Wednesday, December 28, 2011

"Tiny Piny" dwarf Pineapple Lilies

Terrific new varieties!  New shorter-growing Pineapple Lilies from New Zealand are coming into the USA this spring. This is the first year of introduction in North America and B&D Lilies is pleased to be able to offer four clones suitable for the garden or for smaller containers.  (Photo shows a standard sized cultivar in back for comparison.) Plants were bred from Eucomis zambesiaca hybrids and were chosen specifically to be shorter growing plus have beautiful colors.

Standard size - 'Katie'
Part of the intrigue of Eucomis is the little tuft of leaves on top of the blooming stalk, such as in this picture of 'Katie', a full size cultivar, which gives them their common name "Pineapple Lily".  Leaves are fleshy like a succulent, but sometimes have quite pronounced wavy-edged leaves that may even have an outline of pink for contrast.  Stems might be pink, brown or tan - with some species sporting large spots or mottled markings.

'Tiny Piny Coral'

Individual florets which make up the flowering stem open from the bottom up, like the stem shown in the front in this photo of 'Tiny Piny Coral'.  When all of the stem's individual flowers are open and have been pollinated by bees or other insects, the lower buds begin to set seed pods (or "berries") with large black seeds within.

'Tiny Piny Ruby'

Deep colors are very popular right now, both for true lilies and also Eucomis.  Most of the varieties with dark color foliage are very dramatic when they first emerge ('Tugela Ruby' and 'Sparkling Burgundy' for instance) but as the flowers begin to open the foliage lightens to green with just a hint of pink, somewhat losing the startling impact in your garden.  A compromise might be to simply use darker pink/reds so the color in your garden will stay more consistent.  Darker colored flowers also tend to have darker colored seedpods as well.

'Tiny Piny Opal'

'Tiny Piny Opal'  has an unique twist in that the flowers dramatically change color as the buds open fully and mature.

These new shorter growing plants generally only reach 8 to 10 inches in height with a spread of about 12 to 14 inches and so are perfect for diminutive gardens or small patios in full sun. 

Planting:  Cover the “Tiny Piny” Eucomis bulbs with an inch  of soil and keep on the dry side until top growth appears, then move into bright light and begin watering regularly. Keep soil slightly moist, not soggy to avoid rot. Use FRESH potting soil each year for best results. We have found that the high-nitrogen soil mixes sold in most “box stores” are not found pleasing to Eucomis and recommend you avoid them. The excess nitrogen tends to rot the bulbs. The soil product ‘Black-Gold’ has been very much to their liking here on the farm. Use a very low nitrogen fertilizer or mild balanced formula as you would for cactus.

Want to know more about growing Eucomis?   

We did a posting recently about Pineapple Lilies for late bloom have REALLY long-lasting flowers and Easy Steps Using Pineapple Lilies (Eucomis) in a Floral Arrangement using the standard height cultivars.  The new dwarf cultivars are too short for floral arrangements of any size, but make terrific container plants that stay in bloom just as long as their garden-planted, taller siblings.


Monday, December 19, 2011

Lily Review - Latest to Bloom - Lilium speciosum

Late July Aurelians  in a corner of the garden.
Mainstream "Lily Season" is Late June to early August in most areas of the USA and after a summer of these lovely ladies with their sweet perfume in the garden, it can be a sad day when the last blossom finally fades away.

Hybridizers work fast and furious on producing lilies that have the shortest "planting to bloom" cycle for the benefit of commercial cut flower producers, the reason so many fragrant lilies bloom all about the same time (July).  You can manipulate the bloom in the home garden by simply ordering bulbs for delivery in early May to have lilies flowering later, but you sacrifice height that first year and the second year they reset themselves to bloom with their siblings.  Putting lily pots in shade will slow them down for blooming as well, but can elongate the stems - however if you need your lilies to be slightly taller then this can work to your advantage.

July blooming - Paraguay OT Lily

Only available for spring planting  Lilium speciosum blooms reliably later than the Oriental lilies (the reason why they are rarely available for planting in fall) and still has a soft, light fragrance.  Climates such as the coastal areas of the Pacific Northwest or Northeast can see bloom well into September.   In warmer areas of the Midwest flowering times will be earlier, but will reliably follow the last of the spicy-scented Oriental or the perfumed Orienpets (OT), plus their fragrance will be more evident due to the warmer temperature during bloom.

The lovely graceful plants also do well in Southern States where winter low temperature usually do not go much below freezing for most of the winter.

