Saturday, June 14, 2014

Be mindful of lily bulblets.

Oriental bulblets in spring.
As you well know, not all green leaves emerging are weeds.

What are those odd looking single leaves at the base of an established lily?  Lily bulbs have a built in process for creating offspring; tiny nodules may form at the base of the bulb (basal plate bulblets), along portions of the underground stem (stem bulblets), or even with a few Asiatic lilies, at the base of a leaf where it attaches to the above ground stem (aerial bulblets).

The leaves shown in the right photo are of Oriental bulblets.  They typically will be wide and slightly rounded.  The bulblets under ground are not much larger than the eraser on a pencil.

Basal Plate Bulblets

'Candlestick' Basal Plate Bulblets.

This is the most common way for a lily bulb to divide, by simply forming new growth at the bottom of the bulb.

See the three large bulblets at the base of this bulb of 'Candlestick'?  They will put up a small stem, with one flower each.

Asiatic lilies and Lilium longiflorum hybrids are quicker to divide, sometimes three or more new bulbs can form each summer, which may bloom for you the following year. 

'Belonica' double-flowered Oriental.

Oriental Lilies

Oriental lilies can be erratic for propagating, only producing side bulblets on some cultivars if the growing season is good, and enjoying even amounts of moisture, fertilizer and fluffy soil to grow an expansive root system.  The usual method of quickly increasing bulbs is to "scale" the lily in fall, see "Scale Production" on our website.

Most Oriental bulblets grow slower than Asiatic hybrids, usually needing three years of additional care before they mature enough for us to offer on

'Donato' Orienpet lily.
OT Lilies
OT (Orienpets or Oriental-Trumpet Hybrids) have similar growth patterns as do regular (purebred) Oriental lilies.  They make fewer basal plate and underground stem bulblets (see below), and therefore take longer to propagate commercially.  Most years, bulbs will simply get larger and larger, until they naturally divide into two or three flowering size bulbs.
Purebred Trumpet lilies are similar, and after a few years of growing undisturbed, can be the size of a small cantaloupe. 

Stem Bulblets - on all types of lily bulbs

Asiatic bulblets along the underground stem.

Attached to the underground stem, and tucked within the new feeder roots produced every year, offshoots (bulblets) are an exact genetic duplicate of the original flowering bulb.  

These are easily removed in fall after the foliage has matured from green to brown and winter is approaching.  Simply pull the old crispy-brown stem out of the ground and gently dig down above the mother bulb to harvest the bulblets.

Choose a protected nursery bed with only 2 or 3 inches of soil covering the tops for the first year.  After the garden has frozen for winter, add a bit of mulch so you do not forget where they are planted. While we are harvesting bulbs in fall, bulblets are saved either for propagation or to sell as a mixed bag of bulblets at flower shows in spring. 

Arial bulblets are the little black colored offshoots that grow at the base of each leaf on an old-fashioned, orange colored tiger lily (Asiatic).  Some modern hybrids that have it in their breeding background will also exhibit this trait.  We do not grow "Tiger" hybrids here, partially because any bulblets that drops off the stem, or are missed during harvest will grow, causing all sorts of havoc.  There would be out of place, rogue lilies in the field two years later as they begin to grow within the carefully planted row.  However, the primary reason for not growing them is because they can be a "Typhoid Mary" in the garden.  See our Knowledge Base, Lilium lancifolium for more information.)

See  Dig 'n Divide - Lilies for Fee - Easy How-to  on our website,

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Shady Areas and Lilies

Martagon lily in deciduous woodland
What sort of shade matters.

What kinds of plants do you have growing in your shady areas?  Grass, Hosta, primroses or violets?  Does the sun shine directly for an hour or two?  Do tall deciduous trees filter the sun, creating patches of bright indirect light that move around depending on the hour?

