Clivia (with their near cousin, the pink amaryllis, blooming in the kitchen.

Clivia (with their near cousin, the pink amaryllis) blooming today in the kitchen.

Legacy is an amazing thing. As a child growing up in the 70s, I was captivated by the TV gardener and garden writer, Thalassa Cruso. I’ve written about her several times before, so I will only add here that my debts to her continue. She, along with my grandfather, inspired me down countless new horticultural paths, some which still bear fruit today. One of the more spectacular is pictured above, the magnificent yellow clivia, first brought to my attention in the pages of Thalassa’s classic, Making Things Grow.

Since I  wrote about these plants and their history in 2010 (that’s kyl’ -vee -ah to you) I’ve continually wondered why we don’t see more clivias in American indoor gardens.  One barrier to popularity is certainly perceived cost, as a single small division of a variegated or rare color variety can easily go for $30-50. However, this is one investment the average indoor gardener shouldn’t shy away from. Clivias are extremely easy to grow. They require only dappled light, and because the leaves arise from a large, fleshy bulb, you can forget to water them for a week and never know the difference. (In fact, over-watering is the only sure way to kill clivias.) Each year after  blooming, 1-3 off-shoots will appear, which will eventually form into full sized bulbs, creating a massive floral display in the following seasons. With any other plant, you’d be tempted to re-pot as soon as the plant mass fills the pot surface, but don’t be in a hurry with the clivia. They resent being divided, and often will sulk for a year or two without blooming. The only other real trick with the clivia is that you need to mimic their natural winter cooling period. Nighttime temperatures must to dip into the 55-60º range for several months in order for the flower blossoms to set — much like forcing bulbs indoors. This shouldn’t be a problem though if you have a cool sun room, enclosed porch or greenhouse space to winter them in. When you see the flower spikes beginning to form, bring them back into the warmth and you’ll be treated to a month-long floral display.

A very lush reward for very little work.

Thanks again, Thalassa.



Legacy — 4 Comments

  1. If only it were that easy!
    I have great foliage, they get their cool and dry spell October to February, and still only bloom every few years…
    Great even as foliage plants, though.
    Love the blog, btw.

  2. Jim: try this. Put your plants outside in dappled sun for the full summer, well watered and fertilized; reduce their winter temperature 5º from wherever you have it now. They should bloom reliably every year, but they need enough sun energy in the summer to power the blooms, and enough cold to set the blossoms in the fall. Report back in a year!

  3. Thanks for the response, Michael…
    I feel like I’ve done all of that (Tovah Martin gives strict instructions in her books!) but I’ll keep trying. They may not be outbound enough, as I divided them a couple of years ago.
    Happy spring from central Massachusetts!

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