All About Lilies

pink and white lilies close uppink and white lilies close up

 

By Marianne Willburn, gardening expert, landscape designer, and writer.

 

Lilies are probably some of the most popular flowers utilized by gardeners and florists! Lilies are an incredibly versatile and easy-to-grow bulb, providing color and impact indoors and out.

Lilies, or plants of the genus Lilium, can also be one of the most confusing to identify. It’s not your fault – many plants include ‘lily’ in their common name, but aren’t actually true lilies. For example, Hostas are sometimes called plantain lily, Hemerocallis are called Daylily, Kniphofia are commonly called torch lily, and there are many more! Many plants, including Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum) or Checkered Lily (Fritillaria) can at least claim to be of the Lily family (Liliaceae) but not of the genus Lilium. Plus, the genus Lilium includes nine divisions. Yikes – it’s enough to make even the studious gardener's head swirl!

Fortunately, we can leave the botany to the experts and use Lilium to plant a garden filled with flowers that will bloom in succession from late spring through to fall. When planted in rich, well-drained soil that benefits from shaded roots and sunny heads, Lilies will punctuate your garden with color and ask for very little in return.

pink and yellow liliespink and yellow lilies

Planting Lilies For Maximum Impact

Planting for maximum impact is important when it comes to lilies. They are leggy, quite tall, and can look awkward in the landscape if not sited well with other plants around them. Think about locating them within other mixed plantings, particularly with perennials that flower in early spring and can use a bit of brightening mid-season – such as Clematis and Phlox. Planting combos can also reduce the need to stake tall Lilies, and will give the bulbs and roots a bit of shade in the heat of mid-season.

The most popular lilies include the Species Lilies (‘wild’ lilies), as well as Oriental Lilies, Asiatic Lilies, and Trumpet hybrids that have come about through years of breeding. Let’s look at those groups as they pertain to general flowering time in the garden! Use this guide to plan where to plant Lilies as accents around some of your favorite plants and shrubs.

Asiatic Lily Hybrids

Bloom Time: June-July

Some of the most vigorous, winter hardy lilies. These usually bloom earlier than other hybrids. With more flowers per stem at a shorter height (3-4’) – they are a good choice for single grouping and naturalizing.

While their blooms are a bit smaller than Oriental lilies, they make up for it with their unique patterns and colors. They are generally non-fragrant and quickly form clumps which can be easily divided.

Asiatic Lily MixAsiatic Lily Mix
Asiatic Lily Mix

Oriental Lily Hybrids 

Bloom Time: July-late summer

Some of the largest and most fragrant of the lilies, often filling an entire room with scent from a single stem. The breathtaking ‘Stargazer’ belongs to this group. Some Oriental hybrids are quite tall and often require staking.

Oriental lilies are available in a great array of colors. Because of their height, they do well at the back of the garden, planted alongside other tall varieties such as phlox, clematis, and ornamental grasses.

Stargazer Oriental LiliesStargazer Oriental Lilies
Stargazer Oriental Lilies

Trumpet Lily Hybrids

Bloom Time: July - late summer

Generally available for spring delivery only. The trumpet-like blooms of this hybrid group are usually fragrant. The species lily L. regale (regal lily) is a parent to many of these beautiful flowers. Trumpet Lilies are great producers with long lasting blooms, and heavy flowers almost always require staking. Second and third lateral buds appear throughout the later half of their season. Plant them where you need late-season color.

Trumpet LilyTrumpet Lily
Trumpet Lily

Species, or “Wild” Lilies

Bloom Time: various bloom times, including early fall

These are the parents of the above groups, and include some of our most iconic lilies – such as the tiger lily (L. lancifolium), regal lily (L. regale), and the martagon lily (L. martagon).

They will bloom at different times depending on species, and often prefer a part-shade environment. Wild lilies can often make their homes in challenging soils and hard-to-reach spots.

Wild Lily Flower BulbsWild Lily Flower Bulbs
A hummingbird visits a Tiger Lily.

