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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 Feb. 18:

It's wet to start the week. When you do get outside, between or after storms, concentrate on damage control:

* Keep storm drains and gutters clear of debris.

* Clean up tree debris knocked down by wind and rain.

* Where did the water flow in your garden? Make notes where revisions are necessary.

* Are any trees leaning? See disturbances in the ground or lawn around their base? Time to call an arborist before the tree topples.

* Dump excess water out of pots.

* Indoors, start peppers, tomatoes and eggplant from seed.

* Lettuce and other greens also can be started indoors from seed.

* Got bare-root plants? Put their roots in a bucket of water until outdoor soil dries out. Or pot them up in 1- or 5-gallon containers. In April, transplant the plant, rootball and all, into the garden.

* Browse garden websites and catalogs. It’s not too late to order for spring and summer.

* Show your indoor plants some love. Dust leaves and mist to refresh.

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