Monday, December 9, 2013

Help... Winter Lily Pollen Stains!

'Zambesi' - Fresh white flowers & pollen just beginning to "open".
Note from Dianna: 

Kathy, a gardener who loves her lilies in the greater Seattle area, sent us an email in November asking for help with pollen stains on her wool sweater.  A day later, when asked if she could write a short story and document the pollen removal with photos, she reported that even after a a single day of exposing the fabric to sunshine, the stain had already shrunk too much to make dramatic photos. 

Good work, Kathy!

(All photographs by B&D Lilies.)

Kathy's "Winter" Lily Pollen Report

"Here I am in the kitchen cooking away with a beautiful vase of lilies on the counter. They smell so wonderful. Now, I've heard pollen does not come out of fabric and I should be cutting off the anthers where the pollen dust sits. Problem is, I've also been told the fragrance is emitted from the anther. True, False, I don't know. For this story it's true because that's the reason I had not cut the anthers off.

Back to dancing around the kitchen because I'm cooking a great dinner for a special person. As I dip and turn I realize I'm close to brushing up against the lily, I panic and try to dodge it, but my arm sweeps by the anthers getting covered across the whole upper arm. I immediately take the wool sweater off and flush it with water with nothing happening. Adding dish soap and rubbing between my hands only makes it spread. I stop. Ring it, pat it, and PANIC!

I run to the computer to hunt for any information on the web. Everyone recommended the sun on a sunny day. They also had fabric like cotton and linen. I have wool, it's winter and I live in the Pacific Northwest, which means no sun.

Taking a chance. I put the sweater in a single pane window that had morning light, not sun light. Next afternoon when I had time to get back to the sweater the spot looked a little diminished. As it set in the window over the next month little by little the spot has disappeared.

  1. The sun works on materials of cotton, linen, wool and probably many others
  2. Natural Light over a longer period of time works too.
  3. The fragrance comes from the anther, pistil and even the petals.
  4. Don't touch the area that was brushed by the anthers. Let it dry and brush it off in a day or two with a soft brush. Tape also works if you don't have a brush."

Further Notes from Dianna

'Corcovado' OT - anthers "closed", Style moist.
  • When a lily flower first opens, the anthers are moist and tightly closed.  As the day progresses, they unfurl, exposing the pollen grains.
  • Petal tips have the greatest concentration of fragrance oils, so sniff the edges of a fully opened flower for the best scent.  The center of the lily, where the reproductive parts are located, can be removed without any loss of perceived fragrance. 
  • The "Style", which ends in a three part "knob" and drips sweet-tasting stigmatic fluid, also exhibits light scent, and in the case of a large purebred Oriental lily, can sometimes plentifully run down the bottom petal.  This sticky protrusion helps to hold the pollen from other varieties tightly to the Style, as hummingbirds, bees and other insects brush against it. This is how new hybrids are created from the resulting seed—produced later in the summer between compatible plants, if the growing season is favorable.
Can you see the pollen grains? (Hint: Look at the texture.)
  • Pollen is generally sticky, even when "dry", which is the reason why you should never try to brush pollen off with your hand; the natural oils present on your skin will smear and "set" the pollen into fabric, or simply beautify your skin with a lovely orange-yellow cast.  
  • If pollen is on your skin, such as an arm, flicking a soft cloth or brush on the grains can generally remove it.  In the field, we've used the end of a clean tractor towel to knock the pollen off jeans, not nearly as effective as a brush, but good for emergencies.
  • It is a simple thing to gently pull off the dangling anthers with your fingers before they fully open, or use a tissue to remove open ones and keep your fingers from turning yellow.  With a dry artist brush, you can sweep off any dropped pollen grains on the petals to tidy the flower, but only if the petals and pollen are dry.  Lily pollen grains are generally too sticky and large to blow around upon the wind, so generally do not affect those with sensitivities to spring and summer pollen, and for those of us with fragrance allergies, unscented lilies are generally preferred for indoor use. 
'Little Yellow Kiss'

'Miss Lucy'

'Polka Dot' - a Spring 2014 Introduction.

