October 3rd, 2007
When Gardening’s A Chore

oxblood lily bulbs
Inventorying the oxblood lilies and digging up bulbs to replant is usually one of my favorite garden tasks. So why is this year different?

I don’t really think of myself as a gardener, not in the sense of designing with plants or creating beautiful garden spaces. I just like to putter around outside, especially if it means digging in the dirt. I’m turned on by turning compost. I like growing plants from seeds and collecting seeds from plants. Most of all I like harvesting crops from the earth, like potatoes, or flower bulbs. My most extensive collection of bulbs is my oxblood lily, Rhodophiala bifida, collection. Someone called it my signature flower. I like that.

In 1995, I dug up 64 bulbs in my front lawn, 28 of which were flowering size and the rest which were very small and took several years to flower. Today, as near as I can make out, I have over 1400 bulbs in about 64 different clumps. The growth is, well, exponential. And that was great when I had only 100, then 200, then 400. But this year I’ve reached the breaking point. Not only do I not have enough room in the garden to plant them, I don’t have the time to dig the holes, to divide them, count them, catalog them, and find people to take them. (Calling Austin bloggers. Also, Steve and Bill. Will they grow up in North Texas?)

oxblood lily bulbs
Clump 2002e-13 was in serious need of dividing. From 13 bulbs to 128 bulbs in five years: almost a 10-fold increase.

I read somewhere that oxblood lilies don’t need dividing. Although it is true they will continue to live for years with complete neglect, the bulbs will get smaller and smaller crowding each other out and eventually the flowers will decrease. That’s one reason I take counts and keep records– to track when I planted each clump and how big the bulbs were and how many flowers each produced and the habits of the plants (multi-stems, seeds, more offsets than flowers). This year I lost track. I don’t like not knowing. It makes me feel uneasy and not in control. I even had four clumps left over from last year I never got replanted. That’s bad management! This year I’m going to have to be brutal. In the past, I saved every sliver of a bulb and put it in the nursery where it might take four or five years to reach flowering size. Today, into the compost pile. (Oh! that hurt!) I must focus my attention only on the clumps that need dividing most desperately.

Where to begin? Instead of anticipating my inventory and looking forward to dividing my bulbs and multiplying my holdings, I just stare at the faded flower stalks with a heavy heart. The task at hand seems overwhelming. I attribute my garden grumpiness to the weather. We’ve gone from an unusually cool and rainy summer to an unusually hot and dry fall. Temperatures are still in the 90s and we haven’t had a good rain for three weeks. It’s hot out there and I’m not having any fun tackling fall gardening tasks. I admit that I was completely spoiled by our great summer. But this is October and I get cranky when the grass dries up in the heat and none of the self-sowers have sprouted and the pecans are filled with webworms and the caterpillars are attacking the roses and I haven’t finished turning the compost pile or weeding the meadow. I don’t have time to deal with any of it because I have all these bulbs to divide. Yep, I’m cranky and tired of the heat and wanting a little breath of crisp northern air to liven me and the garden up.

Does this mean I threw in the trowel? Indeed it does not. We gardeners are made of sterner stuff. We press on. Bad moods pass and when the weather turns so will my mood.

by M Sinclair Stevens

25 Responses to post “When Gardening’s A Chore”

  1. From Pam/Digging:

    I’ve got to do some outdoor painting tomorrow, and I’m dreading it because of the heat.

    However, I would be thrilled to have some more oxblood lilies. I want my clumps to look like your clumps!

    “Friends of Zanthan Gardens” (that is, people who read the site and leave comments) naturally qualify. And as an Austin Garden Blogger, you double-qualify. –mss

  2. From Lori, Austin TX:

    If you need more people to take oxblood lily bulbs, I’d be thrilled to take some off of your hands. I’m in south Austin and just started my garden last fall and was pretty ambitious, so there are still a lot of bare patches that need filling. 🙂

    Lori, it was so good to meet you. The oxblood lilies will be happy to fill in some bare spaces in time. And if you need any more purple heart, don’t be shy about emailing me again. — mss

  3. From Rachel from Austin:

    Wow, I’d love to have some oxblood lilies. I think they’re gorgeous, and I’ve got some great spots in my new garden waiting for some great plants.

    Great to meet you today. Hope you decide to delurk from here on, or maybe even start your own garden blog. — mss

  4. From bill:

    I would love to try some of them here. I’ll bet they will work. The lycoris do well here.

  5. From Lisa, North Austin:

    Me too, me too, please! I’m a Garden Blog Lurker who loves red flowers and has a new house/yard with lots of space to fill.

    Ah, so this is the way to get people to de-lurk. Your name sounds familiar. Do I know you? –mss

  6. From Steve Mudge:

    Looks like you have more friends than you thought! 😉 A little research shows Oxblood Lilies to grow in zones 7-10 so Fort Worth should work but getting them up here is troublesome–one local nursery has some in stock so I’ll just pick up a few there. I think you have enough takers in Austin anyway! I really appreciate your love of your plants and for showing them off–I’d never seen an Oxblood Lily before seeing them on your site, so thanks!

