A simple guide to planting lilies

October 9, 2015

Stately lily plants, with their exotic flower forms and their great variety in colour and size, add a dramatic accent to the summer garden.

A simple guide to planting lilies

Knowing the difference between types of lilies

Lilies have a variety of forms. The most popular types of lily hybrids are the Asiatics (divisions I), Trumpets (division VI), and Orientals (division VII). Good varieties include:

  • Division Ia (upward-facing flowers): 'Connecticut King' (yellow), 'Corina' (crimson); 'Enchantment' (orange-red with dark central spots), 'Red Carpet' (red), 'Sterling Star' (cream).
  • Division Ib (outward-facing flowers): 'Black Velvet' (dark red), 'Bold Knight' (red), 'Dawn Star' (pale yellow), 'Fire King' (orange-red), 'Moulin Rouge' (orange blotched brown).
  • Division Ic (pendent flowers): 'Citronella' (yellow), 'Katinka' (peach with brown spots), 'Nutmegger' (yellow flecked brown), 'Sally' (orange-pink with spotted centres), 'Viva' (red-orange, recurved).
  • Trumpet lily varieties: 'African Queen' (yellow), 'Black Dragon' (white with dark reverse), Pink Perfection Strain (rose pink).
  • Oriental lily varieties: 'Casa Blanca' (white), 'Imperial Gold' (yellow), 'Journey's End' (purple), 'Star Gazer' (red).

Visit the North American Lily Society's website for more information.

Preparing the soil for planting

Lilies will grow in almost any well-drained soil that has a pH slightly on the acid side.

  • Full sun will provide the most vigorous growth, but lilies also perform well in partial shade.
  • Soil preparation before planting lilies is important, just as it is with other bulbs. In light soils, a generous addition of leaf mould or well-composted organic material will improve moisture retention.
  • Bear in mind that lily bulbs and roots will be damaged if fresh manure is applied.
  • Improve heavy soils by adding coarse sand or light gravel.
  • Bone meal, well mixed in, will enrich and condition the soil for several seasons.
  • The subsoil must also provide good drainage so that water will not accumulate around the bulbs.
  • Where impervious subsoil prevails, raised beds with well-drained soil should be prepared. Planting on a gentle slope serves the same purpose.
  • Buy only plump, healthy-looking bulbs. They are available in late fall or early spring from mail-order and local nurseries, and from lily specialists. The bulbs should be firm, with closely packed scales and a dense root system.
  • If you do purchase bargain lots of bulbs, which may be bruised or limp, remove the loose outer scales and put the bulbs into plastic bags with slightly moist peat moss, and add a pinch of sulfur as a fungicide. Close the bags and store in a cool, dark place for several days until the bulbs are plump. After, remove them from the bags and plant.
  • Medium-sized bulbs in a given category are best. They reestablish in a new location more dependably than large bulbs, which may perform well the first year but fail to repeat their initial showing. Also, the medium-sized bulbs are considerably less expensive than the large ones.

Planting and caring for lilies

Lilies can be planted any time the ground can be dug, but fall planting is best.

  • Planting depth should be at least three times as deep as the height of the bulb.
  • When planting, spread the roots and set the bulb so that it will rest with its tip beneath eight to 10 centimetres (three to four inches) of soil.
  • Lilies need a steady supply of moisture during the growing season. A summer mulch is a good way to conserve moisture.
  • Keep the stem roots cool during hot weather to help control weeds.
  • Mulch to a depth of eight to 10 centimetres (three to four inches) with oak leaves, pine needles, salt hay, or any other loose material that will allow passage of water and air to the soil.

Lilies are a beautiful addition to any backyard garden. As long as you get the right type of lilies and plant them properly, they're sure to keep your garden looking great for years!

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