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Blood lily: a ball of fire in a flower pot

Blood lily is a plant native to South Africa that produces fiery red flowers. It's also called the fire-ball lily.

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That would mean: bulbs planted just below soil level, with excellent drainage; supplied with plenty of water while in active growth; kept hot and dry in dormancy; and best left undisturbed for many years. Although tolerant of full sun, in the wild blood lilies are often found growing in the shade of small shrubs.

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But for most of us, it’s best to grow them in pots. Plant the bulbs with their necks just at or a little above soil level, taking care not to damage the fleshy roots. Fertilize once or twice during active growth with a weak feeding of liquid fertilizer.

My bulbs are only three years old, and this is the first year all five bulbs bloomed, though not all at once. (OK, maybe I’m being picky. But if they could only get their act together and bloom all at once, I’d highly appreciate it.) Literature tells me they should bloom in mid- to late summer, but mine bloom in early June.

Could it be that I have some teenager plants on my hands?

Fall and winter care

After bloom, I let the blood lilies luxuriate in an out-of-the-way corner of the deck in partial shade until the weather forecasters predict temperatures dipping below 55 degrees F. (13 C). That's the wake-up call for me to start moving plants indoors.

Last year, I let the soil in the pots dry out and the bulbs go dormant. It took about a month for the foliage to completely dry out. I withheld water until spring, then started watering them once again, keeping them indoors until all danger of frost was gone.

This year, I’m toying with the idea of keeping the containers as houseplants, watering them all winter long just to see what happens come next spring.

A word of caution: The blood lily contains chemicals that are poisonous. Although it is considered to be “relatively low” in toxicity, the plant’s unusual blooms entice kids and pets like magnets. Therefore, I would keep a wary eye out when children and animals are present.

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Betty Earl, the Intrepid Gardener, is one of nine garden writers who blog regularly at Diggin' It. She's the author of “In Search of Great Plants: The Insider’s Guide to the Best Plants in the Midwest.” She also writes a regular column for Chicagoland Gardening Magazine and The Kankakee Journal and numerous articles for Small Gardens Magazine, American Nurseryman, Nature’s Garden, and Midwest Living Magazine, as well as other national magazines. She is a garden scout for Better Homes and Gardens and a regional representative for The Garden Conservancy. To read more by Betty, click here.

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