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How to grow magnificent Clivias
Warm colour easy-growing blooms for your home or shade garden
OCT 15, 2021 | Written by Zoë Chapman Poulsen, Photos by Daryl De Beer, ‘yunacris’ and Zoë Chapman Poulsen.
Above: Clivia miniata in flower along the Camphor Tree Avenue at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens. Photo: Zoë Chapman Poulsen.
Famous for their magnificent blooms, Clivias are loved by gardeners and grown worldwide. These spectacular bulbs belong to the Amaryllidaceae family, with members of the genus only found growing in the wild in South Africa and eSwatini.
There are just six species of Clivia, but within these species there are many different flower-colour forms and hybrids that are grown and prized by fans of the group. Clivias are slow growing and long lived, taking many years to flower from seed.
Above: The beautiful blooms of Clivia nobilis in flower along the boomslang walkway at Babylonstoren Gardens, Cape Winelands. Photo: Zoë Chapman Poulsen.
Clivias in habitat
In their natural habitat, five of the six Clivia species are found in southern Africa’s summer-rainfall region from the southern Eastern Cape northwards through KwaZulu-Natal into Mpumalanga and northern eSwatini and inland as far as the Soutpansberg in Limpopo.
In contrast, the miracle Clivia (Clivia mirabilis) is indigenous to a small area of the Northern Cape near the town of Nieuwoudtville.
The summer-rainfall Clivias grow predominantly as part of the understorey of afrotemperate forest, often on or around large boulders on humus-rich soils. The Eastern Cape Clivia (Clivia nobilis) is sometimes found growing on alkaline sand dunes among shrubs.
This means that in cultivation you can grow most Clivias in shaded or semi-shaded areas of your garden.
Above: Winter water droplets on the bloom of Forest Bushlily (Clivia gardenii) flowering in the Dell at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens. Photo: Zoë Chapman Poulsen.
Welcoming a Clivia into your home
Whether you have access to a garden, a backyard or live in an apartment, Clivias are some of the most versatile of bulbs, growing easily both indoors and outdoors, in containers or in the ground. They enjoy shady spots outside, or in well-lit positions with no direct sunlight as house plants.
In addition to their easy-growing nature, Clivias flower best when slightly pot bound and so with sufficient feeding they can thrive in the same container for many years to come.
The key to success is ensuring that the plant pot allows water to drain easily. This can be done by adding a layer of stone chips or pieces of broken terracotta pots in the bottom of the container before adding your compost mix.
You can grow your potted Clivia in an equal mix of potting compost, river sand and fine grade pine tree bark. If you are not sure where to find these ingredients, ask the staff at your local plant nursery or garden centre.
Above: Forest Bushlily (Clivia gardenii) flowering in habitat in KwaZulu-Natal. Photo: Daryl De Beer/iNaturalist.
Clivias en masse
The beautiful flowers of just one Clivia in bloom will give you years of pleasure as a ‘plant parent’. But if you have the space, they can also bring you joy when growing en masse in a shady corner of the garden.
Consider growing a few different Clivia species and colour forms together to give your shady corner pops of changing flower colours and structure through the season. You will need a frost-free garden for outdoor growing and well-drained garden soil.
You can tell if you have well-drained soil by digging a small hole in the ground and filling it with water. In well-drained soils your water will soak in and drain away quickly. If it forms a puddle and drains slowly, you may need to add compost to the soil or grow plants that require well-drained soil in containers or raised beds.
If you haven’t got space to grow your own Clivias, why not experience their flower power at your local botanical garden or park? Members of the Botanical Society of South Africa enjoy entry to national botanical gardens nationwide.
You can enjoy blooming displays each year at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden in Cape Town, at Babylonstoren Gardens in the Cape Winelands, the Clivia Dam at KwaZulu-Natal National Botanical Gardens in Pietermaritzburg and others.
Above: Pondo Bushlily (Clivia robusta) in bloom in habitat. Photo: ‘yunacris’/iNaturalist.
Watering and feeding your Clivia
Once they are established in their containers or in the garden, Clivias are highly drought tolerant. It is most important to ensure that you don’t kill your Clivias with kindness by giving them too much water.
The five summer rainfall growing species, namely Clivia caulescens, Clivia gardenii, Clivia miniata, Clivia nobilis and Clivia robusta, should receive more water at regular intervals during their growing season in summer, but less water during winter.
If your Clivia is growing in a plastic container, then from spring to late autumn you should water it thoroughly once per week. If it is growing in a terracotta pot, then it will need a thorough watering twice or three times per week. During winter, you can water your container grown Clivias once or twice each month.
Clivias are hungry plants and will reward you with more flowers if fed regularly. Through the growing season you can feed your Clivia with an organic pellet-based slow-release fertiliser, applied according to the packet instructions. As flower buds form, you can also add a liquid seaweed feed.
Our Reference Picks
The ‘Grow Clivias’ book, written by bulb expert and Kirstenbosch horticulturalist Graham Duncan, forms part of the Kirstenbosch Gardening Series.
This detailed and informative publication is available from the Kirstenbosch Bookshop, both in person and via their online shop.
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Thank you for sharing your knowledge. I grow cliveas in Melbourne Australia. They flourish although I’ve never fed them.
As I’ve lost tree cover for some I’m about to move some substantial clumps so your advice came just in time.