The area in this photo on the left receives 2 hours of direct light and is somewhat moderated by waving tree branches overhead.  Before a pine was removed last summer, there was no direct sunlight.  The plants flowered, but the foliage had never looked as nice as shown in the photo, because now the stems have slightly more light.

Sunshine is more intense in southern regions, high plains, and mountain areas.  Lilies that will happily flower in the shade of a tree with a dense canopy of leaves in a southern states may not do so well in cool maritime climates.  If the light is too dark, the result may be lily stems doubled in height, plus leaning dramatically towards a brighter light source.  Although pretty, the flowers will not be evenly spaced around the top of the stem.  This is not necessarily a problem in the garden, but that stem would not receive an award in competition, because the flowers would not be balanced.

'Pearl Jennifer' - available for order in 2015
Which lilies for where?

All lilies can flower just fine in dappled shade, bright indirect light or with a half day of full sun.  If you have a choice between morning sun and afternoon sun, pick the gentler Eastern (morning sun) location.  Afternoon sun is more intense and will tend to cause stems to face the sun, whereas planting lilies in full morning sun results in straighter stems and more evenly spaced flowers.

Watch the flowers to see how much shade they can tolerate.

Martagon lilies, because of their more delicate leaves and early blooming nature, are most at home in lightly shaded wooded areas where the delicate looking tiny flowers are spaced further apart and the stems lean towards the light.  In full sun, buds are tighter together, which makes a lovely stem for competition.

Oriental lilies prefer afternoon shade in warmer regions with long summers, such as in the more southern states. Upward facing flowers on Asiatic lilies are usually not as graceful looking as Orientals or Trumpets when leaning toward the sun on account of too much shade.

If stems "stretch" more than you like, you can either stake the stems or move bulbs to a sunnier location in early winter.  In Mountain areas or other short-season climates, where soil takes a long time to warm in spring, either plant in full sun to allow enough time for lilies to mature their leaves before an early winter—or only plant early-blooming Asiatics.

'After Eight' - shorter clones have limited bud counts.
Consider shorter growing varieties for shade.

In shady areas, choose shorter growing lilies, ideally not more than around 3 feet tall when grown in full sun, or you may end up needing to stake the stems.  Outfacing or pendant type flowers can be very attractive, even when the stem is leaning.  However, strongly upfacing flowers on taller-than-normal stems in shade will not be as pleasing, especially if the flowers are too high up and out of sight.

One thing to consider however, is that the naturally dwarf Oriental clones (two feet or less in height) tend to max out with only 3 to 5 flowers on a stem, even after becoming established in the garden, as opposed to their taller cousins that usually have larger flowers or more numerous blooms.  Therefore, you need to weigh the options carefully and perhaps choose medium height lilies (3 to 4 Feet) that are outfacing or are slightly up-facing and will not be damaged by low growing, overhead tree branches.

One solution for "too tall" is to plant at the edge of moderately raised deck (not second floor) where the flowers can peek over the rail.  This also works for established trumpet lilies, such as 'Pink Perfection', 'Golden Splendor', 'African Queen' and 'Lilium regale', that can top six feet in height after a couple of years, even in a sunnier locations, not just light shade.

At ground level, avoid rank-growing, invasive plants or perennials which smother emerging sprouts in the spring, in addition to overhanging trees and shrubs which steal light and nutrients.  If a network of tree or shrub roots is too dense to easily dig in an area you have chosen to grow lilies, consider planting the bulbs in pots.  Simply grow behind a garage or other out of the way place - then when the buds are just starting to open, arrange the potted plants near your outdoor living area or under the trees.

Full sun is best for 'Firebolt' because of the dark color.

Color selection is important.

Pale to medium tints of pink and yellow, as well as pure white and bi-colors show up best in part sun areas, even when viewed from a distance.  Varieties like 'Ormea', 'Nymph' and 'Bonbini' excel in light shade because there is enough light reflection to make them "pop" in the garden, plus they add a hint of color for interest.

