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Vegetative Propagation - from scales

Propagation from Scales
This is the fastest way to increase your bulbs. You will be producing exact duplicates of the original bulb - so called "clones." Because all of the genetic material is still present in the plant tissues, any viruses which have affected the “mother” bulb will be present in the “babies.” In theory, if the bulblets grow quick enough and with repeated scaling, you may be able to lessen the effect of viral infections on a valuable or rare cultivar. (Large photo is of bulb scales in a sack ready for commercial incubation

Step #1. Start with fresh-harvested, locally grown bulbs. The lily’s reproductive cells need to be on a natural cycle for best vitality. Do not use cheaply obtained lily bulbs, either in spring or September, from questionable sources. These usually are bulbs that were left unsold from the greenhouse forcing market and have been unnaturally stored in freezers for over a year. Dehydration from long storage will cause their growth to be marginal when compared to fresh bulbs. Best results are from lily bulbs fresh from the garden, scaled in October, with the new bulblets planted outdoors in March.

Step #2. To begin, remove all of the outer two rings of scales and discard. Carefully break off the remaining layers of bulbs, completely down to the “pit” - the center of the bulb, where the shoot emerges.

Step #3. Set out the “scales” and the “pit” to dry overnight. DO NOT wash the scales to “clean them,” or you risk contamination. They will air-dry and the broken surface will callous, naturally protecting the scales from fungus. The next day you may replant the lily bulb core. It will put up a pathetic-looking stem the first year, but should recover the following season with a bloom or two.

Step #4. Place scales between layers of slightly damp vermiculite or peat (sterilized) in a plastic bag that is loosely folded at the top. Place in a warm, evenly heated location of about 70?F. for 8 to 10 weeks. Do not allow any lily scales to come in direct contact with the plastic bag. If water droplets form on the plastic, there is too much moisture - open the bag immediately to allow in more air.

Step #5. When bulblets are about the size of green peas or shelled filberts (their growth depending on the type of lily) they are moved into cold storage for their first “winter.” After six to eight weeks of temperatures just above freezing, the bulblets are ready to be planted either outdoors or in a greenhouse.

Step #6. Scatter in weed-free, perfectly drained ground, covering the bulblets with only one inch of soil. Keep bulblets evenly moist the first summer, checking soil moisture before irrigation. Do not allow the soil to completely dry, or all growth will stop for the summer. Most cultivars will send up tiny stems from 4 to 12 inches in height, depending on the Lilium type.

Step #7. These yearlings may be harvested and moved to a permanent location in October. Most will have one or two flowers the second year, but Asiatics require an additional two years of growth and Orientals, three years, before they are of commercial size.


Growing bulblets from scales can be easier than the instructions above, which are designed for large scale propagation. Lily bulb scales that drop off during digging and dividing and are intact may simply be placed around the main stem under a mulch of milled peat moss. At B&D Lilies we recycle everything and surprising ideas will sometimes issue forth accidentally, such as our use of cardboard and floor sweepings.

Peat moss and shavings from the stored bulbs is piled outside the packing rooms, ready to use as summer time mulch to reduce weed germination and to help increase the “organics” in a new flower or vegetable bed. Scales and broken bulbs, dirt from the flower, paper labels and anything else outside of plastic and large pieces of wood is in the mixture. In April, after most of our shipping is, the "mulch" is spread over top flattened cardboard boxes on areas that Dianna wants to plant that fall or the next spring.

Cardboard is used because it will simply break down within a few months but also will stop any perennial weeds and grasses from poking up under the fluffy peat/shaving mixture. If the peat combination is spread without a barrier, those pesky dandelions and thistles will soon make their appearance. Dianna is not a fan of weed barrier cloth in the garden because of its permanence; should you change your mind, it is a mess to remove.

The image on the left shows scales that probably made tiny offshoots in the peat moss discard pile over winter and now given space in a four inch deep mulch have sent up a tiny leaf or stem to seek light. The circled area shows smaller bulblets that are just beginning to send up a shoot; not all bulbs reproduce at a common rate, some are eager to grow, other need more time. These are all Asiatic lilies, the easiest bulbs to multiply on their own and the easiest for the beginning gardener to grow.

The right side photo's circled area shows younger bulblets that are still attached to their used up scale; all the nutrients went to make the tiny bulbs. At the end of the season, these new clones of the original mother lily bulb require one more season of growth before flowering. They can be safely moved to a more permanent location or potted up. When potting tiny offshoots, protect them over winter from rapid freeze-thaw and saturated soil.

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