    Nonsense. Don’t go pay for them when I’m giving them away. I saw some very sad little ones at an Austin nursery for $4.99 each yesterday. Ridiculous. — mss

  7. From Annie in Austin:

    It looks like I’m too late to claim more, MSS, but I would love more. Do you want me to come and help you dig bulbs while you write statistics down?

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    Annie, you know I set aside a bunch for you and the Divas before I even announced my give-away. If you want to come by and chat, I’m free all tomorrow (Friday). — mss

  8. From Carol:

    I know what you mean that real gardeners forge on through tasks we don’t want to do, heat, drought, whatever, because we know better days are ahead and we’ll be rewarded along the way with good days in the garden. My oxblood lilies have green shoots, but no flowers. I’ll be attempting to keep them going through the winter, then pot them up in the spring and see if I can get them to bloom in early fall. Thanks again for sending me some to try, even in zone 5!

    Carol at May Dreams Gardens

    I was so disappointed that yours didn’t bloom. They must not have liked going through the mail. I have 5 smaller ones from the same batch that I put in water a couple of days ago and they’re about to bloom on my windowsill. Ah, next year then (cross fingers). PS. Pot them up now. This is their growing season. Then they’ll die down next spring and you won’t see anything until fall when you water them. — mss

  9. From Vive Griffith:

    MSS, I’d love some bulbs if they’re still being offered. (Though I may need some operating instructions — bulbs are a gardening area I’ve not yet explored.) I’d even more love some bulbs for a friend who just moved to a new house. The day she signed the papers to turn over her old house to the buyers, the oxbloods bloomed. They’d been blooming when she first visited the house years earlier. Beautifully cyclical, yet bittersweet. Setting herself up for oxblood encounters at her new home would be perfect. –Vive

  10. From Lee:

    Ugh. I totally know that feeling. I get it every time I see the bermuda grass winning the war…

    I’d also love some oxblood lily bulbs if you have any left…

    I can’t refuse the newest Austin Garden Blogger. — mss

  11. From Yolanda Elizabet:

    Autumn is usually a time when there is lots to do in the garden and as a rule most tasks are pretty hard work. Not nice to have to do it when it’s so hot. I’d get cranky too as 1400 bulbs is quite a lot. But soon you will have less bulbs (and less work) as there are quite a few takers I see. 🙂

    Too bad it’s so difficult to transport plants overseas; you’ve been a real “Friend of Zanthan Gardens” for awhile now. –mss

  12. From Shawn:

    Another lurker checking in. I’d be glad to take a few off your hands, if you still have any left. I paid several dollars this spring for a single oxblood lily and it bloomed really nicely a few weeks ago, but it looked a bit lonely. 🙂

    Ah, but next year it will be 2 bulbs, then 4, then 8, 16, 32, 64, 128…and in ten years you’ll be in the same fix I’m in. Sure, I think I have a few left after all these friendly offers to ease my burden. But I’m going to have to close the offer with you. Tomorrow will be the last day I can do any digging because the bulbs are putting on too much new growth. One isn’t really supposed to divide them after they flower. I do it just because that’s when I can see them…and they’re pretty forgiving. — mss

  13. From kate:

    I loved reading your post and the above comments – your oxblood lilies will be going to many good homes. I admire your diligence and determination in keeping count of them! I also like the way your post brought your blog lurkers out! Good going…

    Thanks. It’s been fun to share the harvest. Luckily (as you’ll read in the next post), Annie in Austin stopped by to help.

  14. From Bonnie in Austin:

    Let me know if you still have bulbs to offer. I think the oxbloods are so pretty and I have been anxious to try them.

  15. From Bonnie in Austin:

    Oops, just saw your later post about closing the offer. Oh well, I’ll try to be more diligent about keeping up with my reading next time, so I’m not too late :).

    There will always be next year. But some of the other people who’ve expressed an interest, haven’t gotten back with me so you might still have a chance. First come. First serve. –mss

  16. From trey:

    I just came over to sample some seasonal crabbiness. It’s a lot hotter there than here right now. We have had a few rains with another shot promised for tomorrow night. It does get hot here in the fall sometimes, and when we haven’t had any early rains like this year it can get a bit depressing with heat, a long summer behind us, and the hills all dry and brown. It seems like fall is supplying us with more rain than usual this year. We will have to see if it continues as we had a shortage of rain last winter and we need a good shot of rain and snow this year to fill the reservoirs.

