Lilies are loved by gardeners everywhere. These big, bright, and dependable flowers have an elegance that’s unsurpassed. If you plant several different varieties, you can have blooms all summer long.
Types of Lilies
Many gardeners don’t realize that there are several different types of lilies, and each blooms at a different time during the summer. By planting a few bulbs of each kind, you can have lilies in bloom literally all summer long.
Asiatic lilies (Asiatic hybrids) start the season in early to midsummer. Most have upward-facing flowers and all are hardy in zones 4 to 9.
To extend the Asiatic lily season, consider planting LA Hybrids, a relatively new type of lily. These plants produce larger flowers than most Asiatics, with the delicious fragrance of the Easter lily. LA Hybrids grow to 30 inches high and come in a range of clear, bright colors from cream through pink, peach, yellow, orange and red.
The next lilies to flower are the martagons(Lilium martagon) also known as Turk’s cap lilies. Growing 3 to 4 feet tall, they have dainty, 3-inch flowers with petals that curve backward (recurved), and up to 20 blooms on each stem. All Turk’s Cap Lilies are hardy in zones 3 to 9.
Midsummer brings the flowers of Trumpet Lilies. These elegant bloomers are named for their trumpet-shaped flowers, and all are hardy in zones 5 to 9. The Trumpet Lilies can be divided into two subcategories:
- Aurelian hybrids: The taller of the two, these lilies can reach 5 feet tall.
- Easter Lilies (Lilium longiflorum): Known for their huge, trumpet-shaped, outward-facing blooms. Most are quite fragrant.
Tiger lilies (Lilium lancifolium) stand 3 to 4 feet tall and have large, freckled, pendulous blooms with recurved petals. Tiger lilies are very hardy (zones 3 to 9) and will multiply to form large clumps over the years. They are happy almost anywhere, producing a dozen or more flowers on each stem. Colors are typically in the warm range, from golden yellow through orange and into reds.
Rubrum Lilies (Lilium speciosum var. rubrum) resemble the Tiger Lilies because they too have recurved petals. However, the color range is cool—from white to deep pink — and the blooms are sweetly fragrant.
The season ends with a bang when the Oriental Lilies start to bloom. Intensely fragrant, with huge, flat blossoms that can be up to 10 inches across, Oriental Lilies are a fabulous in the garden or in a vase. Intensive breeding efforts have widened the range of colors. A new relative of the Oriental Lily is something called the Oriental Trumpet Lily, a hybrid created from Trumpet Lilies and Oriental Lilies. The result has the best qualities of its parents: upward-facing blooms and intense fragrance
- Plant lily bulbs in autumn.
- Note: Lilies do not thrive in Zones 9 to 10 without a period of refrigeration; they need a cold, dormant period.
- Select a site with soil that drains well. How can you tell? After a good rain, find a spot that is the first to dry out. Water trapped beneath the scales may rot the bulb, so a well-drained site is essential.
- Also, select a site that gets full sun. For dependable blooms, lilies need six to eight hours of direct sunlight a day. If it’s too shady, the stems will attempt to lean towards the sun or get spindly and fall over.
- Most of the popular varieties prefer acidic to neutral soil, but some are lime-tolerant or prefer alkaline soils (e.g., Madonna lilies).
- Loosen the soil to a depth of 12 to 15 inches. The deep planting encourages the developing stem to send out roots to help stabilize the plant and perhaps eliminate the need for staking. Also, deep planting keeps lily bulbs cool when temperatures soar.
- Enrich the soil with leaf mold or well-rotted organic matter to encourage good drainage..
- Dig a hole 2 to 3 times as deep as the bulbs are high and set the bulb in the hole pointy side up. Fill the hole with soil and tamp gently.
- Space bulbs at a distance equal to 3 times the bulb’s diameter. For a good effet, plant lilies in groups of 3 to 5 bulbs.
- Water thoroughly.
- In active growth, water freely especially if rainfall is less than 1 inch per week.
- Keep lilies mulched so that their roots are cool. The mulch should feel moist but not wet.
- Apply a high-potassium liquid fertilizer every 2 weeks from early spring until 6 weeks after flowering.
- Keep moist in winter.
- Apply a thin layer of compost each spring, followed by a 2-inch layer of mulch.
- Stake tall lilies.
- Lilies do not rebloom, but you can remove the faded flowers so that the plants don’t waste energy making seeds.
- Leave the foliage until it turns brown in the fall. This is important so that the plant stores energy for next year’s flowering. Cut down the dead stalks in the late fall or early spring.
- Before winter, add 4 to 6 inches of mulch, simply to delay the ground freeze and allow the roots to keep growing. Leave the mulch until spring once the last hard frost has passed.
- Divide plants every 3 to 4 years as new growth begins in the spring. Just lift them and divide into clumbs. Replant using compost and bonemeal.
- Gray mold is sometimes a problem, especially in a wet, cool spring or summer. Make sure lilies are not crowded and have plenty of air circulation.
- Viruses, spread by aphids, may be troublesome, although some cultivars are virus-tolerant.
- Red lily beetles, slugs, and snails may occur.
- Deer, rabbits, voles, and groundhogs may eat entire plants. Consider a wire cage for bulbs if this seems to be an issue where you live.
Displaying Lilies in Vases
- Lilies make wonderful cut flowers. Choose lilies with buds that are just about to open, not tight and green, witha bit of the flower color showing.
- As soon as you get lilies inside, trim the stem ends an inch or so, making a diagonal cut with a sharp knife.
- If you worry that the orange pollen of lilies might cause stains, simply snip off the stamens in the flower’s center.
- Before arranging in a vase, remove the lower leaves on the stems so that no foliage will be underwater.
- A good lily arrangement will last 2 or more weeks. Change the water every few days.
- To help prolong the life, add cut-flower food to the water. Lilies require only half the amount of food recommended for other flowers.