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Naked Ladies put on summer show

Pink Naked Ladies blooms
Amaryllis belladonna is a favorite with perfume makers -- as well as with bees. (Photos: Debbie Arrington)

Easy-care amaryllis blooms without leaves

The Naked Ladies are back, all over town!

That’s the common name of Amaryllis belladonna , a South African native that has made itself very much at home in Sacramento gardens. It got that evocative nickname because this bulb blooms on “bare” stems.

Perfect for Mediterranean climates, Naked Ladies produce strappy green foliage in late fall and winter, our wet seasons. The leaves emerge when the rain comes. It stays lush for months, then dies back by early summer.

About six weeks later, the flower shoots start to appear, coming right out of the ground (or the top of the exposed bulb). The smooth stems can reach 3 feet tall, crowned with 6-inch fragrant blooms. Their spicy floral scent has been used in many perfumes including Dolce & Gabbana Dolce, Lolita Lempicka and Yves St. Laurent Cinema.

Pale pink is the most common color, but hybrid Naked Ladies range from near white to deep magenta.

Naked Ladies usually appear in August, but mine have been popping up in late July the past few years. (I’ve kept track.) The blooms are stimulated by high heat, of which we’ve had plenty. Too much shade can keep Naked Ladies from flowering; they’ll still produce lush foliage but no namesake blooms.

Naked Ladies on bare stems
The flowers bloom on bare stems.
Once they start blooming, they continue their show for three to four weeks. Each stem can have as many as a dozen blooms.

Since it “disappears” before blooming, this easy-care amaryllis is easy to forget about and readily naturalizes with little irrigation. (It’s deer-resistant, too.) Bulbs can live, multiply and keep flowering for decades.

After the blooms die back and the big stem withers, the bulb returns to dormancy until November when the leaves first appear.

During this early fall dormancy, the bulbs can be dug and divided. Replant them, 8 to 12 inches apart, in a sunny location with good drainage and the top of the bulb exposed, poking out of the surface. (In snowy climates, they’re buried 6 inches deep.)

Newly divided bulbs may not bloom the next summer, but be patient. Once established, they keep putting on their summer show reliably for many years to come.

After dividing, share bulbs with friends. Doesn’t every Sacramento garden need a few Naked Ladies?


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Garden Checklist for week of July 7

Take care of garden chores early in the morning, concentrating on watering. We’re still in survival mode until this heat wave breaks.

* Keep your vegetable garden watered, mulched and weeded. Water before 8 a.m. to conserve moisture.

* Prevent sunburn; provide temporary shade for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, squash and other crops with “sensitive” skin.

* Hold off on feeding plants until temperatures cool back down to “normal” range. That means daytime highs in the low to mid 90s.

* Don’t let tomatoes wilt or dry out completely. Give tomatoes a deep watering two to three times a week. Harvest vegetables promptly to encourage plants to produce more.

* Squash especially tends to grow rapidly in hot weather. Keep an eye on zucchini.

* Some weeds thrive in hot weather. Whack them before they go to seed.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushy plants and more flowers in September.

* Harvest tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant. Prompt picking will help keep plants producing.

* Remove spent flowers from roses, daylilies and other bloomers as they finish flowering.

* Pinch off blooms from basil so the plant will grow more leaves.

* Cut back lavender after flowering to promote a second bloom.

* One good thing about hot days: Most lawns stop growing when temperatures top 95 degrees. Keep mower blades set on high.

* Once the weather cools down a little, it’s not too late to add a splash of color. Plant petunias, snapdragons, zinnias and marigolds.

* After the heat wave, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, winter squash and sunflowers. Make sure the seeds stay hydrated.

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