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'FAQ:2003:39 - Lily Bulb' (Info)


Dianna Gibson, B&D Lilies

A little planning allows gardeners to have lilies in bloom from late spring until early autumn. The trick is to grow several different cultivars with overlapping bloom times. Some species can be a bit tricky to grow, but the varieties in this plan are not fussy; and if given regular water, fertilizer, and weeding, your bulbs will bloom year after year. When above ground growth fades in autumn, companion plants such as Hemerocallis (daylilies), campanula, minor spring-flowering bulbs, or diminutive shallow-rooted shrubs add diversity and interest from late fall to early spring.

For best results, choose a well-drained site with at least 6 hours of direct or reflected light. Good air circulation and well-drained soil are most important. By their very constitution, lily bulbs are designed to efficiently utilize and store moisture for times of drought. In their native habitat, nature provides bulbs with the drainage they require, but under cultivation you need to select the proper location. If your native soil has a large percentage of clay, especially if you garden in an area of the country with heavy rainfall, consider raised beds to prevent bulbs from rotting. For healthy bulbs with the best blooms, dedicate a sunny area with good air circulation for your new lily bed. Any area not served by an automatic sprinkler system is perfect. 8 x 8 feet is a handy size to maintain for an island planting, while 3 feet wide beds are good for small gardens or colorful edges around the lawn. Space your lily bulbs 12" to 18" apart, in a triangular group of three of the same variety, for the most pleasing appearance.

Healthy soil, amended with compost or leaf mold, a small amount of organic nitrogen and phosphorous, and aerated with sand or Perlite, only needs watering every 7 to 10 days. Although overhead sprinkling can be used, humid climates can run the risk of the fungal disease Botrytis affecting foliage. Drip irrigation or soaker hoses are both convenient and sensible. When mixing Liliums and Hemerocallis in the same bed, place the soaker hose directly over the roots of the daylilies, and 6 to 8 inches away from the Lilium stems. If you allow the hoses to drip directly over bulbs, foliage will rapidly turn yellow, drop off, and the bulb will rot from too much moisture. Daylily roots, on the other hand, can handle much more water. After the initial planting, an annual top dressing of well rotted compost, and foliar feedings of fish emulsion or manure "tea" will provide nutrients to keep your lilies vigorous. If more nitrogen is needed, consider Alfalfa pellets: one small handful per bulb, and two handfuls for each inter planted Hemerocallis.

Choosing varieties for overlapping bloom periods is the secret to an award-winning design. Taller, midseason Trumpet varieties, such as ‘Pink Perfection Strain’ and ‘Black Dragon Strain’, the later-blooming, tough-as-nails Oriental cultivar, ‘Black Beauty’ or the incomparable ‘Casablanca’ or ‘Siberia’ should be chosen for the rear of a one-sided bed, or for the center of an island planting. Directly in front of these anchor plants, place medium height (3 to 4 feet) Asiatic lilies to bloom earlier. Choose a color theme; bright orange yellow and white or pastel pink, raspberry and cream-white are very popular, all will bloom before the pink, white and reddish-violet Orientals, so you can actually have different color focuses, depending on the month.

The edge of the bed will be the most visible throughout the summer and particular attention should be paid to shorter midseason blooming cultivars, which hold their green foliage until frost. Choose cultivars that do not exceed 3 feet or so in height. Before these Oriental stems grow very tall, Asiatic Hybrids planted directly behind them will be flowering. Asiatic foliage tends to mature rather quickly, but they will be partially hidden as the Oriental lily cultivars take center stage. You may cut up to 1/3 of the Asiatic foliage to tidy up the bed if desired. Repeat blooming, shorter (12" - 16") varieties of Hemerocallis are great when used as edging, while taller growing varieties may be used further into the bed for hiding the dying foliage of daffodil bulbs, and to add color beneath Oriental and Trumpet cultivars. Try to say in similar color ranges when using reblooming daylilies, pink tones mixed with pink Orientals, gold and orange with yellow and melon Trumpets, etc.

Do not plant daylilies too close together. Hemerocallis foliage will clump up quickly and can reduce necessary air circulation to emerging Lilium stems. In rainy springs, spray with a good fungicide before stems begin to emerge in late February, and again every two weeks until weather is reasonably dry.

STRESS-FREE, RAISED LILY BED (to correct poor drainage and to frustrate underground pests)

Slightly sloping ground, facing south, with good air circulation and perfectly drained soil is the ideal location for lily bulbs. However, clay soil with sluggish percolation is a reality for many gardeners on flat terrain. Provided your garden is not covered by stagnant water for extended periods of time, abundant rainfall with good drainage allows oxygen-filled water to wash over the roots. Lilies can tolerate a lot of moisture for a short time. By slightly raising the planting area so that the bulbs themselves are above ground level, their roots may still penetrate into waterlogged soil and the survival of your choice cultivars will be ensured. The basal plates (bottom) of large Oriental bulbs may be 8 to 10 inches below the surface; therefore your raised area should be 8 to 12 inches high for best results.

Try the following: choose a sunny site for your new lily bed. It is not necessary to lift turf, but persistent roots of bindweeds, thistle or other difficult to eradicate weeds require removal. Outline the area with landscape timbers or used railroad ties, pounding 12 to 18 inch long sections of pipe or rebar into the ground to steady the wood, and backfill with fresh topsoil, amended as mentioned earlier. To keep moles, gophers and other tunneling varmints out of the bed, lay down 1/4" galvanized wire cloth from the hardware store before setting your landscape timbers on top, bringing the wire up around the outside of the wood. Using "horseshoe nails" or heavy wire staples used on fences, attach the woven wire to the outside of the timbers, using soil or creeping plants to soften the edges and hide the barrier.

Although coarse sand can be added for additional drainage, Perlite is a better choice for a lighter mixture that will not pack down. If moles, voles or gophers are abundant in your area, place a barrier of 1/2 inch galvanized hardware cloth on top of the ground, installing your timbers on each end. If your new bed is wider than the barrier screen, overlap the wire by one or two inches. On large raised beds, mound soil higher in the center, sloping down to one inch below the height of the timbers on the edge. If desired, plant short-growing Hemerocallis with daffodil bulbs in the outer 12 inches for a unified border. These smaller daylilies will hide the decaying foliage of the spring bulbs, plus soften the appearance of the timbers with color and green foliage throughout the summer and fall.
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