hello, pretty baby: my yellow clivia blooms

yellow-clivia-detailA PHOTO OF MY YELLOW CLIVIA, which opened up last Friday, graced this week’s A Way to Garden email newsletter, and caught the eye of many subscribers. “Where’d you get it?” “How do you get it to bloom?” And just plain, “Love it!” All of those answers, and more:

(First, a plug for the weekly email newsletter, though, a new A Way to Garden feature that’s delivered every Monday to your inbox if you subscribe. Be sure to get on the list if you want to see such goodies as the yellow Clivia first.)

The plot resumes: The yellow Clivia came to me years ago as a gift when it was little, originally from the wholesaler San Marcos Growers in California, breeders and growers of several yellow varieties. Nurserymen friends of mine had visited San Marcos, and brought me back a baby.

potbound clivia miniataAnother Clivia miniata, the more familiar orange-flowered type, is my oldest houseplant, a creature I have carted along with me through my life from my family home more than 25 years ago. Now in its umpteenth pot (above) and bursting from that one, too, it’s heavier than I can carry, a monster long in need of yet another division. Sorry, baby. Soon.

If I lived in a spot where winters don’t get below the 20s (instead of where they frequently don’t get above that point, as my winter-walk slideshow hints), I could grow Clivia as a landscape plant. It’s hardy to Zone 9, and happy in shade, even dry shade (details on growing it in California can be found in this thorough article). Indoors or out, it offers thick-textured, strappy evergreen leaves and late-winter blooms in remarkably low light, followed by showy fruit that’s red in the case of the orange-flowered standard kind and generally yellow in yellow-flowered forms.

This Amaryllis relative, a native to South Africa, gets to maybe 2 feet tall, and there are varieties whose flowers differ in intensity of color and size, and also whose leaves are wider or less so. Whichever one you get, it asks what many plants from that area do: Let it go dry and cooler in late fall to trigger the late-winter bloom cycle. I simply stop watering for two and a half or even three months, and deliberately grow it in the mudroom, where the temperature shifts noticeably with the season.

As for food, I offer it with a moderate hand, but only from after flowering through the end of summer, never close to or during the rest cycle or leading up to bloom.

Repot after flowering if needed, perhaps once every five years (potbound is fine with Clivia, within reason). And one more detail, particularly helpful if you talk to your plants, and want to call this one by name: The first syllable in Clivia rhymes with hive. Well hello, baby.

Yellow Clivia Sources:

  • San Marcos Growers has a retail locator on its wholesale site, and lots more Clivia information.
  1. Ilona says:

    I see why it caused such a clamor- that is the prettiest color of butter yellow -so cheerful !
    You make it sound so easy to grow this luscious plant, I wonder if any of this color is available in my stores? Have to go look.

  2. Ailsa says:

    Alas, the suppliers you mention do not service Canadian customers. I will have to continue my quest for the elusive yellow Clivia. Reading the stories of people finding them for under $10 at Home Depot makes me want to hyperventilate! Meanwhile, I will await my second year of bloom from my Garden Treasure peony from this amazing supplier up north: http://www.paeonia.com/html/peonies/articles/may_03_feature_article.htm
    Can you tell I love buttery yellow flowers?!

    1. margaret says:

      Sorry, Ailsa, I didn’t know the location issue. :( Yes, I have mentioned that great peony source in some older articles; thanks for the reminder. Lovely stuff.

  3. L.T. TRAN says:

    Hi Margaret,

    Beautiful plant. I want to clear up a myth that clivia plants like to be potbound. While clivia plants can survive potbound, they will not thrive in that condition, especially when the growing mediums are broken down. Potbound clivia will produce a lot of decay feeder roots that die from lack of air. It is possible to keep all offsets in the same container, but the soil must be change every two years, at most three, because these are heavy feeder plants. As for our show plants, they are repotted every year.


    1. margaret says:

      Welcome, L.T. Tran, and thank you for more information about growing Clivias, and how you handle the show plants. I promise to be nicer to my 25-year-old orange one (though to tell the truth, I love it for its giant mass of foliage all year long, and it is always spectacular in that regard). So helpful to have the experience of someone who has grown so many to share with the readers here. See you soon again.

  4. L.T. TRAN says:


    You aren’t the only person who enjoys the foliage. A pot full of plants with beautiful foliage can brighten up a shady location. A few spikes of flowers do not hurt either. There are two pots of impressive specimens (Sir John Thouron Yellow – the holy grail of clivia plants that WFF listed for $950 a few years back) that grace visitors at the entrance to the Philadelphia Flower Shower every year. I believe that Anne Raver has written extensively about this plant in her articles. An original offset of this plant is available from time to time at the annual Rare Plant Auction fundraising at Longwood Gardens.

