Saturday, June 22, 2013

Lilies for Cutting - How to Choose the Best Varieties

'Yelloween' Orienpet Lily

3 simple things

Lilies need as many leaves as possible left on the stems after flowering to build up the bulb for next year's bloom.  Did you know, that in the process of growing a stem and flowers, over half of the bulb is "used up" in the process?   A bulb that was the size of a small orange or lemon at planting could actually drop down to the size of an un-shelled walnut during flowering.  This is the main reason why we recommended applying a second dose of complete fertilizer (e.g. 5-10-10, vegetable or rose food) just before the buds begin opening, so the bulb will have access to nutrients at this crucial time of growth.

If a floral designer cuts more than 1/3 of the leaves on a shorter growing, 2 to 3 foot stem (e.g.  Muscadette), the lily bulb will not be able to fully replenish itself before winter, most likely causing a non-blooming bulb ("blind stem") the next season.  While choosing varieties for the cutting garden, select cultivars which are at least 3 feet in height, so only a minimum number of leaves will be removed during cutting for indoor use. 

 'Yelloween' one year was over 6 feet tall following a cool spring, which made a perfect candidate for cutting, because the stem was quite long with many leaves.  Over winter, that bulb divided and the next summer there were two stems 4 feet tall, but they each had 8 to 10 flowers.  However, since the flowering head to stem ratio was more evenly balanced, to cut the entire bouquet of flowers on the stem would have possibly meant removing too many leaves as well.   
With shorter growing lilies, simply removing a single blossom here and there will do no harm and the flowers are marvelous in a bud vase or simply floated in a shallow dish. One advantage is that a single blossom removed from the garden stem will virtually go without notice in the overall design, but a single fragrant lily flower can still perfume an entire room.

 1. For a new planting, choose varieties for your cutting garden that are at least 4 feet in height, especially should you require longer stems for huge urns.  Try to leave at least half the leaves or 2+ feet of leaf-clothed stem if possible, so your bulb will not be damaged.  Be mindful that if you or Mother Nature tends to over water your lily garden at times, and the lower leaves turn yellow and fall off, those leaves are lost forever that summer.  Although the bulbs will not die, the lack of lower leaves means that you should not remove any upper leaves with the flowers.  Instead, just take individual buds, which will actually reduce the strain on the bulb for rebuilding itself.  In our commercial field, we allow the ends of each row to bloom, then remove the rest of the unopened flowers. 

Upwards looking flowers, such as 'Suncrest', are easiest to arrange in a vase because you do not need to cut as much stem for a normal household-sized arrangement; you can make a few selections in the 3 foot range.  Outfacing or pendant cultivars like 'Black Beauty' or Martagon Hybrids, require more stem for balance because the flowers are generally further apart and not closely clustered at the top.  These are best in larger containers or used in Ikebana dishes.   'Black Beauty' will make a tall stem, so it is easier to cut and use.  Martagon lilies, although beautiful in delicate looking arrangements, naturally have so few leaves in their whorled pattern it is sometimes better to just leave them in the garden, unless you have a tiny bud vase and can use a single blossom.

 2. Cut in the morning when the lower buds are fully "colored up" and just beginning to crack open. Strip off the lower leaves and immediately place in lukewarm water with Flora-life or another florist preservative if you wish.  You want to feed the stem, not treat a headache - so the folklore of an aspirin in water to prolong the lily bloom is really not effective.  Besides, the individual flowers last a long time even if you do nothing but merely provide water.

Simply pull off the pollen-bearing anthers.
3. As the buds begin to open, gently pull off the reddish-brown, pollen-bearing anthers before they unfurl.  By removing the anthers, you extend the life of the cut flower and eliminate stains on your tablecloth - and yellow smudged noses - as your guests enjoy the fragrance.  Depending on the number of flowers on an individual stem, which all eventually open (even the small green ones), you can enjoy your lily bouquet for 10-14 days indoors.  Change the water about every 4 or 5 days and remove any wilted stems of greenery or other flowers.


Dianna's short list of favorite lilies for cutting

'Eyeliner' (black edging is best viewed up close)
'Suncrest' (opens light yellow, bleaches to cream)
'Lionheart' (strong stems with good length)
'Royal Sunset'

'Siberia' (Smaller flowers than 'Casablanca')
'Sorbonne' (great scent)
'Arabian Red'
'Acapulco' (grow in part shade for longer stems)

OT (Orienpet) Hybrids
'Ormea' (smaller flowers)
'Bonbini' (mix with clusters of tiny pink roses)
More challenging to arrange, due to larger flowers
or heavy inflorescence (lots of buds)
'Gizmo' (huge flowers, needs a massive vase)
'Scheherazade' (lots of buds)
'Holland Beauty'
'Black Beauty' (lots of buds)
'Conca d'Or' 

Larger, brighter flowers next year   Micro-nutrients are the secret!

What are you feeding your lilies?  We recommend a balanced commercial fertilizer of 5-10-10 or Rose fertilizer, about one tablespoon around each large sprout when they first emerge in spring. Repeat just before the flowers begin to open, then also add a generous tablespoon of either granular Trace Minerals around the base of the stem or a coating of Liquid Kelp sprayed on the leaves.  

Liquid fish fertilizer is also very good too, but remember that some natural formulas can leave traces of brown on the flowers, not good if cutting flowers for a show.  (Dianna remembers spraying fish fertilizer all through the garden just before Port Townsend's annual Rhododendron parade in Port Townsend one rather windy day.  Bob's bright red and newly restored Farmall C tractor, that was scheduled to pull the Cub Scout's parade entry, was covered in evenly spaced brown speckles the next morning, evoking a bit of panic on everyone's part, especially Mom, who was the zealous applicator.  Luckily the tractor was well waxed and cleaned up fast with a soapy bath, but the living room window... well, it took a lot longer with a razor blade scraper.) 

This fall, when the stems have matured and cut down to ground level, an inch of well aged compost or manure is useful if you have sandy soil.   Folks with clay-laden soils, and especially who have very wet winters, should only do top-dressing in summer.  Too much moisture retaining material, including mulch, does not allow your soil to dry well between rains, trapping moisture around the bulbs.  In cold climates, Zone 6 or below, mulch your lilies after the soil has frozen a few inches, to deter rodents from burrowing into the lily bed and feasting under a warm mulch.

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