Lilies come in just about any color or color combination imaginable. Among the hundreds, if not thousands, of varieties are some that will grow in the coldest and some that will grow in the hottest climates in the United States. Lilies are fairly easy to grow and well worth the care they require.
Planting Lily Bulbs
While connoisseurs may grow their lilies from seed, the average gardener plants lilies as bulbs. Lilies prefer light, well-drained, slightly acidic soil. The hole should be about three times as deep as the height of the bulb, which means the average size lily needs a five-inch deep hole. Bulbs should be planted more deeply in sandy soils and less deeply in heavy soils. Place the bulb roots down into the hole. Backfill completely and water well. Mark the spot so you don’t accidentally dig them up before they show growth.
Caring for Lilies
With few exceptions, healthy, top-size bulbs will bloom very well the first year and even better the second year if they get the care they need, which varies according to the type of lily. For example, Oriental lilies need afternoon shade in areas with hot summers while Asiatics need full sun. Most lilies require splitting and dividing when the flowers are getting smaller and the plants seems less vigorous than in the past, about every three years. A top dressing of compost, well-rotted manure, or bonemeal early every spring produces more and bigger blooms and healthier leaves. Mulch or annual groundcovers help keep the bulbs cool in summer, which most lilies like.
Dealing with Pests and Diseases
The lily leaf beetle is becoming an increasing problem for lilies in the U.S. and Canada. The beetles decimate the flowers and foliage, weakening the bulbs. While chemical pesticides appear to be effective against the lily leaf beetles, growers recommend buying bulbs only from reputable sources and cleaning the soil off bulbs before planting them.
Certain lily types are susceptible to fungal diseases such as botrytis, powdery mildew, and rust. Bordeaux mix, which can be made at home from hydrated lime, copper sulfate, and water, is safer and cheaper than most fungicides and works well for many growers. If plants do have fungal diseases, it’s critical to remove all plant debris from beds and spray with Bordeaux mix or other fungicide in the spring.
Want to learn more about growing lilies?
We don’t have the space to write about the exquisite colors, varieties, and fragrance of lilies, so we’ll leave you with some links to pictures and more information.
Growers and sellers of lilies are excellent sources of information about lily plants.
Visit the North American Lily Society for tons of useful information about lilies
Learn the best ways of Selecting Lilies for Your Garden from the University of Minnesota Extension.
Lynne Lamstein gardens in Maine and Florida and is currently working on a sustainable landscape. She has a degree in ornamental horticulture from Temple University.
Question for you — you mention splitting bulbs and I really need to do that and I’ve read lots on how but can’t figure out when! I live in Southern California so this isn’t a frost issue. I just have some beautiful Conca D ‘Oro lilies that have multiplied and are crowding themselves. Thanks! Kc