Plant This: Oxblood lily

Our red-hot summer has faded into an unseasonably cool and, so far, rainy September. Now come the red-hot oxblood lilies (Rhodophiala bifida).

I wonder if MSS of Zanthan Gardens has any idea how much happiness she has sown among Austin gardeners who delight in seeing these bulbs herald the end of summer each year. She gave me a paper sack of bulbs a couple of years ago (I’m sure she recorded exactly when), and I’ve been delighting in their brief but unforgettable appearance every September since.

When I left Green Hall Garden last fall, the oxblood lilies had already finished blooming, but their recently emerged leaves showed me where to look for them. I dug up about 70% of the bulbs but left the rest for new owners to enjoy one day.

In late October of last year I amended the soil and began to replant the raised beds along the back of our new home with plants from my old garden. Along the front of the beds I planted the oxblood lily bulbs, knowing they would blaze in sun or shade in a year’s time.

And so they have. I forgot about them, though, through the spring and summer and planted a few things on top of them.

Recently I laid a dry stream of river rock across a few of them, but they were determined to come up anyway, snaking their way under the stones and popping up, with a kink in their stems, to the side. The kinks straightened out in no time.

I like them with red Salvia greggii (I love red!), with my blue pots, and with the blue-green foliage of ‘Bath’s Pink’ dianthus. On the shady end, they’re coming up amid ‘Diamond Frost’ euphorbia and ‘Black Heart’ sweet potato vine, which is nice. In my old garden they appeared in front of the cream-and-green striped ‘Sparkler’ sedge, which was wonderful.

Oxblood lily is a great bulb for the South, zones 7-10. Find them at The Southern Bulb Co., which says they can even be grown in zone 6.

Note: My Plant This posts are written primarily for gardeners in central Texas. The plants I recommend are ones I’ve grown myself and have direct experience with. I wish I could provide more information about how these plants might perform in other parts of the country, but gardening knowledge is local. Consider checking your local online gardening forums to see if a particular plant might work in your region.

All material © 2006-2009 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

23 Responses

  1. Wait just a minute… did you say zone 6? I thought that they were not hardy here, but I’m in zone 6!!! I’m SO going to try these little beauties–unless that was a typo, of course. :)

    Hi, Kim. OK, I’ve backtracked a bit since receiving your comment and doing more research online. I got the zone 6 from The Southern Bulb Co.’s website, which claims oxblood lily to be hardy in zones 6-10. But checking other sites, including Plant Delights catalog and Dave’s Garden, I find zone 7a to be more commonly accepted. Now I’m curious and wondering just how far north these bulbs can grow. Why don’t you give them a try and let us know? :-) —Pam

  2. I’m just far enough north that they aren’t hardy here. I’ll just have to admire them on the blogs of the Austin gardeners. Good for all of you that it is now cool and rainy. I was worried about all you, you seemed so close to the proverbial edge…

    I was close to the edge, Carol. Oh, you have no idea. ;-) —Pam

  3. Tatyana says:

    All colors work very well together. Pretty.

    I’m glad you think so, Tatyana. I’m crazy for reds and blues and know they don’t appeal to everyone, but that’s the beauty of having one’s own garden to play in, right? —Pam

  4. Amy Emerick says:

    They look great in your garden! I love red…

    Thanks, Amy. Red has so much energy. It’s a spirit lifter for me. —Pam

  5. I’ve become a fan of red lately, too. Even have a great red umbrella, on the deck side of the porch. My family finds this a bit strange, since we are all avid Longhorn fans.
    The lilies are great. I bet deer would love them, too.

    I bet you’re right, Linda. I’ve got mine tucked away safely in the fenced back yard. —Pam

  6. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    I wonder if they would grow in my zone 6 garden too. I have had Cannas come back some years. I have also had them die out if we have a bad winter. I have had Tradescantia come back one year. This year I have some Dichondra escaping from a pot and establishing itself under a tree. I am hopeful that it will stick around for awhile.

    Your oxblood lilies look so pretty. They remind me of shorter Surprise Lilies. I liked seeing that big Aloe behind them too. It is so easy to plant on top of bulbs that don’t make themselves known early in the season.

