Bulbs and bulblike plants, Perennials
The most stately and varied of the bulbous plants, lilies range in height from 1–9 ft. For many years, only the species—the same plants growing wild in parts of Asia, Europe, and North America—were available, and many of these were difficult to grow.
Around 1925, lily growers began a significant breeding program. They bred new hybrids from species with desirable qualities and also developed strains and varieties that were healthier, hardier, and easier to grow than the original species. They produced new forms and new colors as well. Today, hybrids and strains typically provide the best garden lilies, but it is still possible to get some easily grown species.
Plant bulbs in fall or spring as soon as possible after you get them. If you must wait, keep them in a cool place briefly until you plant. Don’t buy bulbs with dry, withered scales; they won’t rehydrate, and their appearance may indicate that the growing tip inside is dead.
Before planting bulbs, remove any injured portions, then let the bulbs callus in a cool place for a few hours before planting. For each bulb, dig a generous planting hole (1 ft. deeper than the height of the bulb). Place enough soil at the bottom of the hole to bring it up to the proper level for bulbs (see next paragraph). Set the bulb with its roots spread; fill in the hole with soil, firming it in around the bulb to eliminate air pockets.
If your area is infested with gophers, you may have to plant each bulb in a 6-in.-square wire basket made of 1/2-in. hardware cloth. (The depth of the basket will depend on the planting depth.) Planting depth varies according to size and rooting habits of the bulbs. The general rule is to bury each bulb 2 1/2 times as deep as its diameter. Planting depth can be quite flexible. It is better to err by planting too shallowly rather than too deeply; lily bulbs have contractile roots that draw them down to the proper depth if the soil has been deeply loosened before planting. Ideal spacing for lily bulbs is 1 ft. apart, but you can plant as close as 6 in. for a densely massed effect. Since most lilies never really enter a dormant period, they need moisture year-round; water when the top 2 in. of soil has dried out.
Cut back on watering somewhat after tops turn yellow in fall, but never let the roots go completely dry. Exceptions to this rule are species native to dry-summer areas with gravelly soils (L. columbianum, L. humboldtii, L. pardalinum). These are adapted to dry periods after bloom and will rot if they get too much water.
Flooding is preferable to overhead watering, which can help to spread disease spores and also topple tall lilies when they’re in flower. If you use drip irrigation, keep the emitter 8 in. from the stem. Irrigate in the morning, so leaves will dry quickly, before disease sets in. Pull weeds by hand if possible; hoeing may injure roots. Avoid pre-emergent weed suppressants; they can also suppress lily root growth.
Remove faded flowers to prevent seed formation. Wait until stems and leaves turn yellow before you cut plants back. If clumps become too large and crowded, dig, divide, and transplant them in fall. If you’re careful, you can lift lily clumps at any time, even when they are in bloom.
Lilies are fine container plants. Place one bulb in a deep 8-in. pot or five in a 16-in. pot. A half oak barrel can easily handle a dozen bulbs. Plant at the same depth required for planting in the ground (as described previously). Place bulbs with roots spread and pointing downward, fill the container with soil, and gently hand-pack it until the soil surface is firm. Leave an inch of space between the surface of the soil and the rim of the pot for watering. Water thoroughly and place in a cool room, a garage, or a greenhouse that is heated (in colder climates) just enough to keep out frost. During root-forming period, water whenever the top 2 in. of soil dries out. Move pots to a partially shaded area during blooming period if temperatures rise above 90°F/32°C. Later, if you wish to repot bulbs, do so in late fall.
Incurable viral infection troubles lilies. To avoid the problem, buy healthy bulbs from reliable sources. Dig and destroy any lilies that display mottled leaves or seriously stunted growth (unless those problems are linked to hail or other severe weather). Control aphids, which spread the infection.
Reduce the risk of botrytis blight (a fungal disease) by maintaining good air circulation around plants; don’t let dense foliage surround lilies. Botrytis can be controlled with a fungicide and by keeping lily foliage dry; if you’ve struggled with botrytis in the past, spray the ground with fungicide as new lilies emerge in spring.
