The lily is the queen of the summer garden. Tall, stately, often intoxicatingly fragrant, the countless species and hybrids gardeners can choose from provide a potentially endless banquet of variety. Different species and hybrids bloom each month, so it's possible to have lilies blooming throughout the entire summer.
In most areas of the country, we are coming to the end of lily season. Maybe yours were glorious, maybe they didn't bloom or perform as you expected. Now is a good time to evaluate how your lilies did this summer and plan which types you'd like to plant next year.
Lilies (Lilium) are bulbs, usually planted in fall or early spring for summer bloom. They will bloom for years if given the conditions they need to thrive.
Lilies want at least six hours of full sun, although in hot climates they should be planted where they will be shaded from the worst of the afternoon heat. Too much shade makes them leggy and top heavy and prone to collapse. Keep them well-watered but don't allow the soil to become soggy.
The soil should be well drained, with a pH of 5.5 to 6.5. Plant bulbs deep – at least 8 inches. Feed with a slow-release 10-20-20 fertilizer when the foliage emerges in spring, and mulch with shredded leaves or another organic mulch that won't pack down and shed water. Stake once buds appear and feed again with a high phosphorus fertilizer.
Lilies look best planted in multiples, however they are more likely to get fungal diseases if they're crowded. Check the planting instructions for spacing. Site them where there is good air circulation. Lilies can also be plagued by the bright red lily leaf beetle, as well as aphids, which transmit lily mosaic virus.
Cut off the flowers after they have finished blooming, but leave the main stem. As with daffodils, tulips, and other bulbs, lilies need their leaves to recharge the bulb after bloom. Cut the stems to the ground after the leaves turn yellow. You can move lilies in late fall, once they go dormant.
Types of lilies
Asiatic hybrids (L. asiatica) have bright, satiny flowers in saturated colors, many with speckles. They come in single and double forms and face upright on strong stems that can be anywhere from 18 inches to 4 feet tall. Alas, they are not fragrant. Hardy in zones 4 to 9.
Oriental (L. orientalis) are the most heavily, some would say overwhelmingly, scented. The large blooms come in whites, light and dark pinks, creamy yellows and combinations. 'Stargazer' is the best known. Heights range from 2 to 4 feet tall. Hardy in zones 5 to 9.
Oriental-Trumpet hybrids, also called Orienpets, have the tall, strong stems of a trumpet, but the large flowers are more upward facing. Can grow to a dramatic 6 feet or more. Very fragrant. Hardy in zones 5 to 9.
Species – also called 'wild' lilies – usually have tightly recurved, brightly colored petals that are heavily streaked and speckled in contrasting colors. Tigers and turkscaps are species lilies. Heights vary. Zones 3 to 9, depending on species.
Tiger lilies (L. lancifolium) Multiple flowers with recurving yellow, orange, or red petals, heavily freckled. Stems reach 4 feet. Good for naturalizing. Hardy in zones 3 to 9.
Trumpets (L. longiflorum) are tall and dramatic – up to 6 feet – with huge, multiple, downward-facing blooms per stem and strong fragrance. While they come in a dazzling range of colors, the pure white Easter lilies are the best known. Hardy in zones 5 to 9.
Turkscap (L. martagon or L. superbum) can handle the most shade. Multiple small flowers dangle from individual stems like crystals from a chandelier. Colors range from white through pinks, purples, and oranges. Can grow from 3 to 6 feet high. Zones 3 to 8 (5 to 8 for superbum).
Here's a general timetable as to lily bloom:
For more information, check out the North American Lily Society website: lilies.org.
All articles are copyrighted and remain the property of the author.
By Dan Heims, president of Terra Nova Nurseries
Photographs courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries
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