Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Shipping, Stem Roots & Potted Lily Bulbs

Since the weather across the USA is becoming milder, our main shipping season begins next Monday and unless you have requested later delivery, expect to receive your order within the next two weeks for planting.  A few varieties are now sold out, so please consult our website before mailing in a new order.  If there is no price or "add to cart" button, that variety is no longer in stock for this spring. 

Washington State Orders.  The weather here in western Washington state is still not settled - which is very unusual for this time of the year - so if you are in our local area, you may want to keep your bulbs in an unheated area for a few days until the weather cooperates with a dry planting day.

Worried about frost?  Freezing temperatures while the bulbs are underground is fine - a few degrees of below freezing temperature will usually not harm lilies that have already emerged.  You might see a few browned edges on the leaves, but they usually will grow out of it.  Lily bulbs like to put down new roots while the soil is still cold and if you wait until the time to "plant tomatoes", they will not have the time they need to grow anchoring roots before putting up a stem.

Basal Plate roots are contractile roots, they actually will
 pull the bulb down to anchor against wind. You can tell a
contractile root because it appears to be slightly "wrinkled".
Bulb roots.  The stem roots (just below the soil surface) are the "feeder" roots, those produced at the bottom of the bulb (Basal Plate) are "contractile roots" that keep the bulb from tipping over in wind.  If your garden is subjected to wind on a regular basis, the cells within the stem become tougher so they do not snap but the roots have a bit of "bend" to allow the stem to move from side to side without breaking.

If you plant very late in the spring, those stem roots are slower to grow but the warmer temperatures will cause the stem to be shorter overall - which can be a good thing, because a taller stem is more likely to need staking if the bulb is not firmly anchored in the soil. Also, if plant much after May 1st, you will have shorter stems this first year and the lilies will bloom much later than usual. See "3 Mistakes to Avoid" for more information about roots on lily bulbs.

Planting in containers.  You must still plant at the regular depth in pots for the lily bulbs to produce the proper number of stem roots.  A container at least 8 to 10 inches deep is recommended, even if there is only an inch of potting soil below the lily bulb - lilies can do with a reduced number of basal plate roots the first summer, but must have enough soil covering the bulb to grow stem roots or they will not be able to take in nutrients easily.  Do not plant with only a light covering of soil, intending to "fill in later" because that method will not encourage feeder roots if the portion of stem that should be underground is hardened off by the sun.

Fertilize with a balanced formula fertilizer when the sprouts first emerge and again when the flowers begin to open.  Avoid liquid fertilizers with a high nitrogen content or you will have nice green leaves at the expense of the flowers and future growth.  Excessive nitrogen weakens lily bulbs and can cause rot in Orientals.  Rose and Tomato foods are well loved by lilies.  In midsummer you can "topdress" - spread around the stem - an inch or so of well rotted manure, POOpeas or compost to give the lilies an immediate feeding.

Keep the containers out of high wind for best results, or place them where any tall stems can be supported with a stake or fence.  Pounding three pieces of rusty iron Rebar (for reinforcing concrete) around the outside of large pots sitting on the ground or on gravel paths/driveway can be a last minute solution to keep the container from tipping.  If you leave the iron tall enough above the rim of the container you can then make a "cage" for support.

We like to use large fiberglass double-walled pots (18" - 24" across) because they help to better regulate heat and cold and it is easy to plant bulbs at the proper depth.  Being fiberglass, the pots are easier to move around the patio and the added insulation helps to protect the bulbs over winter.  One gallon of potting soil per bulb is recommended, so a 24 inch container can easily hold 6 to 9 large lily bulbs and still have room for trailing annuals around the outside edges, to create a more finished, "mini garden" look for your containers. 

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