Lilies signal summer in the Southern garden. Beautiful Asiatic and Oriental lilies are easy to grow and offer dramatic colors and blooms in flower borders. These show-offs are true lilies (genus Lilium), and not to be confused with daylilies (genus Hemerocallis), their trumpet-shaped look-alikes.
Both Asiatic and Oriental lilies offer trumpet-shaped blooms in bright colors from the fruit basket – red, yellow and orange. Asiatic lilies bloom first, in early summer, and grow two to four feet high with sun-facing blooms. Oriental lilies, like Stargazers, bloom a little later, and are similar, and are known for their spicy fragrance.
Easter lilies are Oriental lilies. If you received one as a gift, or are a savvy shopper buying them after the holiday, plant the bulbs in your garden for years’ worth of gorgeous blooms.
Lilies are tough, easy to grow and make excellent cut flowers.
How to Plant Lilies
When buying lilies, choose bulbs that are packed for the current season, or blooming plants. If you’ve planted daffodils, tulips or other spring-blooming bulbs, you’ll notice that lilies do not have a papery outer layer. This means that you’ll need to get the bulbs in the ground as soon as possible to prevent rot.
When selecting a site, keep in mind that lilies like full sun, but they will tolerate partial shade. Like many summer sun-loving plants, they like a break from the late afternoon heat, so let the shade from trees or a house protect the plants. More important than sunlight, however, is well-draining soil. Amend your flower bed with plenty of organic compost in preparation for lilies.
Lilies do well in containers, too. Plant an early spring mixed container with lily bulbs and top with pansies. When the plants emerge in summer, switch out the pansies with petunias or calibrachoas.
Tip: Plant lilies at a depth that is three times the length of the bulb. If the bulb is two inches long, it should be planted six inches deep.
Plant lily bulbs stems up, roots down, and cover with plenty of rich, organic garden soil. You can fertilize at the planting, but it’s best to wait until the stems break through the soil, and use a balanced fertilizer mixed at half-strength. This allows you to fertilize more frequently.
If you’re planting a blooming lily plant, read the plant tag, note the mature height of the plant, and plant accordingly. Lilies often grow to be the tall kid at the back of the border.
A light layer of mulch like leaves, pine straw or bark mulch will help retain moisture and keep plants roots cool during hot summer days.
Lilies make lovely cut flowers for indoor arrangements. Cut the blooms early in the day and plunge the stems immediately into a bucket of warm water. Put a fresh angled cut on the stems in your arrangement.
How to Care for Lilies
Plant several varieties of lilies to keep the blooms coming throughout the summer. Asiatic lilies bloom first, in June and fragrant Oriental lilies like Stargazer emerge later.
When the flowers fade, deadhead the blooms, but keep most of the foliage. The green leaves add background texture to your flower border.
In August, trim the stems down to the first set of leaves. Later in fall, you can trim the stems down to the ground and cover with a perennial blanket of mulch.
This article first appeared in my local newspaper as part of a series of weekly Master Gardener columns. I’m a certified Master Gardener Extension Volunteer.