Dark colored lilies like 'Sumatra', 'Rio Negro', and especially the mahogany-red 'Firebolt' are most effectively showcased in full sun.  (The photo on the right was lightened to show color contrast with the soil.)   Deep colors are not very good in low-light conditions—your nose may be aware of the fragrance—but the flowers will tend to blend into the background.

Eastern exposures and very bright indirect light is fine in all areas with any color, especially with lighter colored plants, since there is enough color contrast for a stunning display and stems will tend to grow straighter and more compact.

'Salmon Star' - good for pots.
Growing Lilies in Pots.

Is your ideal lily growing area in the wrong spot?  Does your entire yard have too much shade and the only sunny area is behind the garage or next to the trash can?  Growing lilies in pots may be a solution for your garden.

Keep the pots in sun until the buds begin to open, then move them to an outdoor living area for fragrance and color.  When the flowers have finished blooming, move the pots back to your sunnier area so the leaves can photosynthesize to mature the bulbs.  Winter protection for containerized lilies is very important, click on the link below to learn more.

Potting Instructions
Winter care of potted lilies

Monday, April 28, 2014

Potting Lily Bulbs in Spring

Quick Instructions from our Planting Guide:  When potting lily bulbs use one gallon of potting soil per mature bulb into a container with ample drainage holes 8 to 12 inches deep.  Lily bulbs make stem roots above the bulb, which are “feeder” roots and are grown new each season; the basal plate roots on the bulb bottom acts primarily as a counterweight to keep wind from toppling the stem, therefore the stem roots are the most important immediate concern.  In containers that are barely 8 inches deep, place bulbs almost on the bottom, so there will be at least 6 inches of soil covering the lilies, any less room and stem roots will not be able to form properly, which will severely limit the growth potential of your lily bulbs.
Large fiberglass/molded plastic pots, especially of double-wall construction are preferred, the larger soil mass acts as insulation during both winter cold and summer heat, plus there is room to plant trailing annuals  to drape over the sides and soften the lines.

Pre-moisten potting soil before filling your container.  Place bulbs, pointed top up, roots down, about 4 to 5 inches apart; any closer and you’ll need to divide more than every two to three years.  Put a small plastic label next to the bulb underground for future reference should the top label fade or be lost and cover your bulbs completely, lightly firming the soil.  Water just until you see moisture streaming out of the drainage holes and if needed, top off with fresh soil, leaving about two inches between soil and the top rim of the container.  Add a label topside for easy reference and do not water again until the potting soil is dry two inches below the surface.  Lily bulbs by their very nature are designed to store moisture in the fleshy scales that make up the bulb; they do not swim well, so if you allow their soil to stay constantly wet, the bulbs most likely will rot.

When sprouts emerge, sprinkle one tablespoon of balanced granular fertilizer around, but not touching sprouts.  Water pots as normal, repeating the fertilizer when the flowers are budded and just beginning to open.  We like 5-10-10 or similar formulas, but you can also use a time release mixed into the top two inches of soil.  This simple twice-a-year feeding will keep your lilies in prime shape for up to three years before bulbs need to be divided in autumn or winter.   Top dress in midsummer with compost or aged manure

Monday, March 17, 2014

Transplanting Lily Bulbs in March

Asiatics - one on right needs dividing.

Don't wait too long.

If your soil is still “cold”, it is possible to move and divide bulbs this month, but you must do it very carefully.  A better plan might be to wait until this fall, but if you have a construction project scheduled for this summer or otherwise need to move your lilies out of harm’s way you can move them this month.

The lily stems on the left side of this photo are nicely spaced and the flowers will open fully with the maximum number of buds.  However, the “clump” on the right side needs dividing because the bulbs have become overcrowded, with each stem exhibiting fewer flowers.

