Age-Old Wisdom meets Modern Tools
Tips on Caring for a Clivia Plant
The sunny orange blossoms on my Clivia miniata plant contrast nicely with the bleak landscape outside the window this time of year and give hope for spring. They seem to arrive just when we need them the most, after the craziness of the holidays has settled down and the cold of winter has settled in. Learn more about clivia!
What are Clivia Plants?
Most clivias are grown as interesting houseplants and, as a houseplant, there aren’t many that are tougher. Since they are drought tolerant they can go for several weeks without water and in fact they need a dry cold period to initiate flowering.
A cousin to the amaryllis, clivia is native to sub-tropical South Africa where they grow in the shade under trees. Semi-epiphytic, they don’t grow in soil, preferring the rich decomposing leaf mold found under the trees, growing between boulders, or on rotten logs. Their thick, fleshy roots store water like a sponge enabling the plants to survive during the African dry season.
Their colorful trumpet-shape blooms are similar to that of amaryllis but smaller—and they retain their foliage year round (unlike an amaryllis).
There are six species of clivia and many hybrids but the orange-flowering miniata is most commonly grown. Yellow varieties are available but they are very expensive—around $300! Plant breeders have introduced other colors as well including red, white with green stripes or red edges, yellow with orange tips and there are some with green and white striped leaves. All send up a cluster of 12 to 20 small, trumpet-shaped flowers—each resembling an amaryllis blossom—on a tall stem called a scape.
Clivia can be grown in the landscape in zone 9 & 10 areas of Florida and California but in colder climates they love spending the summer outside. Place them in the shade under a tall tree because direct sun might burn the leaves. Be sure to bring them inside when frost threatens.
How to Get Clivia to Bloom
To get them to flower indoors, stop watering and keep the plant in a bright, cool spot, below 50 degrees for at least 40 days and up to 90 days. (If giving it the long 90-day rest, you might need to water if it starts to wilt.) After it has rested, bring your clivia into a warmer spot, resume watering, and it will flower in about 60 days.
I brought mine into our cool greenhouse (where night temps often drop to 45 degrees) around October 1, stopped watering it, never moved it into the warmth, and it started pushing up a flower scape in mid-December. My plant is quite large, not something I could balance on a windowsill, so it stays in the greenhouse until spring when I can safely put it back outside again. It often re-blooms several times.
After they are done blossoming, start to fertilize the plants by watering weekly with a half-strength, water soluble fertilizer. Remember water weekly. Keep fertilizing until time to bring it back inside in the fall.
Sometime the flower scape doesn’t get tall enough to clear the leaves and the blossoms can’t fully open - disappointing after waiting a year for it to flower! This can happen for many reasons—too hot, too cold, too bright, too shady, not a long enough chill time—but usually the fertilizer is to blame. Look for one that offers more potassium and phosphorus than nitrogen.
Pot ‘Em up
Clivia bloom best when they are pot-bound. Often the roots will push up out of the soil at the base of the plant and that is okay. They can go 3 to 5 years without re-potting but eventually your plant will outgrow its container, become crowded and cease flowering. This is a good time to divide it and make some plants to share with friends. Once you knock it out of its pot, it is pretty easy to pull the fans apart without doing too much damage to the roots. Take this opportunity to remove any dead, brown, rotting roots. Be sure to use a light potting mixture that has about 50% organic matter and lots of peat moss or fir bark to aerate the soil. The fleshy roots could rot if grown in heavy wet soil. Grow in bright indirect light indoors, like a north window.
Image: Clivia will develop seeds after the flowers drop. Clip the flower stem off to keep the plant from expending energy on forming seeds.
Clivia can be grown from seed but it takes a long time. The seeds take about a year to ripen and the plant needs to grow for 4 to 5 years to reach a blossoming size. It is much quicker to divide an existing plant.
Keep Away From Kitty
Clivia contains the alkaloid lycorine which is poisonous to pets and people. If eaten it can cause vomiting and diarrhea. The roots are the most poisonous part. If eaten in large amounts they can cause convulsions, low blood pressure, tremors, and heart arrhythmias. Clivia was used medicinally by the Zulus to treat fever and snake bite, and to relieve pain.
About This Blog
Get inspired by Robin Sweetser’s backyard gardening tips and tricks. Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer’s Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. She and her partner Tom have a small greenhouse business and also sell plants, cut flowers, and vegetables at their local Farmer’s Market.