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Growing Liliums - Lilies

The Lily

lillium michiganeseIf I had to choose but one flower for my garden, it would always be the lilium. Not the Easter Madonna lily variety necessarily, but almost any of the stately trumpets, the peeled-back orientals, the freckled Asiatics, the flouncy-petaled Aurelians, the fragrant Martagons, the exciting new LA hybrids, and that's just a few of the varieties available. Hybridizers have worked hard to improve vigour, colour, budding, flowering time, and my favourite, fragrance.

So many hybrid varieties are so fragrant now that I almost have to be careful to not overpower the garden with scent when I choose. My current favourite is Merostar, an offspring of Stargazer, but with far more buds and a fragrance headier than a French perfume. It sits back to back with Casa Blanca, a tall, clear white, later-flowering hybrid. And it too has visitors sniffing the air and asking about it when they approach my front porch.

Most of all, liliums (so-called to define them from daylilies) are almost a no care plant. Exactly what I need in my too-busy life.

Looking after Liliums

They can be planted in mediocre soil and will flower. But my real showstopper flowers come from some planting basics, and #1 is that lilies must be planted on slight slopes or in little hills, never holes. Good drainage is crucial for healthy lilies so water must never pool at the bulb. My soil is basically clay, so I first had to amend the lily area with lots of humus (peat moss, leafmold, compost, vermiculite, etc) at least 12" (30cm) deep.

Below the bulb, I add some extra humus mixed with a slow release fertilizer, then an inch of sand or soil for the bulb to sit on. Planting depth for the actual bulb is about 3-4" (7-10cm) for small bulbs, and 4-6" (10-15cm) for larger ones, and spaced about 12" (30cm) in between. Now is the time to add a stake for tall varieties. I take the time to spread the roots out and work soil in and around them to eliminate air pockets, then top it with a mound of soil.

Basic rule #2 in looking after lilies is to immediately water the bulbs, then regularly water through the growing season.

While I prefer to use lots of well-rotted manure for my plants, with lilies I use it only as a mulch. Unfortunately, manures and other under-composed organic materials can possibly promote rot and other fungal diseases if in direct contact with the bulbs or stems. Since lilies need mulches to minimize weeds, which they don’t compete well with, and steady moisture, a mulch mix of old manure and shredded bark saves me a lot of extra work. And that’s it.

Pests and Liliums - The Red Lily Beetle

Slugs don’t care much for liliums, but a dreaded pest, the red lily leaf beetle, is quickly working its way to my area.. The adult isn’t really the problem, but it does lay its eggs on the underside of lily leaves in spring. It’s the emerging larvae that will quickly consume leaves then flower buds over a 2-3 week period. I’m told that it’s a very disgusting looking larvae. Gardeners are reluctant to hand pick and squish it, mostly because it covers itself in its own faecal matter as a form of protection.

Disgusting it may be, hand picking and squashing is best, and I'm told to immediately dispose of them in the trash as both larvae and adults are good at playing dead. I’m to also check the top half inch of soil around lilies where the adults and pupating larvae will hide, and to be ready to catch them when they spring out. Ugh! If the battle seems hopeless then I'll resort to a systemic insecticide as early as possible. So, here's hoping a natural predator shows up soon.

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