Lilies offer beauty, diversity and fragrance
“Extension on the Go” podcast by Debbie Johnson. Episode 162: Lilies
COLUMBIA, Mo. – If you mention lily to most people, they’ll probably think of the Easter lily. Sadly, that pure white beauty is not the best choice for Missouri gardens because of the cold winters. But don’t lament. There are many gorgeous lily hybrids that do very well in the Show-Me State.
Lilies are generally categorized into one of three types of hybrids, said David Trinklein, horticulture specialist for University of Missouri Extension.
“The first to bloom are the Asiatic hybrids, which flower around mid-June into early July,” Trinklein said. “Asiatic hybrids usually grow to a height of about 24 inches and tend to hold their flowers upward.”
The Asiatics acclimatize or naturalize themselves well and are fairly self-sufficient, he said.
The next group to flower are the Aurelian hybrids, or trumpet lilies. They bloom mid-to-late July or early August.
“These are the giants of the lily world and they can exceed 40 inches in height,” Trinklein said. “They have huge, oftentimes pendulous flowers, like a bell hanging down. The flowers themselves might be 6 or even 8 inches in diameter.”
Because of their size, they sometimes need additional support, he said. Also, the Aurelians can be more heavily scented than the Asiatic.
As fragrant as the Aurelians can be, they’re nothing when compared to the Oriental hybrids. Trinklein suggests that this would be the lily to grow if you’re into fragrance gardening, keeping in mind that pleasant fragrance is in the nose of the beholder.
“Oriental hybrids are probably not the best choice for Missouri, although they can be grown. They’re a little bit tender for our winters,” he said.
If you want to try Oriental hybrids, consider planting them in a protected location near the house where the ground doesn’t freeze. Gardeners who live in northern parts of Missouri should probably give the Oriental hybrids a pass.
Starting with either bulbs or started bulbs, if you plant the three groups in proper progression you’ll be rewarded with beauty throughout the growing season.
“You can have lilies in bloom all the way from, let’s say, the middle of June till the last part of August if you choose between the different types wisely,” Trinklein said.
Since purchasing lilies can represent a significant garden investment, it’s best to amend the soil with organic matter before planting, he said. Like most flowering bulbs, lilies need well-drained soil. If they sit in soggy soil, the bulb will rot. Raised beds or berms can also be used to help improve drainage.
Trinklein says incorporating bone meal into the soil before planting will also help the lilies thrive.
“Bone meal is really a very good bulb food,” he said. “It breaks down rather slowly, so that initially we would have it there, and then we would top dress with bone meal on a yearly basis.”
When a lily emerges from the bulb, a portion of the stem stays underground and will sprout roots.
“Those are called stem roots,” he said. “They’re very important for water and nutrient absorption and the well-being of the plant. Therefore, lily bulbs should be planted relatively deeply—about three times in depth as the bulb is tall. That might be as deep as 8 inches for a large Aurelian bulb.”
Lilies put on a lot more growth per season than, say, daffodils or narcissus, so they might need a bit more fertilizer, Trinklein said. It is usually added during or shortly after flowering.
Remove flowers after they fade. This forces the plant to direct more of its energy into enlarging the bulb for a more glorious display of color next year.