General Lily Requirements
For a long time Lilies were considered to be very difficult to grow and only someone with advanced horticultural knowledge would have any chance of growing these wonderful flowering plants.
This was very true in the beginning as more and more species of lilies were being discovered around the world.
Each had its own special cultural distinctions necessary for not only survival but to thrive and prosper in foreign gardens.
Quite often when new species were discovered no one took notes on the growing conditions that the lilies were found in.
Soil conditions, rainfall, sunlight things that every plant needs were overlooked by collectors who did not necessarily have botanical degrees from University.
As with all things humans have this inborn need to tinker and lilies were not spared this process.
Modern gardeners are now reaping the benefits of the efforts of these horticultural tinkerers.
There are now huge numbers of cultivars or cultivated varieties available to the average gardener that the possibilities and choices seem endless.
New varieties are constantly being produced by professional and some very impressive amateur breeders
The factor of greatest importance concerning soil for lilies is drainage.
Lilies need perfect drainage and cannot be sitting in stagnant water especially during the winter time.
A soil that is open and allows water to freely run through is perfect for lilies.
I personally have very sandy soil in my garden so it is perfect for drainage, however sandy soils need to have humus added to have some water retention.
Heavy clay soils while being rich in nutrients are not conducive to lilies.
If you find you have heavy clay soils you can always add sharp builders sand, dolomite and gypsum to your beds or just raise your beds up.
Raised beds should be at least six inches in height to allow the plants to produce feeder stem roots.
Either way, raising your beds or adding sand to your soil, heavy clay soils are not recommended for Lilies.
Humus is very important to the soil as the organic matter will trap moisture for the roots to absorb and will feed the plants as it is broken down by soil born bacteria.
Loose soil also allows oxygen to penetrate deeper so the plants roots can take it in, soggy soil holds very little oxygen and this will weaken the plants over time, allowing them to become susceptible to diseases.
Adding compost to your garden is a good way to increase the humus content.
A top dressing of about one half inch in the spring and fall will be of great benefit to your plants.
I use composted garden waste twice a year that I pick up from the city compost site.
If your planning to use Mushroom Compost in your soil to condition it, be aware that it contains a high Lime content.
While may lilies are happy with lime in the soil or at least tolerate it there are many species and cultivars that do not tolerate lime at all.
The following are species which hate lime in the soil:
Also the Oriental Hybrids are not tolerant of soil lime, so if your having problems keeping them thriving take a look at your soil lime content.
Soil pH is also an important factor on the health of your plants.
PH is the range of acidity and alkalinity. A pH of 7 is considered neutral, neither acidic nor alkaline.
This is the range where many plants are at their happiest.
A pH below 7 is considered acidic, while a reading above 7 is alkaline.
The lower or higher the number gets the more acid or alkaline is in the soil.
Asiatics, La Hybrids like a soil pH between 6-7, this means they can handle a certain amount of lime in the soil.
Orientals prefer a pH of 5.5-6.5 and do not tolerate any lime in the soil.
Soil pH kits or meters can be purchased at most garden centers if your so inclined to test your soil.
The overall pH levels of your soil can be changed if necessary.
Adding pine mulch, leaf mold or shredded vegetation will drop the pH level and make the soil more acidic.
Adding crushed limestone or dolomite will raise the soil pH or make it more alkaline.
Mulches can be added to the soil surface for a number of reasons.
It helps to control weeds, in the hot part of summer it cuts down moisture loss due to evaporation so you do not have to water as often.
It also moderated the soil temperature by cooling it in the day and reducing heat loss at night time.
Shredded bark will do all these things and a think layer will last about 3 years before it is composted by soil bacteria.
A word of note, mulches also provide a place for destructive insects to over winter.
Lilies requirements for water is actually very minimal.
Spring time water is the most important time for the newly awakening and growing plant.
Once the plants are growing well and are established watering only in the really dry summer periods is necessary.
When watering do not get the leaves and flowers wet. This could lead to Botrytis in the hot humid summer days.
You may have heard the term "Head in the sun, feet in the shade" when dealing with Clematis vines.
