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Oriental Lily ‘Perfumed Garden’ mix
Oriental Lily ‘Perfumed Garden’ mix

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Zones 2-9, 14-24, 26-29, H1
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Regular Water
‘Strawberries and Cream’ mix
‘Strawberries and Cream’ mix

Lilium longiflorum

Easter Lily
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.

Lilium longiflorum
Lilium longiflorum

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Lilium longiflorum

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.

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