Gardening Blog

Gardening Blog: Lilies - Part 2

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The following article is a compendium of things I have learned about lilies by growing them, in no particular order, followed by a list of places you can order lilies by mail. It seems the superior way to buy them, which I will explain.

Container Grown Lilies

If you take a few simple precautions, growing lilies in a container is easy and rewarding. First, buy lilies meant for this purpose. You really donít want a seven foot Asiatic or L.A. Hybrid in a twenty quart pot. Asiatic ĎPixieí lilies come in a wide variety of colors, grow about eighteen inches to two feet high and have blooms four inches across. There are others suited to pot growing but start with a sure thing.

Twenty quart pots are about fifteen inches in diameter and eighteen inches deep. They come in un-adorned plastic, molded PVC plastic and pottery. The plastic versions are pretty much indestructible but the terra cotta pots canít be left directly out of doors over winter. I had several from China and water seeped down inside the layers of pottery, froze, then thawed and basically the pot peeled like an onion, layer after layer falling off until there was nothing left to hold the soil together. (Wrecked terra cotta pots make great toad houses, but more on that later).

Which ever pot you use, wash it out thoroughly. Then put a couple of inches of small stones in the bottom to aid drainage. I use aquarium stones for this as I know they are put into the bag sterilized and wonít hurt the plants. Then fill the pot to the top with your preferred soli mixture and press it down to squeeze out air pockets. Then fill it again to the brim.

I usually put six bulbs per pot, one dead center and five in a circle around it. Remember that the pointed end is where the leaves and flowers come from so the bulb should be planted big end down, pointed end up. Use a dibble to make the holes and be sure the bulb is twice the depth in the soil as itís own length. Firm the soil down around the bulbs well and then water thoroughly. If the pot is in full sunlight so it stays warm, shoots should appear rapidly. You can ask for early blooming bulbs, mid-season or late and your flowers will appear then. Six bulbs will provide a brave show. I always do a minimum of two pots per color.

The rest of the season is dead easy. Clip off the tops of the flower stalks after the plants quit blooming. (As was mentioned in a previous article, this encourages the plant to make more bulbs, not seeds).

When the cold, or the time of season makes the leaves start to die back, cut them down to an inch or so above the surface of the soil and put the whole pot inside in an unheated space. The idea is to let the bulbs get so cold they go dormant but donít freeze. If they freeze they will liquefy when they get warm and youíll have a hard time finding them in the pots. An unheated garage would be fine. This will also save your terra cotta pots from self-destructing.

Shoots should appear in the pots fairly close to when they can be put out in the garden again. Just donít be too optimistic about the weather too early. In about three seasons the original six bulbs will be crowding each other and there will be many minute stalks, produced by minute bulbs on the circumference of the root mass. You can tip the pot over, rescue the bulbs and plant four or five new pots from the original two. Barring an accident, you should never have to buy container lilies again, except to try new colors, patterns and forms.

Not Lilies

Lily of the Valley

A word of warning. Lilies of the Valley are not real lilies. At one time they were tacked onto the Lilly Family but now have a separate classification. They are beautiful, smell wonderful and provide great ground cover in shaded locations, but they are deadly to small gardens, because they spread and once they get started they are so invasive itís almost impossible to stop them without chemical agents. It is far easier to get a roll of metal flashing, a minimum of eight inches deep and drive it into the earth along the line you want the Lily of the Valley to stop, before you plant them. (This works well for mint, too).

Canna and Calla Lilies

Are not the kind of lilies discussed here either. While you can grow them, they are not winter hardy. You have to lift them, clean the dirt off them, treat them with a fungicide and put them back in the ground the following year. I know people who started out with scads of them and ended up growing Day Lilies and Asiatics because they grew tired of lifting the bulbs each year, forgot about them, or couldnít schedule work around lifting them. They are beautiful, to some they are worth the extra effort. Itís up to you.

Buying Bulbs

Lilies are the idea plant to buy on line. Most bulb sellers have extensive web sites that show a picture of the lily in bloom and state itís height, spread and any special things it may need to grow. Also lily bulbs are wintered over in freezers so they will be shipped to you in the Spring or Fall in perfect condition to plant. (Donít dawdle in getting them into the ground). Lily bulbs can be priced anywhere from a few dollars to more than fifty, depending on rareness and how recently they were introduced. Thereís something for everyone in cost, looks, color and size.
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