This is a good rule for growing lilies as well. Most lilies need full sun to grow well and multiply.
Some North American species and cultivars do enjoy dappled shade.
Oriental cultivars do well if they get some afternoon shade as their blooms have a tendency to fade in full sun.
It is not a good idea to plant lilies under trees such as conifers since the trees block to much of the necessary sunlight.
Shade gardens are also not a place to put lilies as the lack of light will cause them to weaken over time and perish.
If you have good rich soil for you lilies they will not really require very much in the way of additional fertilizer.
If you do fertilize a good all purpose 15-15-15 should work very well.
I suggest diluting the fertilizer by 50 percent and apply weekly. This give an even amount of food over time.
Feed up until the flower buds are about to open. Once flowering is finished resume feeding until the leaves and stems turn yellow.
The very best way to feed you plants is to add well ages manure or compost to the soil on a regular basis.
When purchasing artificial fertilizers you may notice it will have three numbers that all could be the same as in 15-15-15 or be of various numbers such as 10-20-20.
The three numbers are the percentage by weight of the three main ingredients making up the fertilizer mixture.
The first number stands for Nitrogen which is important for the production of leafy green growth and chlorophyll needed to make sugars that the plant uses.
The second number is for Phosphate (P2O5), this is important for flower production.
The third number is for Potassium or Potash (K2O), this helps in root production.
Choosing a proper mixture for the purpose intended is very important.
You do not want to use a 30-10-10 on your plants in the autumn as that will induce new green growth when the plant is trying to shut itself down for the winter dormancy.
Where to purchase bulbs
So now you know what lilies need to grow. So where do you go to purchase your lilies.
There are many places to purchase lilies if you just take some time to look around.
Local garden centres are more and more starting to bring in bulbs in bags in the spring time.
They also carry potted plants already growing and ready to bloom. Supermarket, large hardware stores department stores with garden centres are also starting to carry lily bulbs.
These are all good places but there are some things to look out for, when shopping from these places.
If purchasing bulbs in bags really take a good look at them in the bag.
Quite often they are older bulbs that have been out of the ground for a while and are either drying out, or might have blue mold on them from to much humidity in the bag to down tight rotting and decomposing.
Another thing when purchasing from these places is the tag may say one thing but the plant you get may be a total different variety.
If the buds have opened up you can verify the variety to the label.
The choices you may be faced with might be minimal and if you are looking for good variety you will have to go elsewhere.
If buying from garden centers look for plump firm and damage free bulbs.
I purchased the vast majority of my lilies from nurseries who specialize in lilies as part or all of their crop.
These nurseries sell top quality bulbs that have been field grown at their nursery for a number of years to ensure the plants are healthy.
Most nurseries I deal with have online catalogues which I have listed with their permission on my LINKS page.
Take some time to browse through the online catalogues you may be surprised at the variety and colours that are available.
The best times to order plant lilies is early autumn or early spring depending on the variety your planting.
Early flowering Asiatics go dormant early enough to be dug up and shipped for fall delivery.
Asiatics bought in the spring have been dug up in the fall and stored over the winter in a refrigerator.
Late blooming Orientals, Orienpet and Species lilies are not dormant enough to be dug up and shipped in the fall so they are shipped only in the spring time.
A word of warning about buying from specialty nurseries, order them as early as possible, as really different or popular varieties go fast.
Planting your Lilies
So its late September and a box arrives in the mail. Wow, its like Christmas when you open it up.
Inside is your order of nice plump fresh lilies, what do you do now. The first thing you should do is look and see if the growing height is printed on the label.
If not go through the website or catalogue and mark it on the label so you know where to put it when your out planting.
You might end up with a few surprises next summer when your 5 foot Asiatic is at the front of the bed and the 12 inch pixie is in the middle of the bed.
Once that is done try not to delay getting your lilies planted.
The longer out of the ground they are the more they deteriorate, and it does not take very long for them to soften up.
When actually planting your bulbs two things are important to remember A) plant them deep enough to allow the stem roots
to develop and feed the bulb, B) Plant them far enough apart to allow for bulb growth and division. Here is a guideline to planting depths.
