Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Wahoo! Martagon Lilies are Blooming in the Garden

Lilium martagon x 'Mrs. R.O. Backhouse'
Martagon lilies are the first to bloom here on the farm, liking light shade in hot climates or full sun in cooler areas, they have a multitude of nodding "turk's cap" one-inch blooms that dance in the wind. Long-lived in nature, some beds in Europe are over 100 years old.  Growing best when undisturbed, they are lovely in dappled afternoon shade where the stems can elongate a bit while stretching for the light.  Butterflies and Hummingbirds love to investigate these flowers, so they are a good addition to the garden close to a window or near an outdoor patio setting.
Lilium martagon (most commonly found)

The old home of Mr. Jan de Graaff, early breeder of lilies in the Western USA and owner of Oregon Bulb Farms in the 1960's,  had a large colony of L. martagon 'Paisley Hybrids' and the pink species growing "wild" over the hill where the scraps from the fall harvest were discarded after sorting.  Damaged bulbs, broken scales, tiny bulblets, stems, leaves, roots and field "dirt" were allowed to fall freely off the conveyer belts for years directly into a deep gully where they quickly recovered to thrive in the light woodland shade.

Not surprisingly, the bulblets of Asiatic, Trumpet and Oriental hybrids never seemed to really make a foothold, but this was also in the very early days of hybridization, well before inter-specific hybrids like Oriental-Trumpets (OT or Orienpets) first made their appearance.  Based on our own compost piles of leavings at the edge of the field, it's possible that these relatively recent clones might have been just as vigorous under the same conditions if given enough natural rainfall.

Lilium martagon mature their stems early, so a bit of drought mid summer does little harm.  For years a small group of bulbs that were missed during harvest bloomed within the grass at the edge of our field.  That section of row had been turned into a tractor lane and was not watered more than by accident when the wind blew the wrong way.  By the time they we finally rescued the lilies, they had multiplied nicely and were given a "better" spot in the garden, which turned out to be too wet and the bulbs began to decline.  Case in point - go easy on the moisture-retentive materials like compost and manure and do not allow the soil to remain soggy for an extended period of time.

Lilium martagon album (variant)
These lilies appreciate humus if your soil is sandy, but do not use straight peat moss or commercial potting soil with peat as an ingredient because they like a slightly alkaline soil.  Well composted leaves from your garden -  or a nearby deciduous forest - mixed into the planting area is perfect or use as a "top dressing" in early summer.

Note the white "fuzzies" on the petal tips in the photo on the left and the leaf in the background?  This is pubescence and is not harmful, in fact, it may completely cover the entire bud of some varieties while they are still tightly closed.  This photo was taken in a greenhouse - a crowded one - and being so shady, the color came out a bit too "blue".

In the bottom photo you can see just how tiny the flowers really are.  This photograph was taken at 5PM just as clouds began to roll in and a few drops of rain were beginning to fall.  The color is true.

Tiny flowers on Martagon lilies

We only offer Martagon lilies in fall because they seem to settle in more quickly with cool temperature planting.  This spring we had reports of a few bulbs that were fall planted in the Eastern States, that started budding almost as soon as they emerged from the soil, one of the common problems with spring planted Martagons.  The crazy late winter/early spring weather - too warm too early - triggered bud set before the stems had a chance to elongate.  Next summer they will be normal.  The lilies on the right never seem to grow taller than 2 feet, but most Martagons reach 3 to 4 feet tall in full sun.

Choose a spot that will not be over run by other plants or shaded too much by trees when planting these special lilies.  They can be happy for a decade or longer in the same spot with regular weeding, fertilizer, and a bit less water than other lilies in late summer. 

Saturday, June 16, 2012

3 Simple Rules - Lily Bulbs & Companion Plants

7 foot Lilium regale in afternoon shade
Country Farm vs. City House
Tucked into a little valley within the foothills of the Olympic Mountains, we are blessed with sub-irrigated gardens and 50 to 60 inches of rain between October and April.  Yet, twenty minutes away in Sequim, annual rainfall is only 16 inches, so plants that struggle with soggy ground (Lavender, for example) are perfectly suited to Sequim, and those that enjoy plentiful moisture, bask in the extra humidity on our farm. Rhododendrons, Azalea, Vine Maple, Bigleaf Maple, Alder and Stinging Nettles are naturally abundant.  Perennials, shrubs and trees usually grow taller and faster; identical cultivars of shrubs that stayed compact when we lived within the much drier city limits (19 annual inches), quickly outgrew their allotted space on the farm, so adjustments needed to be made.  It is hard to believe that only 20 miles away the growing conditions can be so different.