    It sure is, Lisa. And I move plants around so much that I am bound to hit bulbs sooner or later. Ah well. These are tough plants and seem determined to make a good showing every year. —Pam

  7. cindee says:

    Those are beautiful. I have some Red Spider Lily (Amaryllidaceae) that I love seeing bloom in the fall too. This year though they are not doing much. Last year I dug them up and separated them. Not sure if that is why but all I got was one bloom! Oh well maybe next year(-:

    Hi, Cindee. In my experience, spider lilies (Lycoris radiata) don’t like to be moved and will sulk the first year after relocation or division. I brought some from my old garden, and they aren’t doing anything right now. But like you, I have high hopes for next year. —Pam

  8. Suzanne says:

    Beautiful photos! They are gorgeous against the silver color of the stock tank garden, as with the red salvia greggi and dianthus and deep blue pots. I am also a fan of the Southern Bulb Company; he has such beautiful and hardy old fashioned bulbs to offer. Love your stock tank pond and stock tank garden, and hope to try something like that myself in the future. I too so enjoy taking photos of my old roses, and all of my other flowering plants. I usually put mine up on Facebook and Flickr. Viewing your blog, I am learning some more about agave and yucca and other hardy and structural plants in that vein. Now I will try to get my sister in Round Rock to look at your blog every day to inspire her. Thanks for all your efforts, especially during this long hot summer! I am sure all of your readers appreciate them.

    Thanks for reading and commenting, Suzanne! You are very kind. I find much inspiration on garden blogs too, and I’m glad you’ve found some here. —Pam

  9. Scott says:

    I’m so glad you included that last image with the rock wall in your selection of pix. It gives scale to the Ox-Blood lilies. I was thinking they were taller. What a great little plant.

    They are definitely for the front of a border, Scott, although they look best in large drifts. —Pam

  10. I agree with Scott about the last image, what a great garden you have going there Pam! The wall is a beauty and everything looks so bright and healthy. I usually shy away from bulbs but seems like I might have to give these guys a try, I LOVE the vibrant color.

    Thanks, Loree. Yes, you should give these a try. They are a nice surprise in early fall. —Pam

  11. Darla says:

    What a cheerful determined lily!!!

  12. Phillip says:

    I must try these. They are so beautiful.

  13. Sunita says:

    My tropical blood loves that rich red! Lovely!

  14. Susie says:

    Beautiful, thanks for sharing. I especially love the shots with the blue swirly ceramic pot in the background.

  15. Chookie says:

    Oooh, lovely with those rich blues, on your chair and on the pot!

  16. Hey Pam! Those oxblood lilies are blooming in yards here in Blanco right now. I was wondering what they are. Thanks for enlightening me!
    Best, sheryl

  17. Lola says:

    I have a couple of Spider Lilies & think these lilies would look good in my garden. I like red in my garden.

  18. Laura Wills says:

    Pam – Your lilies are absolutely beautiful, as is the garden.

    I just returned from The Natural Gardener (for you Austin folks) and they have the Oxblood Lily Bulbs. They are 3.99 a piece, so not cheap, but well worth it. I had these in my old house but hadn’t planted them at the new one yet.

  19. Pam, your garden looks so pretty. You are already putting your beautiful, original stamp on it.~~Dee

  20. chuck b. says:

    They’re so cute!

  21. Lori says:

    Oh, your oxbloods look smashing! I hope mine start filling in soon; I’m hoping that in a few years I’ll have a parade of red marching down my side yard.

  22. Phil MacNames says:

    Hello fellow oxblood lovers. I have collected thousands of oxblood bulbs from long abandoned lots over the past ten years. I know of thousands more which could use a good garden home. They’re very neglected in their current locations. So, if you’d like to have some at a very reasonable price, E-Mail me at Why wait years for your bulbs to naturalize when you can have a mass planting immediately? I have lots of photos of my own plantings I can E-Mail as well. Plus many other heirloom bulbs I collect. Hope to hear from you.

  23. Phil MacNames says:

    By the way, the bulbs you’d buy from the Natural Gardener came from me.