Asiatics and Orientals: should be planted at least 4 inches deep, 6 inches if the soil is very light.
The distance apart should be at least 12 inches. This will give your 2-3 years before they need to be dug up and divided.
Trumpets and Orienpets: Both of these can have very large bulbs and can grow quite large with a wide spread to the blooms.
Plant the bulbs 6-8 inches deep and a minimum of 15 inches apart for a two year time period before dividing.
Some very large Orienpet plants need at least 24 inches between bulbs.
Small bulb species: These can be planted at 3 inches in depth and 4-6 inches apart.
Madonna Lily: The Madonna lily or L. candidumis kind of an exception to the planting rule.
It only grows roots from the basal plate and does not grow stem roots.
Therefore it can be planted a little shallower than other lily bulbs.
It is a good idea to plant the bulb with the tip just at the soil surface level. Planting them too deep will cause them problems.
Dividing your Lilies
Some varieties of lilies multiple quickly some take a long time to increase their clumps.
As a bulb grows it will divide into two or more smaller bulbs. These then will grow and continue dividing in the ground.
Also many produce stem bulbs and daughter bulbs from the basal plate. So you can see how a single bulb can produce a large clump with on a few short years.
This will happen quicker in looser soils than hard clay packed soil.
Faster clumping lily should be dug up and divided every 2-3 years.
Slower ones with more room to expand can go on for much longer.
Lilies that are not divided on a regular basis and become over crowded will eventually start suffering and grow weaker.
The best time to divide a clump of lilies is three to four weeks after they have finished flowering.
Dividing the clump before they have flowered could do damage to the bulb and feeder roots necessary for flowering.
If too many roots are damaged the ability to absorb water will affect the blooms ability to open properly.
One thing to remember about lilies is that they do not always grow straight up from the bulb.
Some varieties of Orientals and species grow underground first before shooting out of the ground.
This allows them to grow more stem roots to feed the bulb.
With that in mind, to divide the clump it is better to use a garden fork than a shovel.
There is less chance of severing a horizontally growing stem from the bulb.
With Asiatics, LA hybrids, Trumpets and Orienpetsthey for the most part grow straight up from the bulb.
Using your fork dig a few inches outside the clump at numerous points around the clump.
Loosening the clump as you go. Once you get all the way around you can probably remove the clump from the ground.
At that point you can gently pry the bulbs apart and categorize them by size.
This also a good time to check to see what kind of condition they are in.
If your going to plant some in the same place as they were in, it is a good idea to freshen up the soil by adding some compost.
Some of the others can be planted in different locations or given away to friends.
The really small bulblets can be planted in a nursery to grow larger. They can get to flowering size in a couple of years if given enough room to grow.
Pruning or Deadheading
Unless you're planning to hybridize your own lilies it is better to cut the spent flowers off before the seed pods develop.
By doing this you're directing all the energy back into the bulb strengthening it for next years flowering. Developing seeds take a lot of energy from the bulb, which could decrease the amount and size of blooms for the next season.
Cut the lily 70-80 percent of the way up the stem. When pruning a lily never cut more than one third off the stem, that will remove too many leaves that are needed to produce food for the bulb.
As winter approaches the lilies are going to start getting ready for their dormancy.
The stems and leaves turn brown and dry out. Once the stem is totally dried out it should come off the the bulb easily.
The method I use to remove the fully dried out stems is to put my feet on each side of the stem and give it a quick pull.
Most come off very easily, some do not, those I prune with gardening shears.
The later blooming Orientals and Orienpets may not have enough time before snow falls to be full loosened from the bulb.
These I prune, leaving a few inches above ground to catch the snow.
You may from time to time hear that a lily is a division 1 or a division 4. This is a brief listing of how the division system is listed.
Division 1: Asiatic Hybrids
Division 2: Martagon Hybrids
Division 3: Candidum Hybrids
Division 4: American Hybrids
Division 5: Longiflorum Hybrids
Division 6: Trumpets Hybrids and Aurelians
Division 7: Orientals Hybrids
Division 8: L.A. Hybrid's, Asiapets, Orienpets, Longipets, L.O. Hybrid's, O.A.
Division 9: Species