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The Basics: Lilies

Asiatic Lilies
Asiatic Lilies are among the first of the lilies to bloom in summer.

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.

Planting and Care

Though lilies look like they'd be fussy plants, they are actually very easy to grow. They're not particular about soil type or pH and they grow well in full sun, part sun, dappled shade and even light shade.

Plant lilies as soon as you get them, either in the fall or the spring. Because the bulbs lack the papery covering (known as a "tunic") that is common to other hardy bulbs, they can dry out quickly in storage.

Even more than other bulbs, lilies demand well-drained soil. Dig the spot where you plan to plant lilies to a depth of at least 12 inches, remove rocks and add organic matter, such as leaf mold or peat moss to improve both the soil's structure and drainage. Like other bulbs, lilies appreciate a little bone meal scratched in at the bottom of the planting hole, but do not really require other fertilizers at planting time. Instead, wait until the bulbs send up green leaves and then sprinkle a complete organic fertilizer around the plant and water it in.

Spread an organic mulch around lilies to help keep the soil moist and cool; use compost, well-rotted manure, or a longer-lasting mulch, such as bark mulch, wood chips or cocoa shells. As with other perennials, it's a good idea to cover the bed over the winter with straw and/or evergreen boughs to help protect the bulbs from freeze-thaw cycles.

During the flowering season, remove spent blooms, but try not to cut off more than a third of the stem, which can reduce the plant's vigor and longevity. If you are growing lilies strictly for indoor arrangements, consider planting them in a designated cutting garden, where you can plant fresh bulbs each year.

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.