Growing lilies

Lilies will bring beauty, color and fragrance to your garden for many years; they only require you to plant them in the right place and provide for their simple needs. Choose a well-drained location with at least half a day of sunshine. If it’s too shady, the stems will stretch and lean towards the sun; trumpet lilies are the most shade sensitive. Lilies love full sun, as long as the bulbs are deep enough to keep cool when temperatures soar. They also enjoy a mulch.

Look for a spot that is the first to dry out after rain. Lilies can be bothered by botrytis, a fungus that spots the leaves in prolonged cool, wet weather. This should not be a problem in the home garden if you provide for good air circulation and space the plants so that leaves can dry out easily after rain. If you do see brown spots on the leaves, use any fungicide recommended for roses.

The flowering times listed in our catalog are typical for western Oregon and Washington, so “mid-June” can be translated into “when the roses begin to flower” for your area. Our bulbs are mature flowering size, grown for at least two years in our own fields. The “ideal” bulb size varies with the type and variety of lily. Many lily species and species-like Asiatics grow tall stems with many flowers from small bulbs; larger bulbs of these types are less adaptable to transplanting and “settling in.” Trumpets typically produce larger but readily transplantable bulbs. Orientals vary depending upon their ancestry. We will send you only flowering size bulbs, the size we would select for our own garden.

When you receive your lily bulbs, they are ready to plant and ready to GROW! In mild climates, they can be planted anytime the ground is not frozen solid and is dry enough to dig a hole without making clods.

Fall and early winter planting produce stems that flower at the "expected" time; planting late in the spring will produce later flowering stems, which may be a little shorter than usual if hot weather comes quickly. The following winter will reset the lilies' "clocks" and put them on "standard blooming time" again. The flowering times listed in our catalog are typical for western Oregon and Washington. Translate "mid-June" into "when the roses begin to flower" to provide a frame of reference for flowering time in your own area.

Our lilies are organized by color groupings and genetic types. The sequence of bloom:  The Asiatics begin the season, followed by the Trumpet and Aurelian hybrids, then come the “Orienpets,” and the Orientals provide the grand finale. Each year you can expect more flowers to grace your garden with color, fragrance, longevity and beautiful form.

The sooner you plant your bulbs, the better they will grow and perform. If you cannot plant them right away, store them where they will stay COOL but not frozen-- above 28 degrees Fahrenheit. Your garage or refrigerator will be fine for temporary storage. Keep the bulbs in the dark if you can, for exposure to light will make them sprout quickly, and once they begin to show sprouts, they need to be planted.

Lily bulbs are extremely hardy, but as the shoots elongate, their softer and more watery tips can be harmed by sudden freezes. Lilies with very long sprouts will grow beautiful stems, as long as the whole sprout is planted deep enough...the stem will still come up nice and straight, even if the bulb and sprout are planted upside down.

If you want to make up for a late start and winter seems slow to finish, you can pot your bulbs and leave them in a "root cellar" environment until sprouts appear. They will begin to form roots at very cool temperatures, as long as moisture is adequate.When it is warmer, you can move the pots outside or transplant the rooted mass (with its emerging shoot) like a big "seedling plug" right into the garden.

Choose a well-drained spot with at least half a day of sun. If it's too shady, the stems will lean a little toward the light. Full sun is fine, too, and is preferred for mass plantings. Try to choose a spot that is quick to dry out after a wet day, since lilies can be bothered by botrytis, a fungus that spots the leaves in prolonged cool, wet weather. In the home garden, this is rarely a problem, since most gardeners do not plant their lilies as thickly as we do in our commercial fields, so the leaves usually dry out quickly. If you do see "bull's eye" spots on the leaves, use a copper-based spray or any fungicide recommended for roses. Botrytis does not hurt the bulbs, but it reduces he leaf area that should be manufacturing sugar to grow a bigger bulb for next year.

Plant the bulbs 4" to 6" deep; they are not fussy about this, but they do like to stay cool in the summer, so deeper planting is fine. The stem that pops out of the ground will grow roots above the bulb, before it emerges from the soil, so deeper-planted bulbs will be really well anchored, with roots above and below the bulb. Another way to accomplish deeper planting is to make a raised bed, with the lily bulbs at ground level and the soil planted 4" to 6" or deeper on top of them. This also assures superb drainage, which is important for lilies. Give them enough elbow room, too--a radius of at least 6" per bulb gives each stem its own spot in the sun. Loosen the soil a bit below the bulb level, pat down the soil over the bulb, and wait for warm weather to do its magic.

If you expect a great deal of frigid weather after planting, do give the lilies a mulch. Remember, it is the emerging shoot that must be protected from late frosts; the trumpet lilies are the most vulnerable. If you do mulch, watch that the mulch isn't a haven for slugs just about the time the lilies begin to pop up, looking like asparagus shoots!

If you want to fertilize, put on a little well-balanced fertilizer at emergence time and about a month later. Slow-release fertilizers are also good. It isn't necessary to feed the lilies, though, unless your soil is poor and you want to raise super show-lilies. The sort of fertilizer that gardeners use in your area to grow potatoes will be fine. Too much nitrogen can produce lush leaves but weak stems, so don't overdo it. Heavy nitrogen in hot, wet areas can also set the stage for bulb rot. If you want to cut the gorgeous flowering stems, remember that the green parts are the food factories that are building up next year's bulb; if you leave the bottom two-thirds of the stem, it will easily make a nice bulb for the following year.

Lilies only rarely need more water after flowering. The Asiatics, Trumpets, and Orienpets are well adapted to dry summer areas, if they have enough water until flowering time. The Orientals, however, will need watering during hot, dry summers, since they don't flower until August. Summer mulches will help keep the bulbs cool and watering requirements at a minimum. Companion plants (such as annuals or low-growing perennials) are also compatible, but be sure they do not harbor slugs.

Lilies will gradually increase by division of the large main bulbs and by growth of small bulbs along the old below-ground stem. If the clumps that form become too thick to make large stems, lift and divide them in September or October.

We are delighted that you chose our lilies, and we hope they bring you beauty, color, fragrance, and enjoyment for many years!

the best time to cut back the stems

I have a question that I cannot seem to find an answer to. My lilies are almost done flowering. I have all this greenery without flowers. My question is "When is the best time to cut off the stems and how low to the ground?" Thank you.
Sonya S.
Youngstown, Ohio

You can cut off (deadhead) each spent bloom at the base of the flower to tidy up the plant and to prevent any seed pods from developing. This will ensure that all the plant's growth energy will go toward making a big, healthy bulb for next season.

You can also clip the stem of the plant just below the flowering head, leaving all of the leafy part of the stem. It's vital to leave as much green material as possible, since the plant is still growing actively after flowering and needs its green leaves to grow a strong bulb. 
In later autumn, once the stem has turned yellow or brown and died back, it is fine to clip it off at soil level.

Best wishes,
Catherine van der Salm
The Lily Garden