Monday, August 19, 2013

Low Cost Ways to Increase your Lily Garden

Evaluate your landscape now, during late summer, to decide which lilies might be overcrowded or have outgrown their allotted space and need to be divided, and mark the stems before the flowers completely fade and/or the leaves have browned.
Natural propagation is quite rewarding, you do nothing but water, weed and fertilize and nature provides a bountiful harvest, however it is best to wait until the beginning of fall when lily leaves are beginning to turn from green to yellow and the weather is beginning to cool before dividing your bulbs. Assemble shovel, garden fork, labels and one or more buckets to keep the various varieties from being mixed. Alternatively, only digging and dividing one clump at a time, works well to keep things straight.  A lesson learned from long ago, is that  it is much easier to cover the bulbs, than to dig them up, so pace yourself.  Lily bulbs should not be allowed to sit unprotected in the sun or for any length of time without soil for proper hydration.  Aim for finishing the job within one day.

Best time to divide lily bulbs in October.

 Signs of Overcrowding

The clump on the right side has divided into smaller bulbs with only one or two flowers on each stem, but the single uncrowded bulb on the left side was taller and had many blooms. Dig and divide your lily bulbs when you see a reduced number of flowers and with many stems close together.  Also be mindful of other plants growing over the lilies, shading and stealing their water and fertilizer.  Clean out overgrown patches of garden every few years.

Too shallow
Planted too shallow reduces number of bulblets.

 Planted too shallow - No Bulblets

Notice the lack of bulblets on the lower clump?  Even though the bulbs were making stem roots, as weeds were pulled from around the stems, soil was also removed, leaving the lilies planted too shallow to make bulblets.  Mulch "counts" as depth for planting, but does not give roots a place to grow. The pink shading on the stems shows the "mulch depth" on the clump, with the stem roots only condensed into the two inches above the lily bulbs.  More info on planting depth.

How-to Dig and Divide Lily Bulbs
When the leaves have turned from green to yellow, cut back stem to about 6 inches tall, so you know where the lilies are located.  Carefully dig up the entire clump, with the 6" stems still attached, starting about 6 inches away, going the depth of your shovel or spading fork, and slowly moving to where the bulbs are located.  

Use a garden hose and adjustable nozzle to wash off the soil and expose the mother bulb and the stem roots found between bulb and soil surface. Carefully cut the stem an inch above the big bulb using an old pair or pruners, serrated kitchen knife or carpet knife - something that can be sharpened, for without doubt, you will dull the blade on small pebbles or grit woven into the stem roots.  

Lilies look most natural planted in triangular groups of three, spaced 10”-14” apart. Provide at least 6 hours of sun, dappled shade in very warm regions for Orientals.  Cooler summer regions where the average summer temperature is around the mid 70's can plant all varieties in full sun.  We do, and there is no shade in the propagation fields, but we generally have our coastal fog most July and August mornings, which makes for easy photography of the flowers.

Dig holes about 14 inches across and the depth of a standard shovel.  Place bulbs in a triangle touching the outside of the hole, so they are between 8 to 10 inches apart for Asiatic types and 12 to 14 inches apart for Orientals, Trumpets and Orienpets.  Cover bulbs with fluffy soil and mulch after your soil freezes in November in the Midwest.   It is not necessary to mulch bulbs for winter in milder climates.  Plant bulbs 2”- 4” deeper in areas where daily temperatures average over 90 degrees F. and the soil is sandy. Do not plant among aggressive ground covers or where large trees or shrubs will rob nutrients or moisture. Lily bulbs need regular fertilizer, water, and cultivation. They do NOT “naturalize” like Daffodils or Tulips, which have a hard outer shell. Be sure to mulch bulbs in cold climates if a good winter snow cover is not expected. Likewise, in more temperate areas, cold saturated soil will rot lily bulbs some years, so a raised area and fast-draining soil is recommended.  For more detailed planting information, see our website Cultural Guide.

Mixing lilies with other plants?  Here is the link for a short list of Dianna's favorite bulbs, perennials and shrubs in the lily garden.

Bulblets growing on lily scales.
Would you like to increase your garden of lilies faster?  You can imitate the professional growers, to increase a clonal selection (named variety)  faster by vegetative manipulation called "scaling"  (Click here for definition of Scaling.) The Instructions for Scaling Lily Bulbs can be found on our website.

 Did your lilies make seed this summer because you didn't remove the old flowers soon enough - or you deliberately crossed the pollen from one stem to the flowers on another stem?

Growing new lily bulbs from seed is a long process, because these are perennial bulbs, and it can take between 2 and 5+ years before you see a first flower on your new hybrids.  Click here for Instructions for Growing Lilies from Seed.

In general, Asiatic lilies will multiply the fastest, hence the generally lower cost in catalogs. Orientals, Orienpets and Trumpet lilies make the fewest number of bulblets, but the original bulb can grow to be quite large, almost a pound in weight and the size of a grapefruit on some varieties.  Cutting stems before the leaves have turned yellow, or not leaving enough leaves on a stem when using lilies in a floral arrangement, will reduce the size of your lily bulbs for the next season, so do let the leaves mature (yellow) before transplanting.  Floral Designers: do not cut more than 1/3 of the leaves when using stems for indoor use.  It is best to only use varieties that are at least 4 feet tall for cutting, to allow the remaining leaves to feed the lily bulb for next year's bloom. 

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