null Skip to main content

Spider Lilies/Surprise Lilies

How to use red spider lilies in the garden: Like all flower bulbs, red spider lily blooms are seasonal – they come and they go sometime in late September/October. After they bloom on their naked stalks (no foliage with the bloom), the foliage then emerges later in the fall and grows through April/May of the next year.  You can’t cut the foliage and expect healthy perennial bulbs to grow. Therefore, if you must leave the foliage all winter long, and you want a blooming year-round garden, you need to mix in other perennials and flower bulbs to carry you through the season.

Other perennials to use with red spider lilies: I prefer to use some of the best blooming, toughest perennials to mix into our garden. If at my home I don’t use the best perennials, we will either kill them because they are not watered while we’re out of town, the kids will walk over them or pick them when they are about to bloom, etc. etc. So, I prefer to use any one of the following:

  1. Salvias: There are many Salvia species that exist. You could choose the large fall blooming Salvia leucantha, an heirloom selection like Salvia ‘Henry Duelberg’, or a modern selection like Salvia x ‘Big Blue.’ 

  2. Lantanas: the old orange and white selection is great, but also try Lantana ‘Gem Compact Pink Opal’ or some of the trailing lavender or purple varieties.  

  3. Plumbago: comes in a beautiful blue or white, although the white seems to be a little harder to keep alive. 

  4. Phlox: one of the best summer phlox that takes over in the hottest part of July is the Phlox ‘John Fanick.’  I can think of few better ways to cover dormant red spider lilies than with this amazing phlox.

Other Annuals to use with red spider lilies: There are many summer perennials (and annuals for that matter) that can cover your dormant red spider lily bulbs while they rest under the ground, so I am going to focus on cool season or winter annuals. The idea with cool season annuals, is to find a companion plant that brings color to your garden when the bulbs are not in bloom. Personally, I prefer perennials due to budget and time reasons, but I am not opposed to going all in with annuals some years or for special events (like when we hosted a wedding shower one fall):

  1. Alyssum: ‘White Stream’ is a popular selection. It is a cool weather selection that would last in spite of our hot summers.

  2. Snapdragons: play around with many of the colors new varieties offer!  They are just annuals, so have fun experimenting with varieties such as ‘Snapshot Pink’ or ‘Speedy Sonnet Yellow.’

  3. Pansies: I’ll throw Viola (Johnny Jump Up) into the mix as well. They pack a lot of color into a small space, and can carry the garden from fall through spring if there aren’t any hard freezes. They come in yellows, pinks, blues, purples, and more. Matrix is a popular selection of pansy.

  4. Cyclamen: the red and whites of cyclamen can be stunning. They are very popular in Houston and other climates that don’t normally experience hard freezes.

  5. Paperwhites: I’ve included paperwhites along with the other annuals, because although they can be used as perennials in certain circumstances, in this circumstance you will want to remove them after they bloom. The answer to adding flowers to hide foliage is not MORE foliage for months after they bloom.

Other bulbs to use with red spider lilies: There is an assortment of other perennial flower bulbs that go well with spider lilies. These are bulbs that will bloom during other seasons. Other Narcissus which bloom from January to March, as well as bulbs such as white iris, snowflakes, and rain lilies which carry the bulbs from winter through early spring. Other rain lilies, crinums, and Hymenocallis can then carry the bulb section of your garden through summer, and generally pair well with the other perennials.  Bulb selections include:

  1. January: Narcissus ‘Italicus’ is a reliable January blooming Narcissus that has small yellow cups with star white petals. Slightly sweeter than its paperwhite (Narcissus papyraceous) cousin.

  2. February: Jonquils and campernelles: yellow and golden orange selections that bloom in late February.  Listing their qualities, including fragrance and bloom time, would require a book! Scientifically known as Narcissus jonquilla “jonquil” and Narcissus x odorus “campernelle”.

  3. March: Cemetery white iris (Iris x albicans) is a great iris that is a reliable bloomer yet doesn’t take over the garden. Called “cemetery white” because it doesn’t require much water by going dormant in the summer and is seen in many older, unirrigated, cemeteries.

  4. April: Amaryllis and gladiolus. Many amaryllis used for forcing and blooms around Christmas turn into great April/May blooming garden varieties in warm areas along the Gulf Coast States, but the hardy amaryllis (Hippeastrum x johnsonii) really spans a large geographic area as a great garden variety amaryllis. The same is true of the April blooming Byzantine gladiolus, a striking purple/magenta garden variety of gladiolus.

  5. May: Rain lilies such as Habranthus robustus and Zephyranthes grandiflora start to steal the show this time of year.  Plant in borders or up front in the garden, as the rest of your more aggressive perennials and large summer bulbs are becoming large and in charge! 

  6. June: Crinums. Just google them, or visit to see our many selections. June bloomers include Crinum ‘Mrs. James Hendry’ and Crinum ‘Ellen Bosanquet.’  They mix well with the previously mentioned perennials.

  7. July: Canna and more crinums. Other crinum selections will continue to bloom over the summer, but don’t forget about the sometimes-overlooked Canna! If you haven’t looked at Canna selections in a while, there are some real stunners, but don’t be afraid of the old traditional orange canna that is so sturdy.

  8. August: Known as the white spider lily (Hymenocallis ‘Tropical Giant’) it is not actually in the same genus as our red spider lily (Lycoris radiata). It is a summer growing/summer blooming larger plant with attractive glossy green foliage and white spidery blooms – a great summer time companion to the red spider lily

  9. September: Work in another fall bloomer called the schoolhouse lily (Rhodophiala bifida) also known as the oxblood lily! It can be a way to extend the season of fall blooming color, and you can use the same perennials and annual companion plants to work in the winter foliage.

  10. October: This is when your red spider lilies will still be blooming, so enjoy!

November and December: Use this time after your red spider lilies have bloomed and their foliage is starting to come up, to weed and plant around them. This is the perfect time to plant December blooming paperwhites or work annuals into the garden for the following months.

Remember, plant now! The number one reason why bulbs don’t survive is that people forget to plant them!