You need to consider not only your official USDA Hardiness Zone, but also in what ways your garden differs from your neighbors or immediate region - wetter, drier, colder, hotter - and plan accordingly when choosing companion plants for the lily garden. 

Rule #1:  Avoid vigorous annuals, perennial or vines

Lilies are not like tulips, they do not have a hard outer shell, so crabgrass and overly enthusiastic plants can actually penetrate the softer lily bulbs.  We've found bulbs with white root grass growing through a bulb that we could actually pull from side to side like dental floss - very entertaining - but not a good thing.  Traditional "ground covers" that form thick mats in an attempt to reduce weed germination are death to lily bulbs because they are unable to penetrate the underground tangle of roots.  Not only are the thick lily sprouts tender, but the surrounding foliage is a good hiding place for slugs and snails.  Look for plants that grow from a crown and do not spread very quickly and be cautious of well-meaning neighbors who offer to share a plant because they have "too much".

Alstroemeria aurea in southern Tasmania, Australia - JJ Harrison
Dianna still insists that she moved out of the city house to get away from Alstroemeria aurantica, which expanded exponentially in the drier hilltop soil, trying to choke out the lily bulbs in the front yard and shooting extremely viable seed up to 15 feet away.  One neighbor saw the ripped out plants being stuffed into trash bags for the landfill and begged a few.

We warned him... Oh yes, we warned him.

Three years later he called to say that his "attorney would be contacting" us. (Smile.)

Wouldn't you know, those pesky roots found a blemish in his foundation, and there for everyone to see was a very healthy blooming Alstroemeria emerging from a crack in his basement studio.  Live and learn, and ask your neighbors about the better behaved plants when you move into a new home - plus the "weedy" ones that may be considered a local blight. 

Rule #2:  Check height and sun requirements

Perennials and Annuals should not be greater than 2 feet tall if your lily stems average 3 to 4 feet.  If surrounding perennials grow too tall the lilies may have too much shade on the lower portion of their stems and air circulation could be compromised - risking Botrytis (fungus) in certain years.  An exception would be plants with lacy foliage like annual Cosmos or wide branched shrubs where light and air are not impeded.  Taller growing lilies, such as Trumpets, can be a good background plant next to a fence with taller perennials or shrubs in the front,  Lilium regale is the classic lily for backgrounds, growing 6 feet or more in height when established.  Some "shade" plants that are diminutive in stature may do well actually being shaded by taller growing lilies, but in general, Annuals, Perennials and smaller shrubs should be rated "Full Sun" or "Part Sun" in order to grow normally together.

Grape Hyacinth (Muscari) Copyright (C) 2005 Raffi Kojian
Just remember Rule #1 and do not crowd other plants in too close to the lily stems, give them room to seek the sun as the sprouts emerge.  Ideally, the lilies should be a foot or so tall before the surrounding annuals and perennials have gained very much height.  You can closely plant smaller, earlier blooming bulbs near to the lilies, but keep in mind that it will be more difficult to dig and divide the lilies later.  The ripening foliage of Crocus, Squill (Scilla) Grape Hyacinth (Muscari) possibly covering the emerging sprout tips may lead to fungus concerns in areas with heavy spring rainfall.  This is rarely a difficulty in drier climates, but here we keep the area surrounding lily stems clear of both foliage and mulch.  Just a light sprinkling of sawdust shavings  (what is in your bag when we package the lily bulbs) marks their location and make it easier to not accidentally step on sprouts while spring weeding.

Rule #3:  Consider water requirements 

'Golden Eye' Rose in our front yard last summer.
Lily bulbs are drought tolerant, they store moisture within the leaf-like, overlapping "scales" that make up the bulb and thus do not need watering until the soil is dry one or two inches below the surface.  Plants like Astilbe and Iris ensata need more moisture than lilies to grow well, so place those in wetter locations, away from the lily bed.  Also please do not plant lilies within the range of an automatic sprinkling system for lawns that is on a fixed schedule.  Lawn grass is more shallow rooted and it requires more frequently applied moisture to stay green all summer.

Roses, Peonies, Daylilies, Poppies, (both perennial Oriental types and annual types like our Purple Poppies) can be deep rooted and coexist quite happily with lily bulbs.  If you water deeply on a less frequent schedule,  your shrubs and trees will usually send roots down to a deeper level, providing a measure of protections against times of short term drought and save money on your water bill. 

Dianna's Recommended Plants - How many do you already grow?