L. speciosum is tougher to grow in short season Mountain areas because the plants bloom too late in the season to mature the bulbs before winter, but if you have a heated greenhouse, potted lilies can be easily moved under cover to ripen the foliage.
L speciosum album
Growing any type of lily bulb indoors without at least a ventilated sun room will not work however, lilies need a lot of light to grow well and daily breezes to strengthen stems and to hold up the heavy flowers. Because they do bloom later than the other Lilium, plant near the front of borders so the flowers can be fully appreciated.

Historical Note: In the early part of the 20th century, Rubrum lilies were prolific in Japan and grew wild throughout the country. Hirotaka Uchida was one of Japan’s most proficient farmers and Hirotaka’s personal pursuit involved the cultivation of exceptional Rubrum lilies; selecting the most beautiful flowers which showed the greatest resistance to disease. These exceptional lilies were then transplanted to a special field where he and his eldest son cared for them.

L. speciosum rubrum

When World War II began, many orchards were turned into potato fields. Although flower fields were politically discouraged, the Uchidas had such an affection for their special selections that while other flowers disappeared, their lily efforts continued. After the war, the Uchida family exported the first 60 bulbs of their crowning achievement: a lightly-fragrant, beautiful rose-crimson, spotted Rubrum which demonstrated exceptional hardiness.

By 1950, the not yet named ‘Uchida’ had received wide recognition for its resistance to virus. Six years later, it was officially registered as Lilium speciosum rubrum ‘Uchida’ (click name to see web photo) in recognition of Hirotaka and his son. In 1963, a gold medal was awarded to this lily at the prestigious Internationalle Gartenbau Ausstellung in Hamburg, Germany. ‘Uchida’ is well established as a true heirloom, to pass on in ever-increasing numbers from generation to generation to delight the senses.  Historical data obtained from the Ofuna Botanical Garden, Japan, where we obtained our first stock of this wonderful lily.

Try a trio to plant this spring because we are not able to dig the bulbs in time for fall delivery - and this is one group of lilies that  you don't want to overlook for your garden. 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Want Lily Bulbs for your garden? Read this first.

Lily bulbs for your garden - 4 questions before ordering

Although everything a lily bulb needs to flower is already present in the bulb, your long term success will be enhanced when considering these questions before ordering lily bulbs.

1.  Where do you live?
Lilies grow best in areas with a pronounced difference between seasons - they need a winter chill in order to reset the bulb for flowering.  Delivery in April is perfect for most areas of the USA and they can be planted just as soon as you can work the soil without creating mud.  Planting while the soil is still cool will help the new roots to settle in before the sprouts begin to emerge.

Lily bulbs in Semi-tropical climates (Zone 9b-10 - rare or no frost in winter) do best when planted in the spring after they have spent several months in our coolers to mimic a natural cycle.  Lilies for fall delivery: if you are in a warmer area of the country and receiving an October/November delivery, put the bulbs - while still in their plastic bags - into the fridge for 2 months to give them an artificial winter, then plant them in the garden or pots in January or February or when they show signs of sprouting.  Not sure what your "zone" is?  Click USDA Hardiness Chart  for general information.  Remember that local conditions may affect your hardiness rating one way or another - many city or hilly areas have unique micro-climates which allow more cold sensitive plants to successfully be grown.

Snow Creek - Winter of 2009/10
2.  Do you have well-drained soil somewhere in your garden?
Lilies do not swim well, they can handle a lot of rainfall or watering only if the soil drains away freely and can dry out properly.  A raised bed or berm is the way to go if your garden is subject to soggy ground from time to time.  Note:  Fresh water (full of oxygen) that is running over the bulbs for no more than a a few days usually does no harm.  The problem lies with water that is moving sluggishly or is stagnant - lily bulbs will quickly rot under those circumstances - especially if you have heavy clay that was amended with a lot of moisture retentive materials like peat, manure or leaves or there is too much mulch covering the lilies. Our farm in the 2009-10 winter had such copious amounts of rainfall that our creek came within a half foot of the bottom of our access bridge onto the property, but all the lilies left in the field wintered over very well despite the water table being higher than normal.

3.  Can you provide afternoon shade or all-day dappled sun in hot climates?
Asiatic lilies, Trumpets and the newer OT (Oriental-Trumpet Hybrids) can thrive in warm sunny spots.  Purebred Orientals however, must have afternoon shade or all day dappled light to do well in warmer areas of the south.  The bulbs may bloom but the flowering time will be much shorter or the flowers could experience sunburn (brown petal edges).  The only exception would be high plateau areas with warm summers and a short growing season - then you would want to choose varieties that are listed as June or early July blooming, in order for the foliage to mature properly before winter.  These lilies had morning sun and were planted next to a deck for "easy sniffing".

