Saturday, July 21, 2012

Double-flowered Lilies - Some that are natural, and some not.

Cocktail Twins (Asiatic)
 The typical Lily flower is 6-petaled (more specifically, 3 petals and 3 sepals), in recent years however  hybridizers have selected out clones that genetically favor extra petals formed in the middle of the flower fusing together the filaments and anthers (pollen bearing part) together into sort of a "petaloid" crest.  Some varieties like 'Cocktail Twins' (Asiatic) have just an extra fluff in the center, others like 'Miss Lucy' (Oriental) are more dramatic, with many full-sized narrow petals.

Catalog photo - most representative of the flower.

One of the problems of breeding such Multi-petaled Flowers is that most are sterile - they do not produce pollen to use on another double flower - and the breeding records from hybridizers are always closely held trade secrets. 

See the three different photos of 'Miss Lucy'?

'Miss Lucy' in a cool summer.
Hybridizer's promotion photograph

In a cool summer, it seems that more "green" shows in the center of the petal and in a "warm" summer the green coloration becomes bleached by the sun before even opening and is either not seen at all or is a very light shade.

The image to the right is a "promotion" photograph, probably grown under precise conditions in a greenhouse, then shot in a studio, showing perfect petals.

Not all double flowers from year to year are due to a genetic "flaw" as it used to be called.  Alternating warm and cold weather can produce doubled flowers on a temporary basis.  Usually, one one or two initial blooms on a stem will be multi-petaled, with the later ones opening normally, as the weather evens out.  There is even a variance from year to year on the named clones. 

The small Chinese Red flowers shown above are Lilium pumilum, the flower on the left is normal, the one on the right side has extra petals.  This is simply weather-related, not any type of mutation that will come back year after year.  The bulbs were left over from last fall and not "discovered" until we were cleaning out the big cooler in preparation for turning off the cooling for the summer, so they were planted very late (late June) and immediately started growing through a short period of warm weather (2 weeks), then back to rain, cold, hail etc.  Some of the stems did not even bloom, because they were planted too late to grow properly, the reason why we advise against planting lily bulbs after Mid May if it can be avoided.  L. pumilum is not available for sale this fall, but should be back for Spring or Fall 2013 planting, along with more Doubles from the Oriental and Asiatic lines. A couple other cultivars available for planting this fall are shown below.

'Little Yellow Kiss'

'Double Strawberry Vanilla'

Saturday, July 14, 2012

How to Fertilize Lily Bulbs & When

Pink lily sprouts just beginning to emerge on a sunny day.
Time & Type Matter
A complete fertilizer, such as Vegetable 5-10-10 or a complete Rose food formula, is first applied when the sprouts begin to emerge, and again just as the flowers are openingChoose a brand where the first number (nitrogen) is lower because with a high nitrogen content lily bulbs will grow nice leaves but not good flowers - and growing too fast from high nitrogen fertilizers weakens the bulb's overall health. (All candy and no protein - so to speak - check the chemical breakdown before you purchase any product.) 

Generally, the least expensive place to buy products is in 50 pound bulk size bags at farm stores.  Do not be alarmed with such a large amount, but simply line a 5 gallon bucket with a trash bag, pour in the fertilizer, twist the top to seal out moisture and put a lid on top.  Keep in the corner of your garage or shed and you'll have several years of fertilizer for the cost of a yearly 8 pound box.  

The above photo shows sawdust shavings that are packed with our lily bulbs for cushioning and to regulate moisture.  Simply empty the bag over the newly planted bulbs as simple mulch and when you stand back, it is easy to see where they are planted.  This system of marking sleeping lily bulbs is handy to avoid stepping on a newly emerging stem in spring.  The mulch was pulled away so you can see the white granules of dry fertilizer sprinkled on the soil.  Wait until most of your lilies have emerged and are 1 to 6 inches tall before spreading fertilizer so that you do not accidentally miss a group.

