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What is this To help gardeners understand which plants will grow well for them, the entire USA has been segmented into ‘Plant Hardiness Zones’.

All About Lilies

all about lilies banner

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

Color, impact & a little confusion

Probably one of the most popular flowers utilized by gardeners and florists, lilies can also be one of the most confusing to identify. It’s not your fault – many plants called ‘lily’ aren’t actually true lilies. (Think: plantain lily, daylily, torch lily, etc.) Many others can at least claim to be of the lily family (Liliaceae) but not of the genus Lilium (Think: checkered lily, trout lily). And, once you do get into Lilium, you’ve got nine divisions to deal with. Yikes – it’s enough to make even the studious gardener start planting hyacinths instead!

That would be a big mistake – lilies are an incredibly versatile and easy-to-grow bulb, providing color and impact indoors and out. Fortunately, we can leave all that botany to the experts and use these divisions to help us plant a garden filled with lilies that will bloom in succession from late spring through to fall. Planted in a well-drained rich soil that benefits from shaded roots and sunny heads, lilies will punctuate your garden with color and ask for very little in return.

lilies in bloom

A couple of things to consider…

Lilies are thought of as a spring-planted bulb, and are often sold only in the early spring; however, in colder climates they do very well planted in the fall before the ground freezes. Ordering fresh stock directly from a reputable supplier ensures that you won’t get bulbs 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.

Planting for maximum impact is important when it comes to lilies. They are leggy, many quite tall, and can look awkward in the landscape if not sited well. 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. Such planting combos can cut down on the need to stake lilies, and give the bulbs and roots a bit of shade in the heat of mid-season.

Lily Bulbs

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Grouping for succession planting

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

Asiatic hybrids – (June-July) These are some of the most vigorous, winter hardy lilies and 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. The colorful and dramatic ‘Purple Eye’ is an Asiatic hybrid.

Asiatic Lily
Asiatic Lily Hybrid.

Oriental hybrids – (July-late summer) These are 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 (3-8’) 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, clemoes and ornamental grasses, or tucked in between shrubs and small bushes.

Oriental Lily
Oriental 'Stargazer' Lily.

Trumpet hybrids – (July-late summer) The trumpet-like blooms of this hybrid group are usually fragrant, heavy with blossom and bloom in mid-season. They almost always require staking at 4-8’. The species lily L. regale (regal lily) is a parent to many of these beautiful flowers.

Trumpet Lilies are great producers that hold their large, waxy blooms for a long time. You'll find them capable of yielding upwards of 12 blooms per stalk, with second and third lateral buds appearing throughout the later half of their season. Plant them where you need late-season color.

Trumpet Lily
Trumpet Lily.

Species, or “wild” lilies – (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. American Meadows is proud to carry many of these historical beauties, disease-free and selected from nurseries in Holland. Wild lilies can often make their homes in challenging soils and hard-to-reach spots.

Hummingbird and Tiger Lily
A hummingbird visits a Tiger Lily.

Using Your Lilies As Cut Flowers

One of the most popular uses for lilies is as cut flowers, but there are a few things to consider in order to keep your cutting garden healthy and productive:

Choice: Hybrids (particularly Asiatic hybrids and Oriental hybrids with their strong scent) make some of the best cutting flowers in a myriad of colors, but species such as Madonna lilies (L. candidum) have always been huge favorites for the cutting garden.

When to cut: 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.

How to cut: 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.

How to arrange: 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,

However you use them, by all means use them. Lilies shouldn’t just be considered, they should be ubiquitous in every great garden.


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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