Monday, June 18, 2012

The Delightful Asiatics

Asiatic Lilium are by far one of the most popular lilies available to the general public.  Until a few years ago, when I was enlightened with additional knowledge about lilies, I was always delighted to see Asiatic lilies blooming each summer.  When I moved back to Illinois twelve years ago, I made sure to plant some Asiatic Lilies in my new garden.  More than once I had lily pollen stuck to my nose after trying to smell lilies in the cut flower section of the grocery store. 

Asiatic lilies are among the easiest to grow and readily available lilies. They're very hardy, need no staking, and are not particularly fussy about soil, as long as it drains well.  Well-drained soil is an absolute must.  If you have clay soil, add lots of organic matter to create a raised area with improved drainage.  Also add organic matter into light, sandy soil to help hold onto nutrients and prevent it from drying too rapidly.  They grow best in full sunlight, and they need six to eight hours of direct sunlight in order to bloom well. They usually grow taller and floppier in reduced light.

When choosing lilies, consider plant height and bloom season as well as flower color. Make a point to visit public gardens such as the Missouri Botanical Garden, where plants are labeled with their cultivar names.  You can also contact someone at the Mid America Lily Society for help choosing lilies or attend one of our annual lily bulb sales.

The North American Lily Society horticultural classification for the Asiatic Hybrid is Division I.  These classifications are usually based upon the shape of the flower, the way they are placed on the inflorescence, and other characteristics.  Asiatic lilium can have Up-facing, Outfacing or Pendant flowers.  An example for each flower characteristic is shown in the following photos;

'Retro  Pink' Asiatic Lilium
'Retro Pink' Up-facing Asiatic Lilium

'Red Velvet' Asiatic Lilium
'Red Velvet' Outfacing Asiatic Lilium

'Tiger Babies' Asiatic Lilium
'Tiger Babies' Pendant Asiatic Lilium

Lily bulbs may be planted in spring or in the autumn, usually from mid-September through mid-October. If you have hardy lilies growing in containers, you may consider adding them to your garden throughout the growing season. When buying lily bulbs, select firm, plump bulbs with roots attached. You need to plant the bulbs as soon as possible, as lily bulbs never go completely dormant so they must not dry out before planting.

I would suggest planting lilies in groups of three or five identical bulbs. Depending upon size of the bulb, space them about eight to ten inches apart, keeping your groups about three feet apart. Plant small lily bulbs two to four inches deep and large bulbs four to six inches deep, measuring from the top of the bulb. You should divide and replant large clusters of bulbs every three to four years – or when it seems they are not blooming as well.

Before winter, mulch over newly planted bulbs with four to six inches of loose leaves or wood chips. This delays soil freezing and allows roots to continue growing longer. Mulch also insulates the soil against fluctuating temperatures, delaying the emergence of frost-tender shoots in spring.

When spring arrives, leave your mulch in place until the danger of hard frost has passed.  If your lilies start to grow through the mulch, remove it gradually – but leave it nearby so you can cover them if another hard frost arrives.  Fertilize the soil each spring with a phosphorus-rich formula such as 5–10–10. Slow-release fertilizers also work well. But…always follow label instructions when applying fertilizer.

Deadhead flowers as they fade by breaking them off carefully, that way none of the plant's energy is “wasted” on seed production. Do not remove stems or foliage. They'll continue to put energy into the bulb as long as they remain green. Remove old foliage in late autumn or early spring by cutting down the dead stalks.

I hope you enjoy the delightful Asiatic lilies as they add color and accent to your garden each summer.

--By Lynn Slackman

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Look at the Umbel on that Lily!

'L. Regale'
L. Regale
Lilium Regale is a trumpet flowered lily, whose flowers form a 'highly scented' umbel at the top of its 4 to 5 foot sturdy stems. Of course the height of the stems and the number of flowers depends on the amount of humus and fertility in your soil. The Regale Lilum was the first species Lilium I included in my garden.  With very little care, it's been a hardy addition that provides a sweet smell and has an elegant appearance.

This cultivar is classified as a Species Lilium, as it was discovered by Ernest Henry Wilson during 1903 in west Szechuan, along the Min River, in China. He revisited the site in 1908 to collect more bulbs, but most of them rotted while en route back to the Arnold Arboretum in Boston. In 1910 he returned to the Min valley, but this time his leg was crushed during an avalanche of boulders as he was carried along the trail in his sedan chair. After setting his leg with the tripod of his camera, it took him three days to make it back to civilization. Thereafter he walked with what he called his "lily limp". It was this third shipment of bulbs that successfully introduced the Regale Lily into cultivation in the United States.

Sometimes species lilies can be temperamental and slow to adapt to conditions outside of their native environment.  But the Regale Lily has adapted to our growing conditions, is readily available from bulb growers, and tends to provide a nice show of blooms each year.

Try growing an Heirloom Lily in your garden!

--By Lynn Slackman

Friday, June 1, 2012

Spotted a Leopard at the Garden this week…

'L. pardalinum'
While poking around the bulb garden at the Missouri Botanical Garden this week, my new horticultural friend Sophia, pointed out the Leopard Lily blooming near the Magnolia grove.  Many of you know this lily as ‘L. pardalinum’, one of the only native California lilies that grow outside of its native environment and just about anywhere it’s not too hot.  As you can see from the pictures in this posting, it has bright orange-red petals that are splashed with golden leopard spots.  Its leaves form a whorl around each stem…similar to the Martagon and American Hybrid lilies.  They were actually brought into gardens during the era of the California gold rush of 1848 to 1855.

Lilium pardalinum can reach heights of 6 feet and they are hardy to zone 5. They usually flower in July, with seeds ripening from August to September. But this year…our early spring has produced an early flowering of late May at the botanical garden.  The flowers are hermaphrodite, having both male and female organs, and are pollinated by bees, butterflies, and sometimes horticulturists.

L. pardalinum
This lily succeeds in almost any soil that is moist but not water-logged.  They prefer a wet soil on a slope or a well-drained soil with a high water table.  They also tolerate lime. They do like full sun to dappled shade, but rapidly deteriorate if grown in deep shade. They are also fairly wind resistant but do better grown in a sheltered environment. ..preferring a woodland garden with a sunny edge.

This plant is rhizomatous, and forms clumps.  They increase rapidly by division, for example; each bulb may produce 5 new bulbs per year.  Early to mid autumn is the best time to plant out the bulbs in cool temperate areas, in warmer areas they can be planted out during late autumn.  The plant should be protected against rabbits and slugs in early spring.  If the shoot tips are eaten out the bulb will not grow in that year and will lose vigor. This lily is also a very variable plant; it is divided into a number of sub-species.

If you happen to visit the Missouri Botanical Garden during the first week of June this year, look for the Leopard Lily in the bulb garden.  It’s truly a sight to behold!

--By Lynn Slackman