Lilies Make Excellent Cut Flowers

One of the most popular uses for Lilies is as cut flowers. Here are a few tips for keeping your cutting garden healthy and productive:

  • Hybrids, particularly Asiatic hybrids and Oriental hybrids with their strong scent, make some of the best cutting flowers. They're available in a myriad of colors, too.
  • Cut lilies when at least two of the blossoms in the top cluster have begun to open and other buds appear fat and tinged with color. You can also check the buds themselves for cracking – a clear sign that the inner layers of the blossom are beginning to pull apart and open.
  • Cut your stems as short as possible to keep a good amount of food-producing leaves on the plant. Those leaves are channeling food back to the bulb for more blooms next year.
  • Make a fresh cut with a clean knife or clippers and and arrange in lukewarm water.
  • Consider gently removing the large pollen coated anthers which will drop vibrant pollen grains onto tables and cloths and stain them. Doing so is easy – gently grasp the filament with your fingertips and pull off the anther.
  • Changing the water every few days will help to dissuade bacteria from causing your flowers to fade more quickly,

When To Plant Lilies

Lilies are often sold only in the early spring, and in North America, there is generally a broader variety of Lilies available to order and plant in the spring. Popular varieties are available to order and plant in the fall as well. In colder climates, they do very well planted in the fall before the ground freezes. Ordering fresh stock directly from a reputable supplier such as American Meadows ensures that you won’t get bulbs or bareroots that have dried out in retail stores with fluctuating temperatures.

If you fall-plant your lilies and live with wet winters, it is vital that you consider the site very carefully, and perhaps supplement the soil with grit to ensure that bulbs do not rot over the cold months.

Learn More: How To Grow Lilies

Shop Lilies

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    Casa Blanca' Oriental Lily is a magnificent, pure white flower that lights up the garden with up to eight enormous flowers per stem. An intensely fragrant variety, 'Casa Blanca' is a...

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    Casa Blanca' Oriental Lily is a magnificent, pure white flower that lights up the garden with up to eight enormous flowers per stem. An intensely fragrant variety, 'Casa Blanca' is a classic favorite for flower arrangements and moon gardens. In terms of white lilies, this one has remained unmatched for decades in the eyes of many plant lovers. (Lilium)
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    With fiery orange petals dotted with burgundy-black, the Orange Tiger Lily has been a garden staple throughout the country for many years. It's extremely easy to grow, adding drama and fragrance to beds and bouquets with its vibrant, 3" blooms. A great choice for moist and poor soils. (Lilium)
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    The Wild Golden Rayed Lily of Japan is a showy plant with highly fragrant blooms that attract butterflies to the summer garden. Enormous, white and gold flowers are up to10 inches across with elegantly curled tips and a heavenly scent. Each petal bears a golden center stripe. Blooms in mid to late summer and tolerates part shade, especially in hotter climates. (Lilium)
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  4. Red Dwarf Asiatic Lily Bulbs Matrix, Lilium, Dwarf Asiatic Lily

    'Matrix' Asiatic Lily is a vibrant dwarf variety that grows to 16-20” and is a perfect addition to small spaces, containers, and the front border of beds. Stunning magenta-coral bl...

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    Matrix® Asiatic Lily Bulbs Matrix® Dwarf Asiatic Lily Lilium asiaticum Matrix®
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    'Matrix' Asiatic Lily is a vibrant dwarf variety that grows to 16-20” and is a perfect addition to small spaces, containers, and the front border of beds. Stunning magenta-coral blooms open to reveal orange centers, bringing oodles of color and personality to the garden. Blooming in early summer, 'Matrix' is extremely easy to grow and makes an excellent cutting flower. (Lilium)
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About the Author: Marianne Willburn is a columnist, blogger and author of the new book "Big Dreams, Small Garden: Creating Something Extraordinary in Your Ordinary Space." Originally from California, she now gardens in Virginia – read more at www.smalltowngardener.com.

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