Web Specials!
Home > General Q&A (FAQs) > Lily Bulb Sizes

Lily Bulb Sizes

Lily Bulb SizesLily bulb size varies greatly depending on the bulb type (Asiatic, Trumpet, Oriental, or species), age, whether from seed or scale, where grown (i.e. soil and climatic differences), and breeding background. Different species have different characteristics - some are slender "dog-bone" shapes, and others are elongated, or round. All lilies make larger bulbs when left undisturbed, or will divide into several, smaller-sized ones after a couple of years. Any bulb which blooms is mature; if it's ten inches or three inches in circumference, the facts of reproductive life remain the same. Cool summers tend to produce smaller-sized, mature bulbs. Should we feel a variety is not minimum size upon harvest, we replant for another season's growth, but sometimes we too make errors; if a hybrid variety doesn't bloom the first summer after planting, we would like to hear from you by early September.

Larger bulbs tend to produce more flowers, but only if normal for that variety. Some lilies have a low bud count for the relative size of the bulb, yet others can produce a smaller, mature bulb and have three dozen blooms! Occasionally, we may send an Exhibition-size™ bulb in your order, at no extra cost to you; the package may, or may not, be marked as such. Please do not think that a vary large bulb is a sign that the others are too small - most likely we've dipped into our propagation stock to honor all requests for a variety. Only bulbs grown for cut flowers have been pre-graded to be the same size (usually smaller than we send), our bulbs are sent as nature provided.

[A general breakdown of bulb sizes follows a portion of a letter received from a long-time customer in June of 2008, along with Bob's reply. We feel that the letter and response give a good example of our philosophy in customer relations and our methods of grading our bulbs. Mary is a long time customer and beloved friend, but all of our customers receive the same thought and consideration. We see your garden as an extension of our home garden.]

Dear Bob and Dianna,

. . . I wrote mainly because I wanted to let you guys know how much I missed seeing you at the San Francisco Show. It just was not possible to get away this year but, I will be there next year!

I thought you might like to see how your bulbs measure up to those of others. After nearly 25 years of stuffing my garden with your wonderful lilies, I fell to the claims of (name removed), talking about their “biggest bulbs at discount prices”. Remembering back a couple years to those 2 and 3 pound trumpets you sent me, I just had to see for myself.

Enclosed is a photo of your Eudoxia next to the so called huge bulb of Eudoxia I received from them, compared to a golf ball - don’t tell Loren, for size reference. I figure that ball has probably spent more time in a sand trap than on a green so a little potting soil didn’t hurt it. Not only was their bulb considerably smaller, it had a huge sprout on it. I took both bulbs to my post office and had them weighted. My B & D Eudoxia was 9.3 ounces. Their bulb weighed only 2.2 ounces. Yes, your bulb cost a couple dollars more, but weight wise, it would have taken over 4 of their bulbs to equal one of yours for a cost nearly triple what I paid for my beautiful B & D bulb. Advertised as an 18/20, theirs almost measured 16 cm, not what I paid for. To add insult to injury, I broke the stem planting the smaller bulb. So what did I get by buying the “discounted” bulb? Nothing! I love my lilies and this experience hurts.

I learned my lesson. As long as I can move about and work in my garden, from now on, only lilies from you guys will be planted. I have loved your company for years and even more after this experience.

Love ya both,

Mary K.



[Bob’s letter to Mary follows]

Dear Mary,

I know how you feel, I hear the same thing frequently. It truly saddens me to see some of the things I read on the web concerning lilies and the extravagant claims some companies make. Now Orienpet’s are being marketed as “Trees” by some companies, give me a break. According to two Dutch publications I saw recently, Holland is awash with bulbs and they are desperately trying to get growers to cut back on production in order to create a world shortage and drive up the price. Seems they are taking a lesson from the oil producers. With the strong Euro, they have been overproducing for what they can sell in North America and Japan to both the catalogers and the cut flower forcers.

In the US, we are already seeing the fallout with so called discounted bulbs flooding the market, which should be advertised as being what they are, leftovers, but they are all sold as “fresh”. There is no shortage of businesses willing to purchase Holland’s leftovers, passing the “savings” along to you, the unsuspecting gardener. One company in Holland is listing their fall 2007 crop bulbs as being available through February of 2009, that’s nearly 18 months in freezer storage and you can bet you will be seeing them offered in 2009 on the web as fresh, home grown, or with the new buzz term now popping up, “pre-chilled”.

Mary, you have to look at many definitions as being literal or having double meanings in today’s web market as well. “Largest” bulbs at discount prices may mean just that. They may be the largest discounted bulbs, but that does not mean they are the largest or freshest bulbs available. You, the casual reader see yourself as being offered the largest bulbs on the market at a great discount price which is how it is meant to be perceived. However, as you sadly learned with your ‘Eudoxia’, is often not the case. Don’t feel bad, many others are pulled in this way too.

