Planting * Watering * Fertilizing * Staking * Grooming, Cutting or Pruning * Transplanting, Digging and Dividing * Mulching * Hybridizing * Pests * Diseases

First, one common misconception needs to be clarified. Lilies are not related to daylilies. Lilies are bulbs that have large fleshy scales, but no outer protective layer, rather than being a fleshy root like daylilies. Some names or terms that you might see or hear in regard to lilies are: Species, Asiatic, Oriental, Martagon, Trumpet, Aerulian, LA Hybrid, Orienpet and Asiapets, among others. Lilies have blooms that can be upward facing, outward facing, or downward facing. They can be many different colors and many are fragrant. Blooms can range from just an inch or two to many inches. In addition to those variations, lilies can also range in height from just a few inches to several feet tall!

We generally plant our lily bulbs in the early spring, but there are some, such as the Martagon lilies, which are typically planted in the early fall of the year. Unlike other bulbs, lily bulbs do not have a true dormant period. Therefore it is important to plant them as soon as possible and not let them dry out. Lily bulbs also do very well as container plants, and we routinely pot up bulbs in the spring and then later transplant them into the garden after they have bloomed. This way we can move a blooming pot from one area of the garden to another when an area needs a spot of color or fragrance. Potted lilies can be planted with very little disturbance to the bulb once you have your site ready.

Although they don't like to be heavily crowded or heavily shaded, there is a saying that lilies like to have "toes in the shade and face the sun". They do very well in mixed perennial and annual gardens, with the lower plants acting as living mulch while the blooms are held over the top of the lower growth. They need well drained soil with plenty of well rotted organic material. Most lilies thrive in rich humus neutral to slightly acidic soil. Asiatic and Trumpet lilies are tolerant of some alkalinity, but Orientals find an alkaline soil to be fatal.

If asked if there is one all important rule in growing lilies successfully, the answer would be yes. Lilies require good drainage. When looking in your garden for an area to plant lily bulbs, the first thought always has to be about drainage. Contrary to what you might have thought, simply adding sand to the planting hole in a clay soil to improve its drainage will not be successful. What actually happens is that the water will drain to that site from the surrounding areas and the water will accumulate there. So if you are to improve the drainage of that site, the entire area needs to be improved so that the water from surrounding areas will not accumulate. If this sounds like too much of a job to be able to have lilies in your garden, don't be discouraged as there are some simple and easy solutions to get good drainage without totally reworking your entire garden plot. One of the easiest ways to accomplish this is to plant the bulb on a slope. Water will naturally drain away from the plants, and use of mulch around the stems will keep the soil from washing away and help retard weed growth. If your garden site doesn't have a natural slope, one solution would be to plant your bulbs in a raised bed or in a smaller scale, in individual planting "hills". To make a raised bed (or the individual hills) simply heap good humus soil on top of the current bed and plant your bulb in that soil on top. A good humus soil mixture to use would be 1 part humus to 1-2 parts soil with 1 part sand, and to a depth of at least 12-18 inches. Water will naturally drain down and away from your lily bulbs. Depending on the type of bulb you are planting, the bulb should be covered with anywhere from as little as 1" to as much as 8" of soil and they should be spaced 4-24" apart. Tamp the soil around the bulb to remove air pockets which can cause the roots to dry out. Water your newly planted lily bulbs.

Asiatic lilies do best with at least 4" of soil over the top of the bulbs, or if in very light soil they can be planted slightly deeper. When grouping them, leave 6-12" between bulbs to allow for bulb growth.
Species and other smaller bulbs can be planted less deeply, with 3" of soil over the bulbs and as close as 4-6" apart.
Trumpet lilies need to be planted 6-8" deep.
Orienpets which have large flowering heads need a much larger amount of space between the bulbs so they don't appear to be overcrowded when in bloom. 15-24" or even more is recommended for these plants.

Lilies will do best with adequate water. As with most perennials, a deep soak is better than many lighter waterings.

