Archive for May, 2014
The common name rain lily comes from this plant’s tendency to bloom after a good soaking from Mother Nature. They are native to tropical and semi-tropical regions of the Americas. There are 3 genera commonly known as rain lilies – Zephyranthes, Habranthus, and Cooperia. Rain lilies are a perennial bulb with a hardiness of USDA Zones 7 to 11 for most species. They come in various colors, mostly ranging from pinks, yellows, and whites and new colors are popping up through hybridizing and breeding all the time. Although the common name would suggest that they are in the Liliaceae (lily) family, they actually fall under Amaryllidaceae.
Rain lilies are often grown in containers where they can be placed on a front porch or around a deck and will reward all season long. I have found that if grown in containers, they seem to prefer being slightly crowded and even somewhat pot-bound. They also look great along a pathway or in the front of a sunny border and are often used in rock gardens. To get the finest show, Rain lilies look best planted in masses. Most Rain lilies will bloom several times a season, usually after a good downpour.
If you live in a zone where Rain lilies are not hardy they are easy to overwinter. When it starts getting cooler, simply bring them indoors (either the container or, if planted, the dug up plants – if possible give them a quick potting) and keep them dry all winter, then set them outside again in the spring. You can pull off the foliage as it dies to keep them clean. You may want to either add soil or rough the edges of the pot prior to setting them outside if the soil has shrunk over the winter.
Rain lilies grow best in full sun to partial shade. They prefer to be kept evenly moist but can tolerate periodic dry spells without problem. During summer months use a well-balanced fertilizer (either liquid or slow release). The bulbs produce offsets which can be divided and planted in spring or you can sow seeds if you wish. If you are collecting seeds, sow right away before they dry as they tend to lose the ability to germinate and may take extra time to do so. Rain lilies are very gardener-friendly as they have no serious pest or disease issues. I have had problems with mealy bugs, however, but that is because I start watering them earlier in the season than normal and I keep them in the greenhouse for a fuller plant come spring. Be aware that all parts of the plant can be toxic if ingested.
After reading this, you may be eager to see some Rain lilies for yourself, so please stop by the Ripley Garden at the Smithsonian Institution this summer and enjoy their beauty. Some of the ones we display are Zephyranthes flavissima, Habranthus robustus ‘Russell Manning’, Habranthus texanus, and Zephyranthes candida.
-Matt Fleming, Smithsonian Gardens horticulturist
Join us this Saturday, May 9th, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m for a celebration of “Water, Water, Everywhere” at Garden Fest in the Enid A. Haupt Garden. In this blog entry Sarah Tietbohl writes about just one of the many ways we try to conserve water at Smithsonian Gardens.
When I first started at Smithsonian Gardens in 2010 I was assigned the job of cleaning the Moongate fountain in the Enid A. Haupt Garden. I was excited about this task as I would have an opportunity to learn to use a new piece of equipment and keep cool during the hot summer months. I estimated that the fountain would need to be cleaned maybe once a month. With the pond open between April and October, that would total seven times a year. That spring, the cleaning schedule started out at once a month. As the season went on and the temperatures climbed into the 90s, I noticed that the fountain was growing algae at a rapid pace. It turned the water a sickly slimy-green color. That once-a-month cleaning turned into scouring once or twice a week! That season, I ended up cleaning the fountain well over twenty times. The next year it was the same story.
After the summer of 2011, I really started to think about all of the water, energy, and time it takes to clean the Moongate fountain. I started to gauge the amount of water that was being used in one year to clean and fill the fountain. I calculated that it takes 2,300 gallons of water just to fill the fountain each time it is cleaned, plus 200 gallons or so to clean it. I decided to research environmentally-friendly products that would reduce the amount of algal growth, thereby cutting down on the amount of water needed to re-fill the fountain after each cleaning. Fewer cleaning sessions would also result in less emissions (and noise) generated from the power washer that runs every time the fountain is cleaned. I started experimenting with a non-toxic black pond dye. Adding black dye to the fountain reduced the amount of sunlight that was able to penetrate the water, which in turn reduced the algal growth. I found the dye to be very effective and talked my colleagues into using it in the fountains in the Ripley and Folger Gardens as well. Thanks to the black dye solution, Smithsonian Gardens has reduced fountain water use from 60,000 gallons a year to slightly less than 22,000 gallons- a terrific way for Smithsonian Gardens to employ a sustainable alternative in its operations.
-Sarah Tietbohl, Smithsonian Gardens