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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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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 26:

Sacramento can expect another inch of rain from this latest storm. Leave the sprinklers off at least another week. Temps will dip down into the low 30s early in the week, so avoid planting tender seedlings (such as tomatoes). Concentrate on these tasks before or after this week’s rain:

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* Knock off aphids with a strong blast of water or some bug soap as soon as they appear.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prepare summer vegetable beds. Spade in compost and other amendments.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Feed camellias at the end of their bloom cycle. Pick up browned and fallen flowers to help corral blossom blight.

* Feed citrus trees, which are now in bloom and setting fruit.

To prevent sunburn and borer problems on young trees, paint the exposed portion of the trunk with diluted white latex (water-based) interior paint. Dilute the paint with an equal amount of cold water before application.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Seed and renovate the lawn (if you still have one). Feed cool-season grasses such as bent, blue, rye and fescue with a slow-release fertilizer. Check the irrigation system and perform maintenance. Make sure sprinkler heads are turned toward the lawn, not the sidewalk.

* In the vegetable garden, transplant lettuce and kale.

* Seed chard and beets directly into the ground.

* Plant summer bulbs, including gladiolus, tuberous begonias and callas. Also plant dahlia tubers.

* Shop for perennials. Many varieties are available in local nurseries and at plant events. They can be transplanted now while the weather remains relatively cool.

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