Easy steps:
  • Pull away any loose mulch and pile up to save for later.  As a general rule of thumb, "summer" mulch should not be more than 2 inches deep, "winter" mulch in cold climates is more substantial. (See Guidelines for Winter Protection.)  If you are thinking of moving bulbs now—and the soil has thawed—you can do so, but remember that you should not leave more than the bare minimum of mulch, especially if you live in an area with lots of cool weather rainfall.  Whether established bulbs or newly transplanted ones, too much mulch and the bulbs will rot should the soil be able to dry quickly between storms in spring. 
  • Sink a garden fork (preferred) or sharp shovel into the soil about 4 inches away from the old stems to avoid slicing through the underground lilies.  If the soil is hard, then start further away and go a full shovel deep.  You want to dig under the bulbs and lift them up.  We find a good spading fork best for the job.  Should the old browned stems not be present from last year, your task will be much harder, so proceed slowly or wait until the sprouts have emerged.
  • Carefully loosen bulbs, soil, plus any weeds—do not dump over the contents of your shovel above ground—we aren’t digging potatoes or clams!  Lily bulbs do not have tough outer shells like tulips and can be easily damaged if dropped or crushed, plus you do not want to risk breaking off emerging sprouts.  Broken sprout = no flowers.
  • With your hands, pick through the soil to extract the bulbs being mindful of soft sprouts or

    beginning to emerge.  If there are multiple stems coming from attached bulbs
    and if you can gently pry them apart with your fingersthen you now have two nice flowering size bulbs to plant separately in the garden.  If the lily resists being divided, re-plant as-is and wait until this fall to divide the plant for sharing or creating another lily bed.  Smaller bulbs attached to the bottom sides of the main lily that are fully formed (see photo below) can be snapped off and planted a bit more shallow than you would bury the large bulbs.  2-1/2 times the size of the bulb is the golden rule for planting lilies.
  • If you are unable to plant the newly harvested bulbs right away, then layer them in a cardboard box with pet bedding (shavings), dry peat or potting soil in a protected area of the garage or garden shed until you can plant.  Do not let the bulbs either become too dry in the storage box.   Lily bulbs (and sprouts) will dehydrate quickly when out of the soil.  You can also "pot them up" for the summer, choosing a container with good drainage holes and at least eight inches deep. (Also see:  Emergency Transplanting)

Photo on left:  If you choose, gently break off the offsets (basal plate bulblets), planting them with no more than two inches of soil over the top.  For the specimen shown, the larger bulb would go back into the garden with 4 to 6 inches of soil covering the top of the bulb.

(The bulb shown is 'Candlestick', a Longiflorum-Oriental Hybrid.)

Final advice:  Be brave, but go slowly as you dig, or wait until fall to transplant your lily bulbs. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

A Lily Oddity in the Garden

Flatten stem with odd looking leaves.

Have you ever seen a flattened stem lily stem with short stunted leaves and a multitude of flower buds in your garden?

If so, there's nothing to worry about,  no mysterious lily disease has invaded your garden and the bulb is quite fine.

Only about 1 in 10,000 lily bulbs create a fasciated stem, which is most likely due to environmental fluctuations of weather. The next growing season usually produces a normal stem, or perhaps even two, if the bulb has divided underground.


Golden Splendor with fasciated stem.

Look at all the flowers!

The bulb of 'Golden Splendor Strain' that produced the cluster of extra flowers on this stem had rather evenly spaced buds and almost normal sized blooms.

Usually, flowers that open on a fasciated stem can be overall much smaller, and be packed tightly together so that not all the buds open completely.  

"Garden of Weeden"

Mrs. Ruth Sanclimenti's whimsical, "Garden of Weeden" drew attention from the neighbors when her Oriental lily, 'Siberia' bloomed out several years back.  It is interesting in that the bulb was actually was planted in just the right spot to become the centerpiece.  The lily bloomed normally the second year.

Fascinated stems are an oddity to be sure, but the lilies are indeed healthy.  Because they still need all of their leaves to rebuild the bulb after flowering, and even though the plant may look strange, resist the urge to cut the stem down prematurely.  You can however, remove the flowers as they fade.

