A Master Gardener's Tips For Growing Lilies

Tips for growing lilies including choosing varieties, soil and climate requirements, planting instructions, and a discussion of growth habits and propagation.

Lilies are the most regal of all flowers - true garden aristocrats. Stunning in cut arrangements, potted, naturalized, or in formal gardens, lilies are favorites of florists, landscape designers, and home gardeners alike. Lilies are as easy to grow as any other perennial if you select varieties that are suited to your growing region and follow a few simple rules.

Modern breeding techniques have produced an incredible variety of lilies, tall or short; in distinctive forms, upright or candelabra; and stunning colors ranging from pure white through creams and pastels, pinks, yellows, oranges, golds, and vivid reds. All are equally lovely, so making choices for your garden will be difficult.

Most lilies grow best in region 8 northward through the warmer areas of region 4. Lilies do poorly in the desert southwest. In the western sections of growing regions 9 and 10, lilies should be planted where they will receive afternoon shade. While they do not require special soil, lilies must not be planted in any location where water will stand on the bulbs. A porous, rapid-draining soil is best. If your soil contains too much clay, add sand, moistened peat moss, or compost to increase porosity. It has been said that lilies, like clematis, "prefer their heads in the sun and their feet in the shade." The best location is one in sun or light shade among ground covers such as vinca or ferns.

Lilies grow from scaly bulbs. The bulbs are planted in autumn, either September, October, or November, depending on your growing region. Ideally, the bulbs are sold with roots attached. Since they are never completely dormant, they should be planted as soon as you bring them home. Lilies are very attractive planted in groups. Loosen the soil to a depth of at least 10 inches, then moisten the ground where the bulbs are to be planted to promote immediate root growth. Plant large bulbs (those 3 inches or more in diameter) at least 10 inches apart covered with 4 or 5 inches of soil. Cover smaller bulbs with about 3 inches of soil. Water the bulbs after planting to settle the soil. In colder growing regions, mulch the ground above the bulbs after freezing weather.

Lilies respond well to ample feeding. In spring and early summer, apply a complete fertilizer or a combination of organic nutrients that provide adequate amounts of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. Water thoroughly. Shoots sometime emerge in early spring before the last frost. If a heavy frost or freeze is predicted, cover the lilies so the buds will not be ruined. Do not cultivate deeply around your lilies since there are feeder roots near the surface of the soil that can be easily damaged.

Depending on the variety, blooms begin in May and continue through September. For cut arrangements, the blooms will last longer if the buds are cut when they are fully colored. Be aware that cutting more than one-third of the length of the stem will weaken the bulb for next year. Remember, the more foliage this year, the more blossoms you will have next year. When blooming is over, cut off the developing seed pod but leave the stem and all the leaves.

Lilies can be propagated by using scales from the bulbs or with bulblets produced on the underground stem. Either method requires two to three years for a bulb to reach sufficient size to produce a bloom. Non-hybrid lilies can also be propagated from seed, but that method should be left to the experts.

Some of the best lilies for beginners are the coral lily, madonna lily, regal lily, tiger lily, showy lily, Olympic hybrids, Aurelian hybrids, and mid-century hybrids.

Lilies add rich colors and splendid form to almost any landscape. From the classic to the ornate, they will delight your senses and enhance your gardening experience.

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