If you love weddings, picnics, small cherub faced children and older couples holding hands, chance are you love lilies. They are at once elegant, romantic and timeless, yet also can be fun and spicy in the garden as well as the vase. They are a photographers dream, a florists best bet, and a loving spouses sweet gift. They can perfume a room, or stop you in your tracks with the beauty of just one, perfect bloom. Ok, so after that build up, you probably think they must be impossible to grow, right? Nope! Lilies belong in every garden for their color and form, height and texture. Oh, and that fragrance!
How to Grow Lilies
There are basically two of the most common types of lilies grown in the garden – Oriental and Asiatic lilies. There are others, but for beginners, these are the two to start with, and the most accessible at local nurseries.
Oriental lilies are the ones you most often see at the florist… the gorgeous white ‘Casablanca’, the pretty deep pink “Stargazer’ and so many more. They are also the ones with the heavy perfume in the air! They usually bloom in mid summer, and can get up to 6 feet tall in bloom. They are not as hardy as their Asiatic cousins, and tend to prefer afternoon shade.
By contrast, Asiatic lilies tend to be tough, hardy plants you rarely need to mulch in the winter. Blooming in late spring, they grow 3-5 feet tall and are usually found on the warmer end of the color wheel, with yellows and orange being the most common, though there are exceptions. I grow a pink one in my garden called “Strawberry Shortcake”. They are not the fragrant ones, but make up for it with length of bloom and tolerance of conditions. Asiatics handle summer heat well.
Both types have a few things in common:
- Lilies are bulbs, similar to tulips. Plant soon after you receive them as they dry out easily.
- Different varieties bloom at different times… plan for a succession of blooms. Most lilies bloom for about 2-3 weeks each season.
- You can plant in fall or in spring as soon as the ground can be worked, but you will get a better and earlier bloom from planting in the fall.
- Plant bulbs 4-6 inches deep, more important for the Oriental hybrids as they prefer cooler roots.
- Make sure you plant in well drained soil. Lilies may get diseased if the soil is soggy.
- Consider planting shallow rooted low growing annuals or perennials around the lilies to cover the base of the stalks during the growing season. I love Geranium ‘Roxanne’ with Oriental lilies. This also keeps the roots cooler, which they like.
- Water moderately until flowering, then cut back on water until the plant finishes flowering and yellows.
- Cut back spent flowers to the stalk.
- When the plant is yellow all the way to the ground, you can cut it back. Do not cut the greenery down before it has completely yellowed. Like other bulbs, the greenery is how the plant stores energy for next years bloom.
- Fertilize twice a season with a general liquid fertilizer… they are not heavy feeders.
- You can plant lilies in containers. Make sure you match the size and depth of the container in scale to the height of the plant at maturity. There are many dwarf varieties available as well!
Here are a couple of our favorite varieties for beginners to try, though there are hundreds of varieties at specialty nurseries. (Yes, this can become an obsession! But would that be so bad?) These varieties are from ‘Wayside Gardens‘, one of our favorite online nurseries. (We received nothing in exchange for this recommendation, before someone asks! :)
“Casablanca’ is the quintessential lily… large, white blooms with a strong fragrance, up to 10 inches across. They grow to 5 feet, and like their roots cool, but their tops in the sun. May need support, blooms in July / August.
Another large, 10 inch bloom on this flower, ‘Dizzy’ is a pink striped companion to ‘Casablanca’. Blooming at the same time, this lily also has an intense fragrance and gets bigger and better each year. To 5 feet.
‘Natalia’ is a noteworthy new variety for a couple of reasons. First, is the obvious double petals! But beyond it’s beauty, it also is pollen free, which makes it a great cut flower for those who suffer from allergies. These blooms also last up to 20 days in the vase! Slight fragrance, with needs typical of an Oriental. May need staking, it can eventually get to 8 feet!
I personally love this lily because it blooms mid summer, it’s smaller than others at 30-36 inches, and it has a gentle coloring for Asiatic lilies… Such a pretty peachy coral!
This lily has a more typical Asiatic color of a deep reddish orange. It has an interesting flower shape, with a smaller flower inside the larger one! A showstopper in the garden, it blooms starting in late spring, and grow to 40 inches.
This smaller pick grows to just 2-3 feet, does well in containers, and blooms early summer. The yellow flowers are borne in upright facing clusters, and they make a long lasting cut flower.
So plant some lilies and see them come back year after year with more blooms for your garden and your home!
Image Credits: Wayside, Wayside Gardens, Wayside, Wayside, Wayside, Wayside