As you know, we don’t deal in the discount or surplus trade, never have and never will. We will always grow our bulbs right here in Washington and Oregon, fresh harvest and delivery only. Yes, we could cut costs by relying on Holland’s leftovers every spring, but we see our customers as deserving better than that. You know me, I am a purist with my lilies. Do you remember many years ago when you came to me at the Seattle show and were dismayed that we were not marking down our bulbs on Sunday like “the other place”. Remember who “the other place” was? Remember my reply? Whatever I have left is planted back for future propagation. Companies that do not propagate their own stock, but buy it from brokers need to discount it or dump it when the season ends. Claims of being the grower are often stretched as well. Just because you have a few of the plants or bulbs you offer in your personal garden, that does not make you a grower.

We have always felt that if we supply nothing but top quality at a fair price, our customers will always be happy. Our bulbs are in ALL of the top botanical gardens. The garden writer of all garden writers, Tasha Tudor, said in her most famous book, ‘Tasha Tudor’s Garden, “all of my lilies are from B & D”. Martha Stewart has featured us on her TV program and in her magazine. Dianna was just flown back to Connecticut by Gingo Leaf Productions to do a spot on lilies for the ‘Cultivating Life’ program for WETA. I don’t know if your local PBS station carries the program, but will let you know when it airs. Our lilies have even been planted around the Executive Mansion in Washington DC (administrations of both parties) for all to see. You don’t reach that level being in the discount market, or by coming up with creative advertising, promising what cannot be delivered.

While everyone else is hung up on Holland size, we still, as we have always done, sell 3 and 4 year old bulbs from our propagation stock. In the case of your Eudoxia, they were all over ½ pound with a few in the 12-14 ounce range after only 3 years. I am sorry you did not get one of the REALLY big ones when your order was filled. It is an incredible lily. There will be some in the 1 to 1.5 pound range this fall if they don’t divide from those that were not dug this past spring. The sizes we list are MINIMUM size, not the Dutch graded [maximum] size the catalog and internet Jobbers use. In the case of your Eudoxia, it was priced and sold by us as a size 16/18, but we actually shipped bulbs that ran 24cms and up.

Mary, Holland growers often push lilies with maximum amounts of fertilizer and water to “bulk up” lily bulbs as quickly as possible. Selling by size to the brokers, the larger they can get a bulb with retained water, the more money they will receive. Some brokers also “grade tight” as it is known in the trade. A bulb sold as an 18/20 often measures out in the 17/19 range, then with all the water, they begin to dehydrate in short order, shrinking the bulb even more, but it still is offered as an 18/20. These bulbs are sometimes referred to as “water bags”. On the other hand, we do not push our lilies but take time, an extra year, to produce a good, solid, hardy bulb that is not just a “water bag”, but is bursting with the stored food stuffs needed to produce an exceptional show the first year of planting. We do not ship anything that we ourselves would not be happy to receive, certainly not 2 and 3 inch sprouts like you received, but you already know all of this, I feel like I am preaching to the choir here. We have many customers like you Mary, going back almost our full 30 years. Discounters come and go, but in October, B&D celebrates the completion of 30 years. There is no lily specialty nursery that has been around longer than and it is because of our quality and service. One of our great joys in life is all of the people we have met and the customers like you that have become like close family.

We loved the photos you sent last year and look forward to seeing more of your garden after this seasons bloom. Also, you may not be heading for San Francisco for the California show in 2009. Before you make reservations, there is word out that the show may be moving to San Mateo. It will be a wonderful change from that dark and dingy Cow Palace and we are keeping our fingers crossed. Wherever it is, be sure you bring Loren along to carry your bulbs. Maybe he could bring an empty golf bag to fill? I would love to see him at the airport going through TSA trying to explain he is carrying bulbs, not balls. I can already picture an Abbot & Costello routine especially if he is not wearing his hearing aid! Actually you really should consider going to the Northwest Flower & Garden Show in Seattle again. What’s it been, about 15 years? We will have more than double the varieties that we take to California, simply because it is so much closer. I know you love San Fran, but the best show is in Seattle. Remember, as I have told you before, for every rose you remove, you can plant 6 more lilies. (grin)

As always, I tend to ramble on when I write to you, but I feel bad you had such a terrible experience with [named removed] and will pick out something extra for your next order to help your “hurts”. We are ready to plant the spring lilies and are holding out for more dry days, and then the daylily harvest starts. There has been so much rain and it has been so cold this spring we are probably going to have to hand-dig just like last year, but that is all part of farming. Unlike that other company, we don’t stand in the driveway waiting for the UPS truck to deliver our plants and bulbs, we dig ‘em fresh for our customers.

