Growing Lilies In The Home Garden

Growing information about different types of lilies available for the home garden. How to protect them from voles. Some tips for selecting healthy bulbs.

Garden lilies are both beautiful and easy to grow. As long as you provide them with good soil and enough sun, they will reward you for years, producing larger clumps and more flowers every season. It is not too late to plant some of the summer-flowering lilies and you will be happy you did when they start blooming in August.

There are three quite distinct classes of flowering lilies. They are divided according to color range, period of bloom, hardiness, and orientation of the flowers. The different classes can be combined in the same bed, but it is a good idea to know what you have in order to do this effectively.


The Asiatic hybrids are the earliest to bloom and have the widest range of color. They come in all shades of yellow, orange, red, and white. Their flowers tend to be up-ward or out-ward facing. They have straight stems, 2 1/2 to 4 feet tall (depending on variety) and make excellent cut flowers. Their fragrance is strong and sweet. They prefer full sun and well-drained soil, but will tolerate some shade and still perform well. Once planted in a congenial spot, they will multiply, creating larger and more beautiful clumps each year. Asiatics are the most hardy of the hybrids, surviving to zone 4.


Oriental hybrids make up the second class of lilies. These come only in shades of crimson, pink, rose, and white. Many are striped or spotted with lighter or darker bands of color. Their bloom time is later: July, August, even into September. The flowers tend to hang down and are intensely fragrant, the scent increasing after dark. If you entertain outdoors at night, these are good candidates for patio containers or beds. The Orientals also make excellent cut flowers. The popular florist lily, Stargazer, is an Oriental hybrid that is easily grown in a home garden. Some Orientals are very tall, over 6 feet. They thrive under the same growing conditions as the Asiatics but are not as hardy, only doing well to zone 5. Even though these bulbs are sometimes available in garden centers in the spring, they are better planted in the fall and are usually dug and shipped in late September/October.


Less showy, but no less beautiful, are the species lilies and their minor hybrids. These often have the look of wild flowers, being more airy and delicate in appearance. They come in all the colors available in both Oriental and Asiatic hybrids but in a greater variety of size and flower shape. Some of them are super hardy, doing well into zone 3. You are not likely to find bulbs of the species lilies in garden centers; you can order them from specialty dealers. They are very well suited to informal gardens where a wilder look is wanted.


Lily bulbs are usually expensive, some costing more than a dollar each, so it is worth seeking out a reputable dealer when buying them. Depending on the effect you want to achieve and your budget, you might want to take advantage of "naturalizing" collections. These are usually wonderful bargains, consisting of compatible colors and heights of un-named varieties. Some dealers will give significant price breaks on larger quantities of the same variety. When you consider that lily bulbs will be a part of your garden for many years, it is worth spending a little more and getting top-quality bulbs. Bulbs offered for sale in garden centers are not always the best choice. These bulbs are often small and dried out. With bulbs, bigger is always better, as the flower is already inside, ready to emerge. Big bulbs equal bigger and more numerous flowers.


Lilies planted in well-drained fertile soil, and getting sufficient sun should thrive and increase each year. If you have planted them correctly and they do not do well, you may be infested with the dreaded "bulb monsters" or common voles. These voracious little pests can decimate a bed of lilies in short order, eating the tasty bulb and leaving the stalk to wither and mysteriously die. Tulips are another favorite food of these gluttonous rodents, so if you have difficulty growing tulips you must consider the possibility that voles are living, rent-free, on your property. You should take precautions before making an investment in bulbs.

There are several ways to discourage vole damage or eliminate them from your garden. Getting rid of moles will help. Voles use mole tunnels to navigate underground and save themselves some digging. Moles will only stick around if there is a source of food they like, usually beetle grubs. If you see a lot of pale, pasty grubs when you dig in your garden and see mole runs in the lawn you can take steps to kill the grubs. Applications of Milky Spore disease is a good way to rid lawns of beetle grubs. As grubs eat grass roots, they turn into Japanese beetles, ridding your soil of them. This will encourage the moles to seek happier hunting grounds, taking the free-loading voles with them.

However, there will still be a few die-hard voles sticking around, especially if you tempt them with tasty and succulent bulbs. You can protect your lilies (and other tasty bulbs) in two ways. Neither method is perfect, but, if you have voles and want lilies you will have to use one or the other.

METHOD ONE: When planting, make short trenches and enclose your bulbs in tubes of wire mesh. The holes need to be large enough to allow the shoots to grow through but small enough to keep the voles out.

METHOD TWO: Go to a rock quarry and purchase a sack or two of flaked rock. Flaked rock has sharp edges and makes a more solid barrier than gravel. Surround each bulb with a few inches of this material. The lazy voles will not dig through the flaked rock and the bulb shoots will grow right up through it.

Naturally, both of these methods will interfere with the multiplication of your bulbs, but at least you will have some left to multiply! If you are plagued with voles, you will have to resign yourself to more frequent maintenance and dig, divide, and re-plant your bulbs every few years. Your only other alternative is to hope for the best, that the voles will miss a few bulbs, allowing them to grow and flower.

Lilies are wonderful and dramatic additions to the garden. While a bit expensive initially, if planted in good, well-drained soil in mostly sunny locations, they will increase every year and more that repay your investment with larger and more beautiful shows. It is well worth the effort to seek out reputable dealers and buy the best and biggest bulbs you can find. As with other flowering bulbs, the size of the flower is determined by the quality and size of the bulb. Puny, dried out specimens may not even grow let alone flower the first year in the ground. Good bulbs, properly planted, will reward you with years of trouble-free beauty in your garden.

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