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Try a Puruvian daffodil

During April, garden centres and many retail establishments have shelves loaded with bulbs, tubers and corms of exotic plants of every description. A few years ago I purchased some Puruvian daffodils. These wonderful bulbs have produced lovely blooms for my outdoor garden every year since I bought them, and the bulbs keep reproducing so that I have been able to donate a couple of pots to our local garden club’s annual plant sale.

The Peruvian daffodil (Hymenocallis narcissiflora) actually is related to the spring-flowering daffodil but it is grown in quite a different manner. A hint at the difference in the culture of the two plants is that Peruvian daffodils are sometimes called summer daffodils.

They do grow from bulbs, but bulbs planted in the spring rather than the fall — I grow mine in containers. The plants produce offsets quite prolifically so that it only takes a couple of years for the pot to become filled with a large clump of bulbs. They are not unlike amaryllis bulbs in appearance and in fact I store them the same way.

In the fall I gradually withhold water from the container to encourage the foliage to die back naturally and then I store the bulbs — in the pot — in a cool, dark, frost-free location until spring. I make sure that the container is taken indoors before the plants are damaged by frost as these are tropical plants that will be killed if exposed to frost.

I dump the clump out of the pot in mid-April, take offshoots off the parent bulbs and plant several of the largest bulbs into a large container. Since Peruvian daffodil bulbs are quite large, I use a large, deep pot. Giving them a head start means that by the time I finally can put the pot outdoors, the plants will have produced quite a bit of foliage.

The leaves are dark green and strap-like, again, not unlike amaryllis leaves. Tall stalks about 60 cm tall emerge and it is on these sturdy stems that the exquisite blooms are produced. They are white with green undertones and have six narrow, spiralling, recurved petals emerging from a central cone. The stamens are feathery and emerge from a large cup in the centre of the bloom — hence the nickname “spider lily.”

Each bloom lasts for several days and each stalk will produce up to five blooms, providing a succession of bloom that lasts for several weeks. With the early start that I give my plants, bloom time is from late July to late August.

I clip off the unsightly spent blooms with scissors, being careful not to injure any buds still to bloom. This deadheading keeps the container looking attractive. Puruvian daffodils like to be kept quite moist, so the large pot not only gives the roots adequate space, it also means I don’t have to water the container quite so often.

A soilless mix with some compost added to it provides a friable, high-organic planting medium that the bulbs like. I fertilize the pot every week during the summer as the bulbs are heavy feeders and the soilless mix contains few nutrients. When the plants bloom I move the container to the back patio where the exotic blooms can be enjoyed. I like growing such plants in containers for just that reason — the containers can be moved to become a focal point when they are in bloom and be placed in a less conspicuous place when only foliage is present. It’s fun to try new plants and sometimes the easiest ones to try are bulbs and tubers that can be grown in containers, like the beautiful Puruvian daffodil.

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