Do you have a photo of an interesting lily?  Upload it to our Facebook page for the world to see.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Did you know? Lily bulbs have low water requirements.

Field in early July, before flowering.
Lily bulbs, by their very nature store water within the overlapping scales for times of drought.  Do not water your bulbs until the soil is dry one or two inches below the surface.  

Water deeply and infrequently for the best growth, just as you would for deep rooted trees and shrubs.  If you have an automatic lawn watering system that "mists" the grass every day or two, the lilies will eventually receive too much water, so locate them just outside of the spray zone.  The same holds true for flower bed sprinklers and drip irrigation.  Most perennials and annuals like more moisture than what the bulbs require, so be mindful of how your water is distributed.  Choose a spot for lilies where the sprinklers or emitters do not saturate the soil. 

In the photo, do you see how dry our field rows were in early July last year?  This section of the farm has a nice clay loam that drains well, but it is slippery when wet and builds up under your shoes.  Always check for soil moisture before you drag over the hose to give lilies a drink.   

Expensive electronic "water monitors" are not necessary.  Just your bare finger will do as a monitor; if damp soil clings, then the ground is still moist enough.  If your glove-less finger comes out clean two inches below the surface, then it is time to water.  Be sure to provide enough water so that the soil is evenly moist down to the level of the basal roots (at the bottom of the bulb) or to about 8 to 10 inches deep.   

Watering pots is a bit different; set your containers into a bucket or mortar box (used for mixing cement) to reclaim the water for the next pot if you only have a few to water.  If your containers are not on a deck, but rather sitting on a sheet of plastic topped by bark mulch (to keep down weeds), then excess water can drain, and will be retained by the mulch to keep the pots cooler during hot weather.  The only downfall is that you will give mollusks perfect conditions to multiply, so don't forget the slug bait around the pots, or a couple of resident ducks to root out slugs and provide eggs and entertainment.

Will you be short on water this year?

If you are in a dry climate, have a garden with very sandy soil, or live where water restrictions are imposed, you can still grow lilies.  A two to three inch mulch of bark, ground leaves or other insulating material will help to save money and even out the moisture content of your soil.  You need to include the depth of the mulch when determining how deep to plant your lily bulbs - 5 to 6 inches total of soil and mulch over the top of the lily bulb is about the maximum for most varieties.  However, you can plant a little deeper in sandy soil.  So, if there is 4 inches of soil over the top of the bulb, then 2 inches of mulch or ground up leaves would equal 6 inches total.  With fluffy mulch, you can add more because it will tend to mat down over time.  The idea is to give the stem roots enough space to grow underground, without making it too difficult for the sprout to emerge in spring.  The extra mulch will also encourage beneficial earthworms in your garden as well.  You can always add more mulch if necessary.

If the bulbs receive too much water during times of plenty or with saturated soil, the lower leaves will turn yellow and drop off, even before bloom.  If that happens, pull away mulch that may be keeping the soil surface too wet, and allow the excess moisture to escape.  A nicely mulched garden is beautiful, tying the landscape together visually, but only an inch of finely ground bark is needed during wetter years to cover the soil and help keep weed seeds from germinating.

Tips for conserving moisture in the Lily Garden.

Don't over water, always check the soil moisture first in your lily garden.  Snap off the spent flowers as they fade, so that stems do not expend energy producing seed, and thus require more water.  Top dress with well-rotted manure or compost in midsummer to provide nutrients to the stem roots and increase the amount of moisture-retaining mulch.  When the leaves have begun to turn from green to yellow in the fall, cut the stem back to ground level and only water enough to keep the soil slightly moist while the lily bulbs are going into semi-dormancy.

Previous related posts: 
Lily Bulbs not buried deep enough?  What to look for...
How to increase "Red Wigglers" in your garden.
Controlling Slugs and Snails in your Lily Garden