4.  Do you container garden?  Larger size pots anchor the lilies better in windy sites, plus there's room for trailing annuals.
Small yards or container groupings on a patio should consider the relative size of differing lilies to stay in scale with the surrounding plants.  Choose varieties that are listed as no more than 3 feet tall for 2-gallon sized pots, but you can extend up to 3 to 4 footers should you be lucky enough to have large planters or whiskey-barrel sized pots. Remember that lily bulbs need to be planted about 6 inches deep in light fluffy soil, so that means a container must be at LEAST 8 to 10 inches deep.  In warmer climates use double-walled pots or a pot-within-a-pot to keep the soil insulated from hot sun.  Be sure to protect potted lilies for winter.

One of our more frequently asked questions at the shows:  
Will spring planted bulbs still bloom this summer?
Some folks like the feel of sun-warmed soil under their knees in spring and take great pleasure in tucking bulbs into their garden and envisioning the bloom in a few months.  If you are planting after the early minor bulbs like tulips and daffodils are up, then you will not accidentally dig up dormant early-bloomers when you plant your lilies.   The same variety and size of bulb planted in spring (vs. fall) will bloom the first summer,  but will be about 1/3 shorter in height and bloom 10 to 14 days later than normal.  You can only fool them once, however - the next summer you will see normal height and blooming times.

Fall planting has it's followers and benefits; there is more time for the lilies to become established underground (grow new roots) whenever the soil has warmed, plus the first year bloom will be closer to average height and flowering time.  The stems of the yellow Oriental-Trumpet shown on the left was about 3 feet tall the first summer after planting in spring; this photo was taken the second summer, where they topped 6 feet in light shade.

People with arthritis in their knees or hands may not be able to plant comfortably in fall when it is cold and rainy, or may have extensive gardens which require attention before winter, so they might wish to wait until spring.

Either season is fine, plant according to your convenience - but, if you receive your bulbs during the spring, remember that they are programmed to grow immediately, you cannot "hold" them until fall.  (Bulbs received in fall can be held for several weeks in the fridge and then planted when they are showing signs of growing new roots and sprouts.)  Plant your lilies just as soon as possible after receipt; they are always happier in soil than in a fridge.

Also see a brief description of different lily types.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Winter Blooming (forced) Potted Lily bulbs

While shopping at one of the big box stores the other day, we noticed containers of lovely Oriental lilies in full bloom for Christmas and realized some of you might be receiving potted lilies as a hostess gift or using them to add fragrance to your holiday decorations.

There are two concerns that we feel should be addressed.
#1 - Although native lily bulbs were regularly consumed by the North American Indians and people in the Orient for generations, those bulbs were truly "organic" - no harmful pesticides, fungicides or growth regulators were used.

Lily bulbs, as well as many other flower types, that are grown in greenhouses as cut flowers or in pots outside of their normal blooming period - mid summer for lilies - are subjected to an array of chemical treatments to control insects, fungus, and (in the case of full size lily varieties) to artifically shorten the height of the stem to make a consumer-friendly indoor "potted plant".  Be mindful of small children and pets should you be tempted to include potted lilies within your holiday decor.

Giggling Anne Marie & Max in 1999.
Cats and small children are very, very sensitive to chemicals and all parts of the bulb, stem, leaves and flowers would be infused with chemicals of greenhouse grown bulbs.  Lilies grown in your own garden (unless you are part of a chemical urban assault team) do not pose the same risk.  We have always had cats on our farm, in the house, barn and gardens - and all have lived to a ripe old age without any ill effects, even from trying to tackle hummingbirds feeding on the lily flowers or hunting mice under a pile of discarded lily stems. Family Pets in your garden.
Max, like Dianna, a bit more "grey" in 2011.

The problem lies with chemicals - pure and simple - if you have small children, cats or dogs in your house, please reconsider using greenhouse grown commercially forced flowers.  Period.

#2  - What happens when the flowers have faded on this lovely plant and it is 18 degrees F. outside?