Derived primarily from Chinese species. These are easy to grow and the most reliable for the average garden; they are also the earliest to bloom (early summer). Flowers are usually unscented. Some of the hybrids have upward-facing flowers, while others have horizontally held or drooping blooms. Stems are strong, erect, and range in height from short (1 1/2 ft.) to moderate (4 1/2 ft.). Flowers come in virtually every color but blue. Many have dark spots or contrasting bands of color.Lilium Aurelian hybrids
Derived from Asiatic species such as L. henryi and L. regale (but not L. auratum or L. speciosum). These midsummer bloomers have trumpet- or bowl-shaped flowers, and are usually scented. Blossoms range in color from white and cream through yellow and pink, many with green, brown, or purple shading on their outer surfaces. Plants are typically 3–6 ft. tall; each stem carries 6–15 flowers.
Native from British Columbia to Northern California. Grows to 5–6 ft. tall, with one to six small, golden orange, unscented lilies per stem in midsummer.Lilium humboldtii
Native to the open woodlands of the Sierra Nevada. Grows to 3–6 ft. tall. Unscented, nodding Turk’s cap blooms are bright orange with large maroon dots; early-summer bloom. L. h. ocellatum is similar, but its maroon dots are margined in red.
Hybrids between Easter lilies (L. longiflorum) and Asiatic hybrid lilies. These plants grow quickly to 3–4 ft., bloom early, and make great cut flowers. Blooms face up and are available in yellow, pink, red, white, and orange. Examples include ‘Eyeliner’, petals white with black edge, a few black freckles; ‘Kentucky’, whose fragrant, early-summer flowers have an orange-yellow base with paprika speckles, 3 ft. high; and ‘Red Alert’, deep, shiny red. Along with OT hybrids, LA hybrids are among the best-performing lilies for Southern California.
Up to six trumpet-shaped, very fragrant white flowers on each stem; plants are about 3 ft. tall. Usually purchased as potted plants in bloom at Easter. Stems will die down, and the plant may rebloom in fall. In 1 or 2 years, it will likely begin flowering in midsummer, its normal bloom season. Recent hybridization has yielded pink, red, and yellow types.Lilium Oriental hybrids
This is the most exotic of the hybrids, bred primarily from Japanese species. Bloom comes from midsummer into early fall, with big (to 9-in.), fragrant flowers of white or pink, often banded with gold or red on the center of each petal, and spotted with red. Most are 3–5 ft. tall, with flowers that face upward or outward (a few have nodding blooms). If you live where summer temperatures routinely rise above 90°F/32°C, plant these where they’ll get dappled afternoon shade.Lilium OT hybrids
This breeding blends China’s trumpet lilies with Japan’s Oriental lilies to produce heavy-stemmed, 3–5-ft. plants. They tolerate a little more heat and demand less winter chill than their Oriental parents, and most have a light, sweet fragrance with lemony overtones. The color range is mostly in shades of yellow but also includes reds and pinks; “whites” are really cream-colored. Examples include ‘Black Beauty’, very deep wine color edged with a white line, strongly curled petals; ‘Conca d’Or’ (heady perfume), lemon yellow petals with pale edges; ‘LaVern Freimann’ (‘Miss Freya’), maroon red, 6–7 ft. tall, late-summer bloom; and ‘Scheherazade’, a tetraploid (genetically very robust), rose-red with creamy yellow margins, light fragrance.Lilium pardinalum
Native from southwestern Oregon to Southern California. Grows to 4–8 ft. tall, with unscented Turk’s cap flowers in orange or red-orange shading to yellow, with brown spotting in center. Up to 10 flowers per stem. Blooms in late spring or early summer.
Native to western China. Popular, showy, and easy to grow. Stems reach 6 ft. tall. In midsummer, each bears up to 25 fragrant, funnel-shaped white blossoms flushed purple outside. Blooms are carried horizontally.
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