Friday, April 17, 2009
Rarity In Bloom
It's clivia season! I always wait with anticipation in mid- to late March to see whether or not the clivias are going to flower in April. I have two--the common orange variety, Clivia miniata and the much rarer yellow-flowering form 'Citrina'. Both are extremely special plants. The orange one is special because it came from my dear friend, Betty Brown. I helped her divide her enormous plants one year and she gave me a baby from one of them. Each spring when it flowers, it reminds me of Betty.
The yellow-flowered one, cultivar 'Citrina', is special because I was able to find a truly magnificent specimen of it--better than most of the others I've seen. 'Citrina' is actually a seed-grown strain, so there is considerable variation in the intensity of the yellow, the form of the flower and the size of the mature plant. I was lucky and found a really good one in flower a few years ago, so I was able to judge the quality of its blooms when I bought it. The plant is huge. Standing in it's 16-inch diameter clay pot, it reaches nearly 3 1/2 feet high with a 4-foot spread, the inflorescence stretches nicely up to the top of the foliage and the flowers are a clear, buttery yellow and borne in umbels 10" in diameter.
Really good yellow clivias are becoming more commonplace, but for years they were true collectors plants. One of the first yellow-flowering clivias ever sold in the U.S. was at the Longwood Gardens rare plant auction and fetched $10,000!!!!! I can assure you that mine was not even close in price, but it's a magnificent plant nonetheless.
Clivias are easy, tolerant houseplants that will withstand a fair amount of abuse. However, the kinder you are, the more spectacular the results. They make excellent subjects for areas of low light, though extremely low light throughout the year may cause them not to flower. Here's how I treat mine.
Clivia culture: They like to be potbound. My big plant is in a big pot (16" diameter), but for the size of the plant (3o" high x 4' wide) it's still tight. Once freezing weather has passed they spend the spring, summer and fall outdoors on the shady screened porch where they receive about 2 hours of direct morning sun and bright, but indirect light the rest of the day. I water and feed regularly during the growing season--a good soaking once or twice a week depending on temperature and wind (too dry is better than too wet), as well as a good liquid fertilizer (a bloom promoting formula) once a month.
The clivias stay out until mid- to late October. Temperatures down into the 40's are good for them and seem to help promote blooming the following spring. Once frost threatens, I move them indoors for the winter. Now, here is the most important piece of advice I'll give you regarding clivias: Once they have come in for the winter (late October, here) they DO NOT GET WATERED AGAIN UNTIL THE FOLLOWING SPRING WHEN THE FLOWER STALKS ARE NEARING THE TOP OF THE FOLIAGE AND THE INDIVIDUAL BUDS ARE EMERGING FROM THE PRIMARY BUD. And by "do not get watered again", I really do mean that I do not water them at all from the end of October until approximately the first or second week of April! Clivias are native to Africa and they have a very distinct dry, dormant period. If you water them during this time, they still may flower, but most of the time the flower stalk will not emerge from the foliage and all of your blooms will be way down in the leaves! Not pretty.
These short blooms stalks on clivia are an extremely common problem. I get questions about it all the time. The solution is the dry dormant period. They must have it. Clivia are closely related to amaryllis, only without the bulb. Instead, they store water in their massive, fleshy roots, so don't worry about hurting them. On a rare occasion, if I really notice the leaves curling or wilting during the winter, I may give them a tiny sip of water--not more than a cup or two on the biggest plants and less on the smaller ones--just enough to perk them back up a bit. Also, NO fertilizing during the dormant time. Just let them sleep and they'll reward you magnificently in the spring!