Organic Gardening
Organic formulas are more expensive and the official analysis might not look as "effective", but many organic formulas also include Trace Minerals which will increase disease resistance and help take up nutrients more effectively.  They are especially worth their cost in small gardens where you have limited space for both food crops and flowers and need to practice careful and precise crop rotation for the vegetable garden to grow well.  Time release formulas can be a bit chancy, especially in areas with cooler summers because most of them need to have a certain soil temperature to release well and lily bulbs do best with specific fertilizing.

How much to use for lilies?
One tablespoon of a complete balanced fertilizer for each large stem is plenty for soils with a clay base; you want to target the lilies while they are growing fast in spring making a stem.  Fertilize again in midsummer when the flowers are beginning to open and the bulb has exhausted its stored food and needs to build itself back up before winter.  Areas of high rainfall or sandy soil may require an additional feeding about two weeks later. 

Resist the urge to use more fertilizer in the hopes of faster growth or to "correct" perceived weak growth or odd leaf coloration.  You can also use a "manure tea" or kelp (seaweed) sprayed onto the still-green leaves late in the summer, however be mindful of wind; Dianna accidentally sprayed the large living room window with Fish emulsion many years ago and spent the next morning with a razor blade scraper taking all the little brown spots off the glass. 

Case in point
One of our sons made cookies for Boy Scouts when he was seven years old.  Reading the recipe, but not the sizes on the ring of measuring spoons, he put in a Tablespoon of Baking Soda instead of only a Teaspoon - the cookies tasted very good - but you can imagine the gastric repercussions emitting from the family that evening.  (Just like baking soda, too much fertilizer is not a good thing.)

If your leaves are turning yellow (and dropping) from the ground up is the classic symptom of having too much moisture surrounding the bulb and adding more fertilizer will burn the already stressed roots.  Brown speckles on leaves or buds are usually Botrytis (fungus), and no amount of fertilizer will help - only a good fungicide.  If in doubt, please send us a photo by email, with your soil type, mulch and local weather conditions and we'll be better able to help you determine what might be affecting the lilies.

Organics - about 1/4 cup per large stem of follow package.
Midsummer Top Dressing with Organics

When lily flowers are beginning to open, the bulb has exhausted itself putting up a stem, and now needs a boast of nutrients. Remember that the feeder roots are just below the soil surface so simply scratching in the fertilizer or watering it in will put the food in the best place.

Processed manure products and regular granular chemical formulas are just fine used together or alone in a given year, but if you have a rainy winter or spring much of the fertilizer will leached out, so spreading compost or manure during the summer is a better plan, plus it helps to correct any deficiencies. For manure tea, use about a half cup of fresh or aged manure in a quart jar of warm water, stir and let set for an hour, then spray.  You want the manure to dissolve as much as possible.

Handfuls of alfalfa pellets (rabbit food) around the stems will help with nitrogen - but is not recommended should you be plagued with wild bunnies.  However, if they are eating the alfalfa pellets, maybe they’ll leave the stems alone?  (Just joking, don’t try it unless you are braver than me.)   Greensand (a sandstone rock product) and a light dusting of fresh grass clippings will make a difference, dried grass clippings can be deeper, but you lose some of the benefits.  Grass clippings from recent “weed and feed” applications are not recommended however.  

Many years ago a customer put up an expensive cement block fence to keep deer and running dogs out of the flower beds surrounding his home, but the deer would simply walk up the paved driveway, so he installed an automatic gate for the cars.  It worked perfectly - so he happily planted new lily bulbs, roses and peonies in the spring, carefully amending the soil with compost and other "good stuff".  Sometime later he called to say he had a problem.  What happened?  The raccoons were climbing the trees, dropping down onto the cement block fence, scooting down a shed roof, sniffing out the Blood and Bone Meal and digging up all his plants.    

Avoid using blood meal or bone meal if you have raccoons or enthusiastic dogs because they will tend to dig your bulbs if they smell anything interesting underground - one of the main reasons to avoid any type of meat scraps in your compost pile.

