'Naked ladies' can pop up in late summer

A gorgeous pink flower that looks like a lily is emerging in spots around my yard. The flowers have long stems 2 to 3 feet tall but no leaves. Did someone plant this, or did it just grow naturally? This is our first year in this house.

Those are naked ladies, or belladonna lilies, common names for Amaryllis belladonna, a popular and easy-to-grow bulb. The strappy leaves previously came up in spring and then died back, about the same time as daffodil leaaves die. The flower stalk appears separately in late summer. You can miss seeing the leaves when they are mixed in with other plants. Naked ladies are native of South Africa and were almost certainly planted by a former occupant. They grow best in full sun. Bulbs can be divided and replanted in fall.

I am growing sweet potatoes for the first time. The plants are very vigorous. How do I know when to harvest? And is it true you can eat the leaves?

Sweet potato foliage is very nutritious. In fact, the leaves can have a higher protein content than the roots. Foliage can be sauteed or steamed. Young leaves and shoot tips are best. The roots continue to grow until frost kills the vines. It takes at least 90 days from the time you planted your slips for good-sized roots to develop. Go ahead and gently dig under one of your plants to check their current size. Harvest all the roots before the first frost for best storage and eating quality.

University of Maryland Extension's Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information. Call 800-342-2507 or send a question to the website at extension.umd.edu/hgic.

Plant of the week

Christmas fern

Polystichum acrostichoides

Christmas fern stays glossy and evergreen into winter when most ferns have shriveled and gone dormant. New spring fronds grow stiffly upright. Hard frosts and snows will push them down, but even then they remain effective in the landscape. With their creeping rhizomes, and self-seeding where happy, Christmas fern makes a slow-spreading loose groundcover, 1 to 2 feet tall. These Maryland natives mingle well with bulbs and ferns in woodlands, on stream banks or in borders. They prefer moist, acidic, humus-y forest soils, so work organic matter into their planting bed. They can endure dry soils in shade and tolerate sun as long as soil is moist. Divide clumps in spring or fall. Deer leave them alone. —Ellen Nibali

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