TOW Nerine Part 1

Hamish Sloan
Mon, 28 Apr 2003 13:42:11 PDT
Dear All,

Hope you find this of interest.

TOW - Nerine

First, some introduction to myself. I did not give this earlier, as I was 
not (I almost put "au fait" but perhaps I should not use French phrases 
here. Things French are not exactly popular in these or certain other parts 
of the world! And rightly so in my view.) familiar with the customs of 
these parts.

I garden in middle Southern England, on the warmer end of Zone 9. Severe 
frosts and snow are rare,  but can catch you out, if you are not watching. 
Generally wet, but with occasional dry periods, so storing rain water is 
handy. It is the wet that comes with these not so cold temperatures that is 
the major problem in doing the damage to bulbs of all kinds. Our plot is a 
little under one third of an acre. The soil is a fine alluvial clay 
containing a very little fine sand (about 2%, almost not noticeable unless 
you swill some soil with water to wash away the clay loam) about a spit 
deep (i.e. a spade's depth; use this word spit elsewhere?). The subsoil is 
heavy clay with flints aplenty. When we first came to this home 30 years 
ago, I filled a 1.5 ton truck with the larger flints picked out in the 
first couple of months when I cut the vegetable plot into the far end of 
the back garden. I have gardened for over 50 years and as that gardening 
started when food rationing was still in place, vegetable and later fruit 
growing were my start and still take my time. The soil is acid and suits 
magnolia (with some attention to drainage being a great plus for these), 
camellia, rhododendron, pieris and hydrangea. I have a few of each of these 
and all of them have one blessing. In general, they look after themselves!

The soil is badly drained as a result of the clay beds but fortunately we 
are on a slight slope so that no water accumulates on the surface. However, 
having improved the drainage of the vegetable garden particularly, when I 
irrigate in dry spells in summer, I can see the water run off at the lower 
end where the water has gone down to the clay layer and then run along the 
top off this bed.

This poor drainage makes for difficult conditions for many bulbs. I have 
seen some of your comments about tulips not being worth the bother for more 
than one year. I certainly find that tulips and daffodils of various 
cultivars will flower the first year and then take time to settle down to 
growing and flowering every year. Some 'Pheasant's Eye' that I put in about 
5 years ago have just about settled in to regular flowering. Add the frost 
and wet combination in winter and hardiness becomes an important factor. 
That other common hardy amaryllid, Crinum x powelli does well by the East- 
and West-facing house walls where the usual builders rubbish provides some 
good drainage.


I picked up on nerine about 25 years ago, apart from a few Nerine bowdenii 
which survived outside. Most of my collection of the non-hardy sorts are 
named hybrids. The dozen species are all fairly recent additions. There are 
two great advantages of growing nerine from the practical point of view. 
First, they need very little heat in the winter months - temperatures just 
above freezing and they will survive, though this is not necessarily the 
best temperature to keep them with a good flower show in mind. So that 
keeps cost down (a point I particularly appreciate since at one time I grew 
a number of orchids). Second, they can take a certain amount of neglect. 
They do not need constant attention to watering. This is particularly 
useful at holiday times as none of my neighbours are "specialist" growers 
in any sense!

However, the greatest appeal of nerine is in the aesthetic sense. There are 
other flowers which have the refractive and reflective combination that 
gives them a sparkle, but for me there is nothing as good as being greeted 
by "Lady Cynthia Colville" on a sunny October day when her flowers facing 
the sun have a sparkle to gladden any heart. It is this flowering period 
that is a part of their specialness - they come at a time of year, the 
early to late autumn and in a few cases into mid-winter, when there are 
fewer plants in flower. They are also long-lasting flowers on the bulb or 
as cut flowers. This particularly applies with Nerine bowdenii outside, 
here, when its pink flowers are a very welcome last glory before winter 
arrives. The degree of sparkle varies from one plant to another. The old 
Victorian gardeners used to refer to gold or silver dusting on the petals, 
but it is not particles on the surface. The cells making up the surface are 
so shaped that the light rays are refracted, giving partial effect to 
colour of the returning rays, and reflected from the base of the cell, 
adding a further turn to the colour effect. So each cell adds its little 
piece to the whole. Having various sized cells in different species or 
cultivars, there is then the appearance of different sized "sparkle units".

A second variation in nerine lies in the colour variation. Particularly 
with the cultivars, there is the potential for three units of colour on 
each petal; a ground colour with the edge colour most often along the sides 
of the whole petal and a central stripe which may not lie on the whole of 
the petal from base to tip. In some cultivars, the stripe or edge or both 
may be missing. Colours vary from through shades of pink to red.

The third variation lies in the degree to which the petals reflex. the 
better looking flowers tend to be more reflexed.

The fourth variation lies in the crinkling of the petals, with a wide 
variation from none to those heavily crinkled at the tips and on down the 
sides of the petals towards the base.


