October 3rd, 2003
Divide and Multiply

I’ve been dividing bulbs the last few weeks, work that is a satisfying as digging up a pot of gold.

The yard was already 40 years old when I move here and filled with an established lawn, a dozen large cedar elms and many overgrown shrubs. Since there was no immediate need to do anything with it, I simply watched it over a couple of years, learning the names of the plants and thinking about what could be added and where.

In the spring, the ‘Ice Follies’ daffodils and summer snowflakes bloomed. In the early summer, a pale yellow iris. In the worst of summer, white rainlilies bloomed five days after any thunderstorm. And then in the fall, oxblood lilies and red spider lilies appeared overnight. So my first interest was in bulbs. Scott Ogden’. Garden Bulbs for the South was my bible.

After ten years I’m finding that I can’t put my spade to earth without uncovering, and sometimes slicing into, some bulbs. Grape hyacinths, Spanish bluebells, and various alliums produce offsets by the hundreds. They compensate for the tulips, certain daffodils, and true lilies that can’t stand the heat and mucky soils of central Texas.

So I’ve been dividing bulbs the last few weeks, work that is a satisfying as digging up a pot of gold. Like coins in a magic purse, the more I divide the more I have.

The advice I’ve read elsewhere says to divide Lycoris radiata in the spring, after their leaves die down and cautions that they probably won’t bloom the following fall. I find, however, that the best time to divide them is right after they bloom. Their roots are small and the ground is soft, so it’s easy to dig them up without damaging the bulbs, especially since you can see where they are. I soak them in a pail of water and with a little seaweed mix for a few hours. Dividing them in the fall allows them to do all of their growth in a new spot, amended with compost and bulb food and bloom better the following year than those left growing crowded all season.

Ditto Rhodophiala bifida. Whereas Lycoris radiata stops blooming when it gets overcrowded, Rhodophiala bifida doesn’t seem to mind. I divide mine because I can’t get enough of them. Although oxblood lilies bloom tolerably well when left to on their own, they perform outstandingly with a little loving care.

The pink rainlilies are the same. I had been afraid to disturb them. But after digging up one bunch, I discovered that although they continued to bloom like champs, they were really overcrowded. So I’ve dug them all up and now have three times as many as I did at the beginning of summer.

by M Sinclair Stevens

One Response to post “Divide and Multiply”

  1. From LJH:

    I have lycoris bulbs which put up healthy foliage, but haven’t bloomed in years. The foliage doesn’t indicate that they are crowded. What is bulb food. Bone meal, blood meal, what?

    Should it be put out now while the foliage is up?

    I don’t know. I have dismal luck with Lycoris radiata. They bloomed well for me once when we had heavy rains the month before they sent up their flower stalks. Maybe mine need more water. Or maybe they need more sun. I haven’t found the combination that works consistently for me yet, either. — mss