    I guess the nursery industries slogan “Fall is for Planting” won’t have much affect on you this year. 😉 Maybe “divide and conquer” would be more appropriate 🙂

    Untrue. I just visited for the first time a tiny independent nursery, PlantEscape Gardens, and came away with, what else, a new plant. And a new place to shop. The next time I visit, I’ll take some photos so I can write it up. — mss

  17. From amy:

    hello – I enjoy your blog. I came across it because I was looking for information on oxblood lilies. I too have hundreds all over my Austin property (that were, I think, planted in my garden in the 50s) and decided to move some last week in a to make room for other stuff. Many more bulbs came up than I thought and some are quite small. I was wondering how deep you plant them; some of them were as much as 7 inches down… do even the babies go that far? I started digging new places for them and gave up after 2 inches so I potted them all. The clay is obviously so dry right now it’s like hitting rock!

    Oxblood lilies pull themselves down to the depth they like, so it’s said. I’ve not really observed this myself. I don’t plant them deeply at all. I dig a hole about a foot deep and work in a lot of compost. Then I bury just the bulb and leave any of the neck above ground. I leave about an inch between bulbs. I water them in until they are in standing water. Then every day for about a week, or until the leaves are up, I keep them well-watered. That’s all the care they need. You’re very fortunate to have them. And we’re fortunate that you recognize a treasure. — mss

  18. From Lara:

    I found your site while searching for information on various bulbs and this post answered the question of the mystery flower I saw along a county road the last few weeks. I am north-east of McKinney, so yes the Oxblood will bloom this far north. (I’d love to be on the bulb list for next year if you are still in a generous mood – I have family in Austin)

    Thanks for all the great info!

    I’d be happy to share some with you next year. — mss

  19. From mecca trueblood, denton, tx:

    I know I’m way behind considering your post offering ox blood lillies was in 10/07, but we recently mood off my husband’s family’s home place where we had the delight of the ox blood lillies that his great grandmother planted LOTS of years ago. And we foolishly didn’t harvest any.

    We’d love to have some for our new home and they do grow in N. TX. I’m in the Austin area periodically and would love to connect if you still have some available.

  20. From Arasi Austin TX:

    i am also way behind.But i started gardening just a couple of months back in our new house and i am extremely interested in 3 bulbs -byzantine gladiolus,st.joseph’s lily and oxblood lilies.
    I am going to order the first two online though they are frightfully expensive.But if you plan to share those beautiful oxblood lilies,i would love to take care of them.
    Thanks! 🙂

  21. From Kelly, Mississippi:

    I just have a few oxblood lilies, my cannas are trying to take over that spot. I marked my oxblood lily with flags when they bloomed so I know where they were. I plan to save them from the Canna’s over take them and have plans to move them at the proper time. I will have to work on dividing them as I love to have more. Only had 5 bulbs when I got them. **When is the right time?**

    The “right” time would be in the late spring or early summer when they go dormant. However, in Austin, my clay soil is usually too dry and hard by then to dig them up without damaging them. So I always divide them now, just after they flower but before they put on much growth. That way I can see them to dig them up. Oxblood lilies are extremely forgiving and you can dig them up ANY time. Just plunk them in fresh water until you can transplant them. After transplanting them, keep them well-watered (flooding them daily) for about a week or until they look settled. — mss

  22. From Sam Dixon Austin, Texas:

    Twenty five years ago I stood in line for two hours and for .50 cents bought one ox blood lilly bulb. Took years to bloom, but it was worth the wait. I now realize that bulb had not been in the right location. May have twenty or so. I would gladly come over and help you dig and divide, or you could just watch me!
    Sam Dixon

  23. From John from Arlington:

    Oxblood lilies do pretty well in North Texas (i.e., the DFW area) but are not often seen here, probably because they have been so hard to obtain. Southern Bulbs appears to have a pretty good supply. Last year I ordered a small number, along with lycoris radiata and some multiplying daffodils, but had surprise surgery and didn’t get any of the bulbs planted until January. The daffodils did surprisingly well; the lycoris and oxblood lilies hardly put up leaves. We have a lot of lycoris radiata already, so this year I ordered more oxblood lilies and intend to plant them in late August before some anticipated rains. I’ve seen these blooming in front of old rent houses here in Arlington, where they obviously hadn’t gotten any care, and possibly not even watering, in years.

  24. From Debbie Nacogdoches,Texas:

    I have just discovered oxblood lilies and am looking for a good source for more as I only have a few bulbs now.
    If you still have extras, I would be happy to purchase from you, or if you can refer me to someone who may have some available, I would appreciate it so much.

    I’ve decided not to dig up any more during the fall because it is not the best season to replant them although it is the easiest time to find them and dig them up. The Southern Bulb Company sells them. — mss

  25. From Mark scott:

    My wife has ms she loves to sit outside and look at the flowers. She wants some oxblood lily please I live in Tulsa Oklahoma if anybody has any I will take what you have small or large address 507 south 39 west ave 74127 Tulsa Oklahoma thank you.