  • Don't want to go to the bother of picking off pollen to bring the stems indoors for vases?  Choose one of the pollen-free varieties, such as 'Little Yellow Kiss' (Asiatic) or one of the fluffy and fragrant Double Orientals for your home.  The anthers are either not completely formed—hidden completely inside the petals—like 'Miss Lucy' or do not naturally produce a significant amount of pollen beyond a few grains.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

What's happening underground this winter?

Lily bulb regenerating in October.
Lily bulbs are in a constant state of growth; even during the winter months new basal plate roots are expanding, bulblets (offshoots) are growing larger, but most important, the center of your lily bulb is continuing to regenerate for its next flowering period.  

Sometimes it is easy to see the transformation because more of the bulb is spent to grow a stem with some cultivars.  The bulb shown is a perfect example - notice the two different colors of scales?  The outside purple-brown scales were part of the "original" bulb; you can see that during flowering, most of the nice fat bulb planted the previous fall or in early spring had shrunk to only a few outside scales, consuming the center in order to grow a stem.  The backside of this bulb (not shown) was where the stem had emerged for flowering in July.  The new bulb began forming when the flowers were finished, emerging from the basal plate, (bottom) along with a couple of new bulblets that will be exact duplicates of the original.  

Of the three prime necessities for a sustainable lily garden—well drained soil, sunlight and fertilizer—some folks begin to become a little forgetful when it comes time to help the lilies prepare for next year's flowers. 

If your soil was prepared well before planting to be soft and fluffyeven if an application of fertilizer is missed a couple of timeslilies will extract what food they can from their surrounding soil to flower the next year.  If no fertilizer or annual top dressing of compost is provided, lily bulbs will tend to become smaller each year and finally disappear completely

Spreading POOpeas around the stems.

Feed your lilies for bigger and better flowers each year.

We recommend two feedings a year—once when the sprouts are just emerging in spring and the stem roots are beginning to grow—then again when the flowers are beginning to open and the stored food within the lily bulb is depleted.  You can either use a commercial formula or mix your own elements for an organic approach.  Remember that lilies like balanced feeding, too much nitrogen will grow lovely green leaves, but at the expense of good flowers.  A "blooming" formula (e.g. 0-20-0) encourages flowers, but nitrogen and potash are still needed to grow new bulb scales. 

Lilies are heavy feeders, but they only need fertilizer spread during the times of rapid growth or roots can be damaged.  Slow release fertilizer (worked into the top 2 inches of soil) generally only works when soil temperatures reach a certain degree, and usually after the stems are already tall, missing the first milestone.  Time release is better in containers than open garden, because potting soil stays warmer during active growth, but because the volume of soil used is constricted and pots are watered more frequently, it is harder to judge the amount of fertilizer needed.

What if you've forgotten?
  • If you've missed spreading fertilizer during flowering in an established lily garden, do put an inch or two of compost or well-aged manure where the stems were produced this summer, even if your soil is completely frozen when you remember. 
  • For newly planted September to December bulbs, mixing fertilizer at the bottom of the planting hole is generally wasted over winter.  It is the roots produced in spring between the top of the lily bulb and the soil surface (stem roots) that are expecting the food at the proper times, not below the bulb.  Organic material spread on the soil surface takes a year or more to completely break down, and so is a better choice during planting time in October and November.
  • Since everything the lily needs to bloom is already present in the bulb and is depleted during the process of making a stem and flowers, fertilizer you apply during the spring and summer is for the next season's bloom.  If your soil is on the poor side naturally, not fertilizing will compromise next season's flowers—so it is important to always be thinking ahead.  Missing a few meals will not hurt, but for long term health, a regular fertilization program of twice a year is preferred.