If you miss spreading fertilizer completely and it is late in the summer, don't worry; wait until next year.  Keep in mind that chemical fertilizer granules are not as effective if spread or dug into the soil in the fall.  This is because winter rainfall will tend to wash away nutrients before your lily bulbs are ready to use the food.  Do a simple application of compost or well-rotted manure around the stems and the stem roots next spring will be able to access the nutrients.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Ice chunks falling from the sky...

What a night.  Thunder and lighting to just before dawn, with a few showers thrown in for good measure, then just when we thought the worst of the storm had passed us by, chunky hailstones the size of chickpeas dropped just when it became light enough to see.  Because we rarely experience electrical storms for such a long time, this weather is more like Minnesota than the Northwest corner of Washington State .  (The elements are still rumbling out there, so this posting will be quick.  I've already lost my satellite internet once today and had to shut the computers down.)

Lilies whose flowers were already opened suffered bruising, but because we are somewhat late for bloom this spring, the ones still in tight bud have a chance to open normally.
Before the storm.
24 hours later, 2 hours after hail storm
The lily on the right was photographed yesterday and today the same stem (shown below) is covered in brown spots.  The upper right flower just opening in the top photo is the same one shown front and center in the next photo down.  Damage would not have been so fast nor dramatic had the hail stones been a bit smaller.  Note that the lower facing blossoms were not damaged and should continue to look nice.  (In our commercial propagation fields, we had already begun removing the unopened flower buds to encourage the bulbs to grow larger for our fall harvest, so we have no reason to worry about October's crop.)

IMPORTANT:  Spray a good copper based fungicide ASAP after any moisture on the flowers and stems has dried - the same as you would for roses.  With tiny hailstones, you might not notice damage right away, but the bruises could set the stage for fungus later on.  Look for "wet-looking" darker colored spots on the leaves and flowers now; later if Botrytis begins, those spots will turn brown and/or have clear centers.  
 [update 7.14.12]
48 hours later - notice how the "older" spots have turned brown?  The second bout of hail several hours later caused the clear, moist areas on the petals, but they are expected to also begin turning brown with a day or so. 

Simply remove any open flowers that were damaged (or shredded) by hail, leaving unopened buds intact and spray the buds, leaves and surrounding soil with a good fungicide ASAP.  The underground bulbs will not be damaged and will continue to grow larger for next summer's bloom if the leaves are left on the stems.  

Buds that were tightly closed during the storm should open normally but we still recommend spraying a copper-based fungicide as a precaution.  Baking soda solutions (1T per gallon of water) can be a good preventative, but its need to be applied more frequently.  Farm stores are a good place to find copper products, "big box" lumber stores -  in my opinion are not so good - they are more geared to "death and destruction" chemicals.


Monday, July 9, 2012

Casual Lily photography - How to do it easily and inexpensively

Two inexpensive older digital camera
Choosing a camera: Unless you are planning to sell your photographs, expensive camera models with interchangeable lenses and many options are not necessary to create pleasing flower portraits.  Many low cost digital cameras now offer a "macro" setting - which is basically a built in "close up" lens.  You will be able to get as close as 4 to 6 inches away from the flower and still have a reasonably sharp image for capturing details such as personality spots or a cooperative ladybug.

A simple tripod is highly advised for achieving the sharpest images and will help to increase the quality of your photographs because automatic settings that "adjust" for hand shake can only go so far to compensate.  Quality used tripods can be found in second hand stores for very little money, so do not be alarmed at the price of that fancy new one, but do make sure the removable "pad" that is used to attach the camera is included.

Before you snap that shutter...

Lilium lankongense
#1 - What is your background?  We are so used to our surroundings, that we generally only see the beauty of the lily and our mind conveniently blocks out the view of the wheelbarrow, filled with prunings and sitting 10 feet away.   With the camera on the tripod, look critically through the lens - ignoring the subject flower for a moment - and check to see what else is about to recorded.  If you have a simple background of shrubs, lawn, treeline or hedge, the focus should be on your subject with the other objects secondary.  Many times when doing closeup work, you can "fuzz out" the offending background, reducing it to just an abstract of colors or use textured watercolor paper as a backdrop like this single downfacing flower of Lilium lankongense.  A pleasing vista is still preferred for the best compositions - and by including a reference point, your photos will become more interesting.