With our love as well,

Bob & Dianna

PS I know you have been around since the invention of the pencil, but you have to get a computer for email. Postage is going up again.

You spend time preparing the soil, planting, watering and weeding; why not choose lilies that will give you superior growth the first season? B&D Lilies only ships bulbs from our current fall harvest; excess and immature stock is replanted for the next season. This assures you of only the finest, healthiest and most vigorous lily bulbs for your garden; no need to buy expensive potted plants to fill in the bare spots left by lesser companies.

Stem Bulblets:

Stem bulblets usually are attached to the underground portion of lily stems at the end of the growing season. They range in size from garden peas to hazelnuts. Oriental and Trumpet lilies make the fewer number of bulblets each year, perhaps only 3 to 10 per stem. Asiatic lilies are more prolific, sometimes covering the stem from the top of the mother bulb to just above ground level. If you notice black "miniature-like" bulblets growing on the stem at the base of each leaf, those are called Bulbils and can be treated in the same manner as Bulblets.

Bulblets, depending on their size, from Asiatic lilies can flower within two years; Oriental and Trumpet lilies may take a bit longer for more than one blossom per stem.

When you see grass-like growth near the base of a mature stem in spring, try not to break the little stems, or you will harm your future lily “babies.” Let them grow in place next to the mother bulb for a year or two. This is the easiest method; letting Mother Nature do the propagating. When it is time to divide the “clump”, they can be easily harvested and moved to a new location.

If during fall transplanting or dividing, you discover tiny bulblets attached to the underground portion of the stem, cut the stem above the original bulb and at ground level to rescue the bulblets. Do not force them from the stem or they may not survive on their own. For valuable cultivars, we like to dig a shallow trench in a protected area of the garden and simply lay the old stem on its side, and then cover everything with two inches of soil. The bulblets will continue to grow, feeding off the rotting stem.



Graded size 12/14 cms:

These are the backbone of a commercial lily field; bulb size is 12 to 14 cm in circumference, about the size of a walnut in the shell. If planted very early in the spring, a small portion of Oriental bulbs will be large enough in size by the Mid October harvest to make B&D Lilies’ Premium-size™, but most need to be left for another season of growth.

Most Asiatic bulbs in this grade of “small commercial” will be mature enough for 3 to 4 flowers when planted in the garden. B & D Lilies does not offer Orientals in this size as they are usually too small to produce more than one flower. Many catalogers refer to this size as being "Top" and is the most common size of bulbs found in grocery and box stores, sprouting and dehydrated.



B & D Lilies Premium Size - Graded size 14/16 to 16/18:

These large walnut to small lime sized bulbs are the first choice for Asiatic lilies in the home garden. These Premium size™ lily bulbs will produce many more flowers per stem than Top Size; up to 8 or 10 blooms on some cultivars the first season of growth.

Size 16/18 cm is the usual grade for producing 3 to 7 blooms the first year on Oriental lilies, and is the size most commonly found offered by catalogers. These is the size of many of our "three year old" bulbs. This is the normal size of a two year old bulb from Holland.

Holland growers push lilies with maximum amounts of fertilizer and water to bulk up bulbs as quickly as possible. Selling by size to the brokers, the larger they can bulk up a bulb with retained water, the more they can sell it for. At B & D Lilies on the other hand, we do not push our bulbs but take time, an extra year, to produce a good, solid, robust bulb that is not just stored water. Our bulbs are bursting with the stored food stuffs needed to produce an exceptional show the first year of planting.



B & D Lilies Exhibition Size™ Graded Size 18/24:

Now we are into the bulbs that have been left in the ground for more than three years without being disturbed. Bulbs are much heavier for the relative size, and will put up a taller stem with extra blooms the first year. The shipping cost is much greater and the price is reflected as such, usually one and one-half to double the price of similar Premium-size™ lily bulbs.



B & D Lilies' - Private Harvest™ Graded Size 24 cms and up:

Here we go – the largest size possible, without the bulb dividing on its own. When we offer these, you can have bulbs the size of grapefruit in the case of trumpets and some Orienpets, and twice as heavy to boot! Typically, each bulb weighs more than a pound, and three in a bag is nearly impossible to ship safely, without additional packing material. These are “bragging-size” bulbs, only a few bulbs out of a thousand make this size. They are harvested each year from the regular crop and are usually reserved for scaling. (Click on scaling bulbs to learn more.) If the entire field is left down for an additional year, perhaps 25% will be this big, but then, the maintenance costs go way up. Expect to pay three times the regular price for these beauties due to their rarity, extra years of care and weight.


Wild Lilies
Timely Tips!
Wild Lily bulbs making up the genus Lilium belong to the family Liliaceae comprising of approximately 200 genera made up of approximately 2,000 lily species. There are in the neighborhood of 110 to 120 Lilium species depending on whose classification you reference. For the full article, click Knowledge Base