Alyssum (Lobularia)
Cosmos – ‘Sonata Series’ is very compact
Dahlia choose varieties that only grow 12-14 inches tall or use as backdrop
Dianthus barbatus ‘Wee Willie’ – plus other shorter growing cultivars
Dillherb with lacy foliage and can't have too much of this when its time to make pickles
Geranium (Pelargonium) – many named cultivars, take your pick
Marigold (Tagetes)  – short varieties are best
Nigella – “Love in a mist” has lacy foliage and pretty pink, white and purple flowers
Pansy great in coastal areas
Papaver  (Poppies) – deep rooted, so will not overrun the bulbs, but some grow quite tall
Penstemon  – choose shorter growing cultivars
Primroses (Primula) – great in coastal areas
Snapdragons  (Floral Showers Series) – old standard types can overwhelm if planted too close
Violets (Viola) – great in coastal areas
Zinnia – choose shorter varieties please

BULBS - all bloom much earlier than lilies and go dormant in summer
Snowdrops (Galanthus)
Grape Hyacinth (Muscari)
Narcissus – choose tiny varieties
Species Tulipsnot the tall hybrids

Alchemilla  erythoropoda  (Lady’s Mantle) compact form
Aquilegia (Columbine) – all forms, I love ‘em!  They seed freely and have great foliage.
Aster (Alpinus and Wood’s Series) – both compact
Aubrieta blooms early and tends to be evergreen, making dense cushions of flowers
Bellis Daisy blooms in spring, not extremely long-lived, but can reseed
Campanula carpaticaavoid C. persicifolia, it even self-sows in our gravel driveway
Gaillardia ‘Arizona Sun’ – needs well drained soil when dormant, I lost mine last winter
Hemerocallis (Daylily)  – short varieties, plant at least 18” from bulbs - they will spread
Heuchera (Coral Bells) – plant at least 12” – 18” from bulbs, makes dense clumps
Peony – keep lily bulbs at least 24” away from peonies which do not need dividing
Papaver – (Oriental poppies) – plant bulbs at least 24’ away from the clump
Primula (Primrose) – likes moist soil in spring, probably best in coastal areas
Pulstatilla – attractive seed heads follow spring flowers, well behaved here
Saxifraga not the “mossy" types that need moist shade
Violets – watch the reseeding

SHRUBS – plant bulbs at least 24” away
Roses – choose Miniatures, Hybrid Tea or shorter growing Rugosa types, depending on your climate
Hardy Fuchsia  – lovely in coastal areas as a backdrop
Azalea –  the bright orange really cheers up our rainy days in spring and some have nice bronze edged foliage in summer
Barberry (Berberis) - Need a thorn barrier?  Cultivars with purple pink leaves are my favorite.
Lavender likes it hot and dry for best flowers, so plant just outside of sprinkler systems or uphill of lilies in a rockery

These are just some of our favorites,   and bear in mind that some cultivars may become weedy or not be advisable for your local area - so be sure to check with a knowledgeable neighbor or extension service. 

Do you have other recommendations that you would like to share?  

Please add a comment in the box below and mention in what USDA Hardiness Zone you are located or the general area you live. 

(Your experience may be just the news another gardener was waiting to read.)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Lily Bulbs not buried deep enough? What to look for...

No, those are not larvae from an insect or other varmints  clinging to the side of this lily stem, but are immature "stem roots".  If bulbs are not planted deep enough to produce roots underground between the top of the bulb and the soil surface - as in this potted specimen - the bulb will have a hard time taking up enough nutrients to survive.

Encouraging the formation of stem roots after planting should be your most important, immediate goal. These critical roots need nutrients within the top 2 or 3 inches of soil - where a top-dressing of fertilizer, compost or well-rotted manure can be placed and where nature provides nutrients in the wild.

Stem roots are far more important than roots grown each year from the bottom of the bulb which helps to anchor the stem against wind.

This stem was found while weeding yesterday. Only one out of perhaps 5000 bulbs in the row was not planted deep enough and the stem roots were valiantly trying to grow using only air moisture to survive.

When the temperatures begin to rise and the humidity drops, these roots would die if not immediately covered with soil.  You can also gently dig the bulb and place it deeper - but be careful you do not break the bulb from the stem or you've defeated your purpose.

The same bulb in the row - note the red arrow showing the proper depth.  It is easy to see how deep the bulb should have been planted, the stem is dark colored where the roots emerge on this variety.  The same variety in the background is all green above ground, because the bulb was planted at the correct depth.  Lilies with naturally dark colored stems are not as obvious, so you'll want to pay close attention.

If you choose to simply pile more soil around the stems, be sure that you provide enough bulk, so the soil doesn't dry out too quickly and stunt the root development even further.  If the lilies are in an individual container, pot them into a larger, deeper pot immediately.  If in a "community pot" that is too large to transplant, your options are limited, but do try to pile more potting soil around the stem.  Compost or well rotted manure such as PooPeas™ mixed with the soil will help to maintain moisture and provide nutrients - one of the reasons we encourage a second fertilizer application when the buds are beginning to open and/or a mid to late summer feeding of manure or compost around the stem. (When we pot up lily bulbs, we use containers that are at least 8 inches deep, with the bulb only an inch or so from the bottom of the pot so that there is plenty of room for the stem roots.  Figure one full gallon of soil per bulb.) 

