant that can quickly grow across a large part of your garden, spider lilies are ideal. They can bring color to a wide area for a dramatic display.
• Border: Spider lilies work, as well as many other perennials, for creating attractive borders.
• Focal point: Few plants will draw as many eyes or comments as spider lilies, so why not put them on full display? Use them as specimen plants in your garden, and enjoy the questions and compliments you receive from your guests.
• Container garden: Spider lilies love growing in containers and can bring a lot of enchantment to your patio or balcony garden.
Recommended Spider Lily Varieties
Usually, in this section, we give a list of some exciting cultivars. But in this post, we think it is more useful to give you an overview of the different types of spider lilies and the differences between them.
Red Spider Lilies
This is the most popular type of spider lily and the one that someone most likely means if they just randomly mention “spider lilies.” It is the species Lycoris radiate.
As the name suggests, red spider lilies have a vivid red hue. Each bloom stands atop a sturdy, narrow green stem. The petals have a delicate appearance, and the stamens are slender and fan out on all sides, giving them a look suggestive of a spider. Other names for red spider lilies include “red magic lily,” “equinox flower,” “hurricane lily,” and “corpse flower.”
This type of spider lily grows in zones 7-10. If you are in a cooler climate zone, you can still grow it, but you will need to overwinter it indoors. Some sources suggest that this species might be hardy in zone 6; your mileage may vary. If you are worried about your plants surviving the winter, bring them inside. Otherwise, you might get away with protecting them with mulch.
White Spider Lilies
Sometimes, this name refers to the species Hymenocallis latifolia, but sometimes it also refers to the unrelated species Lycoris albiflora, which belongs to the same genus as red spider lily.
Not surprisingly, Lycoris albiflora has a similar appearance to red spider lily, except that it features white blooms. It also includes the same hardiness zones (7-10).
As to Hymenocallis latifolia, it is sometimes called the “mangrove spider lily.” The blooms look similar to white morning glories, except that they feature additional petals that are very long and thin, giving it a spidery look. You can grow this type of spider lily in zones 9-11.
Naked Lady Spider Lilies
This type of spider lily is Lycoris squamigera, putting it in the same genus as red spider lilies and the Lycoris white spider lilies we shared. It is hardy in zones 6-8 and produces pale pink blooms.
Electric Blue Spider Lilies
Lycoris Electric Blue is appropriate for zones 6-10 and is another dazzling member of this genus. The flowers are actually a pinkish-purplish hue, but they are streaked with subtle yet surprising hints of blue, giving the blooms a spectacularly unique appearance.
Note that neither this species nor the “Naked Lady” pink spider lilies above have a particularly spider-like look.
Yellow Spider Lilies
Next, we have Lycoris yellow – Aurea spider lilies. These spider lilies are a stunning golden yellow that will light up your garden. You can grow them in zones 6-9. If you are in a colder zone, just overwinter them. This variety is harder to come by than some of the others on this list, but you can find them for sale online.
Crinum Spider Lilies
Crinum spider lilies do not usually look spider-like, but they are still stunning flowers to grow in your garden. And with 180 species and tons of cultivars, there is a lot of variety. Here are just a few types of crinum lilies you might want to plant:
• Milk and Wine: This crinum lily cultivar produces white flowers with streaks of dark pink down the center of each petal.
• Ellen: If you want a spider lily that is hot pink in hue, then you will love these eye-catching Crinum blooms.
• J.C. Harvey: This cultivar features flowers that are white with pale pink streaks for an airy, delicate appearance.
• Carroll Abbott: These blooms are a light pinkish-whitish hue with dark pink streaks running down the petals.
• Album: As the name suggests, this type of Crinum plant produces white blossoms.
• Queen Emma: Here is a type of Crinum lily that does actually have a spidery appearance. Like a lot of the others in this genus, it produces flowers with light pinkish-whitish petals that are streaked with a darker pink down the middle. But the petals are long and thin, curling out and downward, making it look spider-like.
The zones for Crinum spider lilies are 5-10, so do not overlook this genus, even though red spider lilies are more popular. They are hardy in many different parts of the world.
Frequently Asked Questions About Growing Spider Lilies
You may still have a few more questions about spider lilies. Let’s answer some of the most frequently asked questions about this amazing perennial.
If something is eating your spider lilies, slugs and snails are a good guess, regardless of the specific type of spider lilies you have. With Crinum lilies, you might also want to check for insect pests.
Spider lilies are perennials. You can look forward to them coming back every year in your garden.
Yes. You should not touch them with bare skin, as you might develop a rash. And obviously, you should not eat them. Wear garden gloves whenever you need to work with them, and make sure your children know that touching spider lilies is a bad idea.
Yes. Just as spider lilies are poisonous to humans, they are also poisonous to cats, dogs, and other animals. Keep your pets away from them.
There is a type of spider lily that has a bit of blue on its petals called “Electric Blue.” But note that the petals are largely pinkish, not blue. You are not going to find a type of spider lily that features all-blue petals.
Yes, spider lilies are efficient at spreading, which is one of the reasons they make an excellent ground cover. That means that investing in a few spider lily bulbs can result in many more plants over the years ahead. This makes them very affordable.
Yes, spider lilies have a sweet fragrance that you will love.
Where to Buy Spider Lilies
With hundreds of species and numerous varieties and cultivars to choose from, spider lilies offer tremendous diversity. But to get access to that diversity, you will likely need to shop online. Your garden center probably only carries a few types of spider lilies.