You will need to keep the stems exposed to sunlight for the next few weeks in order to allow the bulbs to replenish themselves for bloom next year.  When the foliage begins to turn yellow, cut the stems down to soil level, remove from the soil, pack them into a ventilated plastic bag surrounded by pet bedding, coarse sawdust, dry peat moss or dry potting soil and then put them in the fridge to give them a "winter" until late February or March when you can plant them into your garden to enjoy for years to come.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Warning about "pre-cooled" lily bulbs in Fall/Winter

"Pre-cooled", "Pre-chilled" "Ready to Grow", "Southern Hemisphere", and "Vernalized" lily bulbs sold and delivered late summer through winter are intended for the cut flower forcing trade - not the home gardener.  These are all buzz words to let the commercial greenhouse grower know that the lilies have undergone an artificial  "Winter Chill" and that they are ready to begin sprouting immediately upon being "thawed" from their cold storage cases. 

Bulbs marked as above were dug during the previous year, packed in peat or shavings and slowly dropped to below freezing in coolers for storage.  It takes a minium of 2 months of "winter chill" to reset the flowers properly, so if you are purchasing bulbs that seem a bit early for a natural fall harvest in mid to late September, then those bulbs most likely have spent 12 - 15 months (or more) in a freezer and are "old crop".  Prolonged storage will sometimes kill the tiny sprout within the bulb - the reason why high end greenhouse growers will insist upon the "current crop".  The only way to check viability is to slice open the lily bulb and if there is a black or dark colored "streak" in the center, the flowers have been killed.

"Pre-cooled" ready to plant lily bulbs require anywhere from 90 to 120 days of continuous non-freezing weather to grow and bloom - which eliminates any gardener whose winter temperatures include more than just a light frost during that time period.  Once thawed, you cannot stop their growth, after all, they are simply doing what nature intended - grow. 

Should you have bulbs that are emerging now - in a colder climate - there are a few things you can try to save your investment.  After the soil freezes - either pile more mulch over the emerging sprout to try and slow them down, remove them from the garden and pot up to move to a heated greenhouse, or let the frost kill back the sprout and wait until spring.  Lily bulbs are depleted while the sprout is growing and the bulbs become smaller in size, if the sprout is killed then there might be enough bulk left to send up a new sprout when the weather warms in spring, but it is chancy.  If the bulb has not outright died over winter, it might come up with a blind stem (no flowers) next summer and should be able to recover enough to bloom a year later.

Pre-cooled (not pre-sprouted - that is another topic) lily bulbs in the spring are OK - and you can plant before the last frost because it will take some time for the lilies to emerge and a few degrees of light frost followed by warmer day temperatures will do no harm.  

[ UPDATE - December 21, 2011 - Email correspondence to a southern gardener (near the Gulf) that we thought might be helpful to others.] 

You are probably OK if you planted the lily bulbs 6 to 8 weeks ago and they are not emerging.  Being in the south, your winters are usually not as severe as in the northern climates where we have repeated freeze-thaw, with temperatures that drop suddenly into the teens and lower during early winter.  Spring frosts are not as great an issue, so if your bulbs behave themselves and stay underground until at least early February, and then you should be just fine.  The blog post was to help people in more northern climates.  In one day I had several panicked phone calls from the Midwestern states.

The biggest problem with planting "pre-chilled"  lilies out of season is if the soil temperature is warm (as in fall), then the bulbs think it’s "spring" and start growing fast with tender cells.  If emerging sprouts are hit by rapidly dropping temperatures in early winter while the sprout is tender, you will lose the bloom.  Lily bulbs kept on a natural cycle are waiting for freezing temperatures so as to go into semi-dormancy and reset the bloom for the next season.  They do not sprout until the soil has begun to warm up again.  This is the reason for pre-cooling lily bulbs for forcing; they need to come up and quickly flower to reduce greenhouse heating expenses.  Bulbs intended for the greenhouses were already "frozen" so they can be fooled into thinking it is spring.

If emerging sprouts are only subject to temperatures in the low 30's for a night or two in
spring, they are generally OK.  I've had lilies up here in the Pacific Northwest more than a foot tall with frost in spring and it usually only damages the leaves (browns them a bit) but they continue to grow, this is because they were used to the temperatures already hovering around freezing underground and the cells are  toughened.  During a gradual drop in temperature frost is less likely to have an effect.  

In general, Asiatic lilies can take "late spring" frosts better, OT (Orienpet) lilies show more frost resistance than the Orientals, but purebred Trumpet lilies might look like sticks covered in wet seaweed after a late spring frost and will not recover that summer.  

I'll post more about late frosts and emerging lilies in spring.  -Dianna