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

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