    A lot of big box stores still sell the plants as ‘Kaffir Lily.’ This is a very offensive South African slang translation for the N* word. Numerous requests have been sent to the RHS to request that this term be removed. When folks see this tag with the plant in the store, they should request that this reference be removed.

    Thanks again,

    L.T. TRAN

    1. margaret says:

      Yes, there are many such horrible plant names that we need to avoid using, indeed. Wait till you see the yellow Clivia in full bloom…I photographed it again today (first of two flower stalks is fully open, the second only in bud). Wow. Will post it later in the coming week for all to see.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Jim. No I did not. LT Tran (the previous commenter) was saying the same thing…I guess I’ll have to make the trip sometime and see them.

  5. Oh Margaret, that yellow Clivia is exquisite!

    Let me formally invite you to become a member of The Clivia Club! It’s a newly-formed group for Clivia owners so that we can help each other out and share our Clivia stories.

    You can join by leaving a comment here.

  6. ana says:

    I have a couple of the orange color clivias which I am going to transplant soon. Please keep me informed aregarding any clivias that grow well in souther ca.

    1. margaret says:

      Welcome, Ana. That link in the story above should be helpful…a whole story (PDF format, sorry) by San Marcos Growers about them growing in SoCal. Fourth paragraph from the end. See you again soon…hopefully with news of your transplant successes.

  7. darlene loux says:

    I have a yellow cilvia plant called HOPE. It’s a year old. It has 3 small flowers you can see them. They a stuck between the leaves. What do I need to do so get bigger? I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. Please help! As soon as possible. Thanx

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Darlene. The clivia flowers emerge from a very tight spot between the leaves, as you say, and normally in time the flower stem stretches up enough to let the flowers open above the leaves. Are the flowers fully open yet, or just buds? It’s normal to see the buds tucked in down there, but if the flower have already opened on a too-short stalk, that’s because the plant didn’t have the dormancy period it requires (here I rest the plant, in a cool spot with no water at all, for about two months in fall). Keeping them growing with regular water and warm temperatures year-round can do this, causing the flower not to be able to prepare itself properly for bloom.

  8. Christine says:

    I received my Clivia as a gift with beautiful orange blossoms. It’s flower was a sight to behold.
    I live north of Toronto, Ontario, Canada and my question is do I cut the flower stem after it flowers? I currently have three pods that are turning an orange/red color on the end of the stem and I’m fear cutting this long stem.
    I have found your website very informative and am looking forward to more flowers next year after learning about the cooling and less/no watering period.
    I look forward to hearing from you and am thanking you in advance.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Christine. You can save the seed once it ripens fully and grow more plants if you want to, though it’s a slow process, otherwise if no seed-saving is desired, just cut the flower stems back after bloom finishes in years to come. Nice to see you, and thank you for your nice words. See you soon!

  9. eric young says:

    hi margaret, i just saw your comment about cutting back the stock, should i cut it right at the base of the plant, or just below the head, where the blooms came out?

    thank you, eric

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Eric. Either way is fine; I think cutting the flower stalk down to the base is more visually appealing/less messy looking than leaving the beheaded stalk standing, although frankly I often forget and find myself with the stem and even seedpods months later (like I have right now on one plant I overlooked). Generally, though, unless you want to let the plant set seed, take off at least the former flower parts and the bit just beyond that, which will otherwise ripen into seeds pods if left intact. But as I say, it’s often nicer-looking to take the whole flower stem to the base, but not essential. Remember in nature these plants don’t have anyone groom them and do just fine. :)

  10. peg says:

    I love my orange clivia, maybe nearly 20 yrs old. A couple of years ago I let the seeds from the bloom mature. It took over a year for them to mature. When I couldn’t wait another minute, I discovered the seeds were germinating on the plant. Potted the babies up, distributed them to friends (kept a couple for me) Now they are growing beautifully, but many years away from blooms I fear.

  11. Sandy says:

    I was thrilled to read your article and also all the comments on Clivia. I purchased my orange plant from Walmart many years ago for less than $20. So shocked to see price of yellow one but maybe someday I can find a bargain. Mine is blooming now – so beautiful and for first time there is a seed pod. Thanks for all the good info.

  12. Cheryl Manson says:

    I have been patiently waiting for my clivia flower stalks to yellow, but it has been almost 2 years now and they look great (no seeds). I was told to wait until they naturally withered before removing then, but am I preventing future blooms? My very healthy plant has not bloomed since those last flowers faded 2 years ago.

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