Note the difference between the two images of this stand of Lilium pardalinum?  The right hand photograph is more enjoyable with the scoop shovel and old stump because you can see just how tall the stems are growing in the garden.  [Most photos will enlarge if you click on them. -dg]
Lilium pardalinum growing in a garden in Port Orchard, WA

Same 'Mrs. R.O. Backhouse' - cloudy day.
See the pollen on it's tummy?
#2 - Check the weather.  Overcast days will tend to give a blue cast to white flowers, but the natural daylight is also softer and more evenly spread than in bright sun, and there are no sharp shadows.  In general, just after sunrise and before sunset are the best times for photographing warm colors, plus the petal textures will be more evident.  Bright, sunny days are not the best times to photograph your garden.  See the butterfly (with its pollen covered tummy) on this close up of a Martagon lily?  It had rained all night and the butterflies did not come out until the sun did, so the lighting was not the best and the image not as crisp.  The next photo (same variety of lily) was taken on an overcast day and since there were no shadows, the color is not brassy.  Can't tell the difference?  Compare the leaves on both photos if the flowers look the same to you.  Should a bright sunny day be your only option then ask someone to hold a translucent white "photography" umbrella or a rigid sheet of greenhouse plastic to cast even light on your subject.  Frame your photograph and be careful that your own shadow doesn't fall on the ground... and give away your secret!

#3 - Wind is not your friend.  On a pleasant day wind generally comes in gusts, so with a simple point and shoot camera, hold down the shutter button part way to set the focus (use a tripod if you can't hold still) and wait until the wind has quieted down.  The beauty of digital is that you can keep repeating the shot until you have a winner.  In the old days of slide film, it became rather expensive to toss out blurry slides when they came back from the photo lab.

Unlabeled Asiatic lily.
#4 - Composition.  Try not to put your subject "dead center" in the frame - unless you are archiving a record of flowers from your garden for hybridizing purposes - and thus need an image of relative flower shape and growth habit.  The most pleasing shots have a bit of background showing and with the flowers and stems at an angle.  There are many art books that give instructions on how to paint a pleasing canvas and the same composition techniques apply to photography.

This yellow lily is well balanced, but the open flower is out of focus; it would have been better to change the angle of the camera to put both the buds and the flowers the same distance from the lens, which would not have changed the look of the background trees or the meadow grasses.

#5 - Last check.  Are there brown leaves or stems, bird droppings on the leaves, weeds, or your shoes showing in the camera lens frame?  Move them - or you - before you press the shutter.  Are there pollen grains on the petals that make the flower look less "fresh"?  A soft artist paintbrush on a dry day can be used to gently brush off pollen if it hasn't already stained the petals from overhead watering and rainfall.  Do you like what is framed on the camera?  Would it be better from another angle?  Move the tripod slightly to the side to make the photograph more interesting.  And... the one item that most people forget... record the name of the flower that you have just photographed!  If in a public garden, many of the flowers, trees and shrubs will be labeled.  In a friend's garden, ask while you are shooting because similar varieties can be hard to distinguish from one another in photographs.

Interesting decomposing stump behind this old iron wheel.
Have fun and don't be too critical of yourself - or you'll end up buying an abundance of photography equipment trying to make things perfect.  Remember that some of the best photos also show a few "defects" - brambles growing around the front end of an old tractor or a single red tulip in a bed of pink ones (keeping the oddball out of the very middle of the shot for a more pleasing composition).  Even the dead fern fronds behind this old wagon wheel can add interest.  Whatever should suddenly catch your eye may have the possibility for a good photo, so keep your camera charged and don't be afraid to experiment.

What to do with your best photos?  Print, mat, and enter them into the local county or state fair to see what happens.  Judges are usually pretty open with suggestions on how to improve your photography skills and can be a good resource.

[Except for the image of L. lankongense, all the photographs in this article were taken with one of the two cameras shown at the top of this page.  -Dianna]