Planting your bulbs deep enough will also encourage natural division.

Lilies also grow "bulblets" along the underground portion of stem, so if bulbs are planted too shallow, you are also restricting your bulb's natural ability to propagate and make new flowering size bulbs.

Not all varieties will easily make bulblets; by their vary nature, Oriental and Oriental-Trumpet (Orienpet ) Hybrids make only a few each year on stems, but Asiatic lilies can be quite prolific.  Each of those little Asiatic bulblets shown in the above photo can be flowering size in two years.

Asiatic lilies need to be divided every three years on average but Oriental hybrids may not need to be separated for three to five years because they grow slower, hence their more expensive cost in catalogs.

Also see Blog posting  Stem roots in Containers

UPDATE 6.18.12 - Just received this photo from a customer in Texas, look at the bulblets forming above ground on the variety 'Triumphator'.  Usually, they are always tucked in between the stem roots, but it looks like the cells formed into bulblets instead.   It was reported that the weather has been humid, so probably the reason the little bulblets are growing well and not drying up.  This is probably a "one time only" occurrence!

Our advice for this fall:  "I would wait until the leaves have turned yellow, then cut the stem off ground level and also just above the bulblets.  Then simply dig a trench 3 inches deep in your garden and lay the entire thing on it's side and cover with soil.   The bulblets will continue to feed off the old stem and become larger.  Leave them to grow in place next summer and in the fall of 2013, you would then be able to transplant them further apart.  Because of it's Easter Lily heritage the larger bulblets might grow large enough to have a flower in the summer of 2014.    Don't forget to plant Mama bulb deeper this fall..."

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Hail Damage on Lily Bulbs & What to do.

The lilies are growing very fast on the home farm despite the cold and wet weather for the past several weeks.  If it stops raining today,  Bob will spray fungicide because a few plants are showing the telltale brown spots of Botrytis on their leaves because we do not want the fungus to progress beyond just a bit of cosmetic discoloration. In severe cases leaves will turn brown and crispy and bulb growth stops because the lilies are not able to photosynthesize.   If  you grow Roses, spray your Lilies with the same formula should you be experiencing either cold and wet - or hot and humid conditions.

IMPORTANT:  If you have bruised leaves from a recent bout of sleet or hail stones - spray a good copper based fungicide ASAP - you might not notice damage right away, but the bruises will open the leaves to fungus.  Look for "wet-looking" darker colored spots on the leaves now; later if Botrytis occurs those spots will turn brown and have clear centers.  Cut off any broken flowers and DO NOT cut back damaged stems, you want to maintain as many leaves as possible, and even a leafless green stem will help to nourish the lily bulb this summer.


Our Fall 2012 catalog is expected to be in the office for processing within the next two weeks and we expect it will arrive in mailboxes by July 4th across the USA.  We have already uploaded most of the lily bulbs in that catalog to our website a few days ago, so you can have a sneak peek before it is mailed and begin plotting new acquisitions.

Fall 2012 Catalog cover
The cover photo is of a lily we trialed two years ago.  The original name was "Cooper's Crossing" but the clone was renamed "Easy Salsa" in Holland.  This is an Asiatic lily with NO POLLEN, which means as a cut flower there is no need to remove the anthers before bringing the stems indoors.  The blooms are 4 to 5 inches across and the color is simply outstanding in the garden. There will be a riot of color later this month because these bulbs are planted near Lilium pardalinum that tends to bloom about the same time and has already been uploaded because the stems are lush and loaded in buds.

Lilium pardalinum comes in all shades of orange.

Although not in the fall catalog, we expect to have Lilium martagon clones uploaded to the website in a few weeks as well.  When most of the fields in both Washington and Oregon are beginning to bloom, we count the stems to estimate harvest and if there are enough surplus bulbs after our propagation needs, those figures are uploaded to our office database computer and we begin entering orders into our system.

Click to go to Web-only bulbs - including 'Exhibition-size'

Did you see the 'Exhibition-size' lilies (Including 'Timezone' shown below) on our website?  Some of the stems this year are larger than a 25 cent coin and if the bulbs do not decide to "divide" due to a cool summer, they will be shipped this October - no need to wait until after our winter harvest to plant.

Order ASAP however, because if the bulbs do split instead of growing larger, the earliest paid orders are filled first with the big bulbs.  We can't glue two together to make more!

'Time Zone' - looking forward to July