By: Brent and Becky
Very few flowers are as ubiquitously popular as the lily. They appear everywhere, in great number, in garden centers and backyards every spring season. They have also been heavily featured in ancient tradition and even religious texts. The lily is famed as a sacred symbol throughout the Bible and was also revered by ancient Greek, Roman, and Minoan peoples. Its popularity hardly wavered with time; the Elizabethans, for example, attributed the lily with healing powers. Today, they’re a sign of spring and a common spectacle in our own gardens.
The Lilium genus is native to the Northern hemisphere, ranging from Asia to Europe and North America. Hybridization over the centuries has created nearly 10,000 unique cultivars from over 100 native species.
Each of these different variants of the lily can be seen in perennial beds all across the globe. They generally bloom in the late spring and early summer, frequently at the same time as roses. Lilies extend their popularity even further as cut flowers, lasting a week or more - longer if you remove the pollen-filled anthers.
Lilies adore sunlight and will want to soak up 6-8 hours of sun daily. On hot summer days, a little bit of protection from the scorching afternoon sun is fine, but too much shade can cause the stems to stretch. Eventually, a stretched plant loses some aesthetic appeal and can even topple over.
The trick to growing the best lilies is to balance keeping the bulb cool, while allowing enough sunlight for the plant. Low-growing plants for ground coverage around your lilies, or simple wood mulch, are great tools to ensure that hot afternoons don’t end up parching your lily’s roots.
Healthy soil with good drainage is important to happy and perennial Lilies. If your soil isn’t so fortified already, adding compost will boost your soil health to give you better blooms.
After your lily has bloomed, wait until the leaves or stem turn yellow to cut it back. At that point, the plant has finished making its own food for the bulb through photosynthesis and has gone dormant. Doing this earlier, while the plant is still green, will jeapordize it’s ability to grow and bloom again in future seasons.
Asiatics are a popular fusion of vibrant color and reliable hardiness. If properly cared for, the bulbs will mature over time, rewarding you with a more impressive display every year. There is an impressive selection of colors to choose from, all of which bloom in tight bunches of flowers. Asiatics tend to bloom slightly earlier than their Oriental counterparts, which can be a great way to stagger your summer blooms.
Oriental varieties are the jaw-dropping show-stoppers of the garden. You may already be familiar with some varieties like “Stargazer” and “Casa Blanca.” These lilies offer wide, enthusiastic flowers. Adding an Oriental Lily to any perennial bed will have it taking center stage while the rest of your flowers play supporting roles.
Oriental Lilies are easier to find in garden centers than they used to be, although Asiatics still dominate the shelves. If you choose these prima donnas for your garden, be prepared to give them extra protection over the winter or plan to plant them in a protected area. While growers in zones 4 or 5 can expect Oriental lilies to struggle in harsh winters, those living in warmer areas will have less difficulty.
Asiatic varieties tend to offer a wider selection of color and will spread rapidly in your garden. Orientals, in contrast, have all been hybridized from only a select few Japanese species. With this breeding comes a more limited color range, but also an iconic spicy fragrance and massive flowers that make them extremely popular.
Oriental Trumpet Lilies
This exciting group of lilies is a result of hybridizing fragrant Oriental lilies with the regal, large flowered Trumpet lilies. The selection produces giant flowers, some as large as 7” across, stronger almost woody stems and large, strong plants with more vigor. On their 3 ' - 5’ stems, you’ll be rewarded with many, many blooms!
This group of hardy, Heirloom lilies can be variable, as many species are. They can be less formal in appearance and take up less room than the hybrid lilies. Therefore, they fit into many gardening situations and make good blooming partners and neighbors with other bulbs and perennials. These perfect little beauties, when happy in full sun with rich, well-drained soil, should give you many years of colorful pleasure from the early to late Summer.
It’s no secret. You can see it everywhere you look. Our planet’s pollinators are threatened. Our pollinators, to include not only bees but birds, butterflies and other insects as well, are so important to the sustainability of our gardens and food crops. Lilies are the perfect garden addition that can help support these necessary pollinators. If each of us participates in healthy gardening practices and chooses some of the pollinator attracting plants, we can collectively make a HUGE difference.
Your lily is quite vulnerable to fungus and molds that can attack the stem. While ground cover is a good tool to keep your lily’s roots cool, ensure that any wet mulch or foliage is kept off the stem. Excess moisture could encourage fungus and rot. During wet-weather spells, take care to keep the area around your lilies free of fallen organic matter where fungus could thrive.
Also keep an eye out for aphids or brown spots on the leaves. These brown patches could indicate the presence of botrytis, or grey mold, a fungus that takes hold of leaves during cold and wet weather. Avoid watering your lilies in the evening and provide good air circulation to prevent mold breakouts. If you do find botrytis, combat it with a rose dust.
The exciting and bold flowers produced by any variety of lily make it obvious why they have been so famously popular over the centuries. These bulbs offer many beautiful rewards every year, as their blooms gain size and beauty with successive seasons. The clear benefit of a flower that is so exceedingly popular is that there are so many cultivars out there, making it a great fit for almost any garden.
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