Except for N. bowdenii and a few others such as "Pink Triumph", nerines are 
not hardy enough to withstand frost. Mine grow in a greenhouse kept 
frost-free, generally at a minimum of about 45 F, through the winter. Such 
is the vagaries of our weather that temperatures are often above this even 
over night in winter. More warmth makes for better vegetative growth. I 
have not specifically observed deleterious effects of excessive 
temperatures of flowering pattern, though temperatures below about 40 F 
seem to discourage flowering and I would conjecture that high temperatures 
may be bad for the following years flower display. For the winter-growers, 
foliage is beginning to die down about now. I keep it going for as long as 
possible and feed well with Phostrogen liquid feed. Pots are tall square 
pots, 12 cm square at the top, tapering slightly to the base and 20 cm 
tall, and I aim for 3 flowering size bulbs in a pot. The slight 
overcrowding this leads to as offsets develop does not seem to be 
deleterious but the extra depth compared to normal pots appears to be an 
advantage. The square compared with the usual round pots also save space as 
they can be packed closer together without detriment to the plants. As for 
any greenhouse user, there is always a shortage of space. These pots have 
been produced here for the nursery trade for such as smaller roses and 
other shrubs. They are 2 litre capacity, about midway between a standard 6 
and 7 inch pots. (The company that makes them has a three litre version on 
the way. I wish they would make a smaller version, say 9x9x15, for growing 
on offsets.) Compost is my own mix of one part each of garden soil, 
leafmold (or peat if it is not available), vermiculite (standard builders' 
grade) and grit (3 to 6 mm particle size). The soil and leafmold are sifted 
through a quarter inch sieve. I add fertilizer to bring the mix to John 
Innes 3 level but with double the amount of lime instead of limestone to 
allow for the acidity of my loam and to avoid buying expensive limestone - 
I am, after all a Scot and a bit tight with my cash. (Aberdonians have the 
reputation of being the tightest and I'm not Aberdonian.  Besides, the 
definition of an Aberdonian is a Yorkshireman with the meanness taken out.) 
I also add 20 gm of Supergel (poly-N-acrylamide which swells to about 100 
times its volume to hold on to water), 20 gm of trace element frit (many 
amaryllids send out deep roots which delve into environments high in rarer 
metals) and about 40 gm of iron filings (I'm a former long time 
chrysanthemum grower) to each bushel of compost. The whole is very porous 
and I ensure that I water frequently but never leave the pots standing in 
water. These square pots have raised feet at the corners so that drainage 
is ensured and 24 will sit comfortably in a Growbag tray on the greenhouse 
bench. During the growing season, I water with a liquid fertilizer on every 
occasion, when the pots dry out from the previous watering. Overwatering is 
death to the roots and the bulb will regress. I hold no truck with those 
who have advised in the past that nerines do well on a starvation diet.

Most of my nerines are autumn-flowering, winter- and spring-growing, and 
summer dormant. Watering essentially stops as the leaves die down and the 
bulb passes into dormancy but for successful flowering, it is necessary to 
ensure that the compost does not dry out totally. This is common to a 
number of other amaryllids. It is necessary to maintain the roots in turgid 
condition or the incipient flower buds abort. So the plants get an occasion 
sprinkle through the summer according to temperature and dryness. Rain 
water only is used - it's not often we run short of that! About the end of 
July or into the first couple of weeks of August, I will give a heavier 
watering and then wait for the flower buds to show. During the summer the 
bulbs are shaded to prevent them getting too hot - baking is not required 
for good flowering results. I have on occasion moved them outside into 
protected frames with good ventilation, and shading as need be, to keep 
them cool, but the size of my collection makes this a bit of a chore now.

Water moderately as the flower scape develops. Keep the volume of water low 
until leaves develop. This may be as the scape grows or after the scape has 
reached full height or even after the flowers have opened and begun to 
fade. Where a bulb produces more than one scape, I find that they usually 
come in sequence and the leaves will develop considerably after the first 
scape is well advanced; thus the following scape will be on a well-leafed 
bulb. And hence the merry round.

Fertilization is generally easy for the species and many of the cultivars. 
Some cultivars are particularly poor at seed set or as pollen parent or 
both. The seed grows readily and the fruit will fall open when ripe enough. 
The ripe seed are green; I am still surprised by the wide variation in size 
of the seed obtained, often within the same pod, and yet still being 
viable. The seed will germinate soon after ripe. I have never tried keeping 
seed by cooling or drying. Sow on the surface of a fine gritty compost and 
the seed sends out a radicle to pierce the compost and form a bulb below 
the surface. Some radicles seem to be weak and I give them a helping hand 
with a slit in the surface of the compost and manouevre the radicle into 
it. The first leaf will come up fairly soon after. Keep the bulblets 
growing, potting up only when the seedling pot gets near to crowding to 
minimize disturbance. Until they reach flowering size, there is no need for 
any dormant period, though of course flowering size varies from one specie 
or hybrid to another and it's a bit of a guess-and-by-golly-game. But at 
least two years and fairly safely three years may be allowed to get to 
flowering size.

Part 2 with some comment on species and cultivars follows tomorrow. I'm 

Regards to All,

Hamish Sloan
Newbury, Berkshire, England,
Wettish Zone 9.

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