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.

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