Few flowers have gained greater popularity in recent years than the many kinds of hybrid lilies.
These glamorous bulbs, like Asiatic lilies from the far corners of the world, in forms and colors to dazzle the eye. They generally reach their flowering peak in July, though there are varieties that start the season off in June and continue into September.
Many home gardeners still believe that lilies are difficult to grow, a concept that sprang from the fact that in the past, many lilies were subject to mosaics and other diseases that were difficult or impossible to control.
Now, this no longer is a problem, because the new hybrids are resistant to these diseases. In addition, they are hardier, more varied in color and form, and more pleasing because of fragrance.
Placing Lilies In The Garden
In placing lilies in the garden, it is important to give them prominent settings, as becomes their noble character and regal status.
Usually, they are planted singly for accent in flower borders, but they are more effective when grouped in clumps, either in flower or shrubbery plantings, as well as at other focal positions under the light shade of high branching trees where they do well. So placed they will command attention and provide enjoyment from many vantage points.
Most lilies need sun for several hours a day, so avoid growing them in shade, especially if it is heavy.
Wherever placed, however, arrange low-flowering plants around their roots, for like the hybrid clematis vines, they like shade at their roots, even though their handsome heads must tower high to reach both sun and air.
This is the way they grow in nature, among the grasses of the fields and the low shrubs of the woods.
In growing lilies, the most essential need is well drained soil, otherwise bulbs will rot easily. Even the Turk’s cap or swamp lily appreciates good drainage, though one of its common names divulges the nature of its native habitat. Slightly acid soil is best for the most part, with one exception, the madonna lily, which likes lime, for it comes from the limestone areas of the Mediterranean.
Good soil for lilies also implies abundant organic matter, either peat moss, compost or commercial humus. In any case avoid animal manures, because they cause rotting, only unless very well decomposed.
Never allow the manure to come in contact with the bulbs. As a winter mulch, however, the old manure is ideal, but remove it early in the spring. Where soil is heavy, sand may be added to make it lighter and improve drainage.
Best Planting Time For Lilies
The best planting time is the fall, though lilies can also be planted in the early spring. Autumn is better, however, because bulbs have time to form strong roots and become well established before growth begins in the spring.
If for some reason, you can neither purchase nor plant bulbs in the autumn, store them in a cool, dry place for the winter and set out in the early spring as soon as the soil is workable.
One lily which is the exception is the Madonna lily (Lilium candidum). Instead, it requires August or September planting, because it sends up shortly after planting, a rosette of leaves which remains green all winter and starts to grow in the spring.
Madonna is also in a class by itself because it requires shallow planting. It should be covered with only an inch or two of fine soil, otherwise it will fail to bloom.
A new disease resistant and more vigorous variety of this exquisite favorite, with larger blooms, is available.
Lily Planting Depth
Planting depth varies with various kinds. For the most part, place bulbs so that they have four to six inches of soil over the tops. The auratum lily requires eight inches of soil over the bulbs and the regal requires seven. When planting, a layer of course sand placed beneath each bulb will facilitate drainage.
Remember also that lilies can be set out late in the season, in the months of November and December, provided the soil can be worked.
It is also better to plant during a thaw that follows an early freeze, rather than hold bulbs for following spring.
During the growing period, lilies do not require much care. However, allowing them to dry out can be harmful, so apply a mulch of peat moss or pine needles to prevent this.
As they grow taller, stake to keep flowering heads tall and straight, but be careful not to injure bulbs when inserting stakes into the ground.
If leaf spot diseases show up, start to spray early with old fashion captan or another suitable fungicide. Dividing time is in the late summer or fall after the foliage has ripened.
Good Cut Flowers
Lilies make excellent cut flowers but the foliage should not be removed. It is needed to manufacture the food that will be stored in the bulbs for the next season’s flowers.
The blooms may be cut freely, however, without injuring the bulbs.
To make them last longer, cut when the lower buds in the cluster have opened and remove the anthers from each flower as it opens to prevent pollination, which shortens the life of the flowers.
Lilies are, generally speaking, divided into three groups.
There is the recurved group, represented by blooms that resemble the Turk’s cap or the hanson lily. In these the petals curve or roll backward.
The umbellatum group consists of lilies with trumpets that look upwards, like the familiar Tiger lily plant.
The lilies of the third group also have trumpet flowers, but these face outward, in the manner of the Easter lily of florist shops or the regal lily of gardens.
What are some of the lilies which you might grow to provide a long season of bloom?
First there are the tried and true, as well as the old favorites, which have sentimental value. The previously mentioned madonna, graceful and delicate, is recommended for early bloom and for combining with stately delphiniums, yellow thermopsis, purple Jackman clematis and pink or white rambler roses.
Also flowering early, shortly after the madonna, is the hanson lily, a re-curved type, with yellow-orange, small-sized flowers, noted for their grace. This lily does well in dappled shade and is ideal for naturalizing.
Mid-summer brings a host of these beauties, each vying with one another, for this is the height of the lily season. The hardy regal is a white trumpet, with a lemon shaded throat, that grows from four to six feet tall. It tolerates light shade, and may be used among shrubbery or with bold perennials.
In the mid-summer group are the new hybrids which enter the market each year. Also blossoming at this time is the American turk’s cap or swamp lily, yellow to orange red and spotted with brown. It can withstand a more moist location than most lilies and is excellent for naturalizing with other wild flowers. To keep it company there is the refined, native or Canada lily.
Late summer brings one of the most glamorous of lilies, the auratum or gold-band lily, much admired for its fragrant, white blooms stained with gold and flecked with crimson.
It is a true exotic that combines attractively with delphinium and monkshood and flowers at the same time. However, it is subject to the fatal mosaic disease, but if you want to try it, you might also consider some of the new breathtaking hybrids, with blooms seven to eight inches across, delightfully fragrant.
Flowering in late summer or early fall is the showy lily, of Japan or speciosum lily, with white recurved blooms splashed with rose and crimson. There is also an exquisite pure white form. The formosanum lily is one of the most outstanding whites, similar to the Easter lily.
by Geoffrey Price