Lilies get their nourishment from the soil they are planted in. They like a humus soil. Leaf mold, compost, sand, peat, vermiculite, and perlite are all good additives to put in the soil to make it more humus. If you have well rotted manure it is suggested that you use it as mulch rather than incorporating in into the soil where it may promote fungus or other fungus diseases. By using it as mulch, the plant will benefit from the nutrients without exposing the bulb directly to a potential source of rot. On established lily bulbs, it is recommended to scratch in a generous helping of a complete fertilizer in the early spring after the shoots have emerged. CAUTION! Be careful not to break off the emerging tips as they contain your blooms for the upcoming season. Supplemental fertilizing during the growing season is very beneficial to the health and bloom production of your bulbs. It can be by watering in a granular fertilizer or using a liquid fertilizer every couple of weeks, or by applying a slow release fertilizer (such as Osmokote) in the spring.

Lilies with large heavy flowers sometimes need staking. It is best if the stake is placed at the time the bulb is planted so that you don't later run the risk of piercing the bulb when inserting a stake. Tie the stalk loosely so that you don't strangle the stem.

Grooming, Cutting, or Pruning:
Removing faded flowers can make the plant look more attractive and will decrease the potential of introducing disease. If you are not hybridizing, the removal of the seed pods is recommended. If you are hybridizing, you will not want to remove all of the seed pods, as you will want them to mature so you can harvest the seeds. It is recommended that you only retain a few pods per plant so that the health of the bulb isn't compromised by all the energy going to the seed rather than food for the bulb. Never cut down the entire stalk as the lily needs all of its leaves to manufacture food for the following year's bloom. In the fall after the foliage has browned and dried it is then acceptable to remove the stalk. At that time it can be cut it to within a few inches of the ground to give the garden a more tidy appearance. Sometimes when removing the dead stalk it will pull away from the mother bulb and you will see tiny bulblets clinging to it. These bulblets can be harvested to plant nearby. If you don't wish to grow them on, they should still be removed so that they don't compete for nutrients. The bulblets are tiny clones of the mother bulb; unlike the seed which is a new cultivar created by crossing two different bulbs.

Transplanting, Digging, & Dividing:
Although lilies can live in the same spot undisturbed for years if fertilized and the bulbets haven't been allowed to remain and compete with the mother bulb, when you begin to see the stalks looking short and spindly it generally indicates crowding and the clump should be lifted. The best time to dig and divide the bulbs is in the early fall, but with care they can be moved at any time. Once lifted carefully pull the bulbs apart and plant the divisions elsewhere. If you want to replant some of the bulbs in the original area, you need to first amend the soil with fertilizer and additional organic material. Water well once replanted to help them adjust to their new home.

Mulching your lilies helps to maintain the soil temperature, retain moisture, and retard weed growth. In northern regions, mulching can also help protect the plant from extreme winter temperatures. A 2-3" layer of mulch is sufficient to accomplish this. When putting on the mulch, do not apply it right up to the base of the plant. Depending on the area you live in, there are many different mulching materials available.

Hybridizing is the making of seeds by crossing different cultivars. In nature the bees and other insects or even wind can accomplish this. Many growers, in the quest to develop new types of flowers or to perfect the bloom or the foliage have done the crossing of the plants themselves rather than leaving it to nature. To do this one only has to take the pollen form one plant or bloom and put it onto the pistil of another plant or bloom. The pollen is from what is called the pollen parent. The plant receiving the pollen and that develops the seed pod is called the pod parent. After the bloom is pollinated, generally seeds develop in a pod, and then over the summer the pod ripens. The pod is harvested once it is ripe and the seeds are gathered and later planted. These seeds will become new plants, which have traits from both its pollen and pod parents. If when these new plants grow and bloom they show improvement over the parent plants and other plants in commerce, the hybridizer may decide to introduce and register the plant. If the plant has no redeeming qualities, it is frequently composted.

Pests that may affect your lilies include deer, and other grazing animals. Of concern in many areas of the country is the Lily Beetle. This is a small scarlet colored beetle which if left unchecked can devour a lily plant in a matter of days. There are products available to use to deter the above mentioned pests if you have a problem. Be sure that whatever you use is safe for daylilies. Your local garden representatives such as your extension service or farm store can recommend the right product for you.

With proper spacing to allow for airflow amongst the plants, the most common disease (mold/mildew) can be prevented or minimized. Lilies also can be affected by viruses. The most common is caused by the Cucumber Mosaic Virus which is found in many types of plants and causes staking on the foliage and possibly deformed foliage and flowers. Tulip Breaking Virus is less common, and it can cause a mottled or spotted appearance to the foliage. There is no cure for viruses so it is recommended to destroy the effected plant before insects spread the disease further.

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