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Growing Lilies: How To Grow Asiatic And Oriental Lilies

by High Country Gardens

Growing Lilies with the Casa Blanca Oriental Lily
Casa Blanca Oriental Lily

At home in a formal garden or waving at the edge of a meadow, lilies are great easy-to-grow additions to the perennial garden. Lilies have been gracing gardens for over 3,000 years making them true elders of the gardening world. Growing Lilies is a skill that every gardener should possess, as they are spectacular high-reward, low-effort perennials.

There are plenty of plants that are commonly called a lily - Lily of the Valley, Daylily, Peace Lily/Calla Lily, Sword Lily and even Water Lilies. Truth be told, none of these are true lilies. True lilies are from the genus, Lilium.

Asiatic and Oriental Lilies

While there are many species of lilies, we’ll focus on just two – the Asiatic and the Oriental, as they offer most of what gardeners love about lilies.

Asiatic lilies (Lilium asiatica) generally bloom earlier than their oriental cousins. Native to several areas of Asia, they may grow from 1-6 feet in height and are hardy spring bloomers. With long, slender leaves, and bright, bold colored flowers, Asiatic lilies are fragrance free. Their bulbs multiply quickly and they will thrive in almost any well-drained soil.

Oriental lilies (Lilium orientalis) are native to Japan. They gain in height every year and grow from 2-8 feet tall. Their deep green leaves are wider and further apart than the Asiatic lilies. Oriental lilies bloom just as the Asiatic lilies are fading, making the two a perfect combination for blooms from early spring to mid- to late summer. Oriental lilies have an intoxicating fragrance, plant them where you can enjoy the scent!

Many varieties of Asiatic and Oriental lily bulbs are available both as spring planted and as fall planted bulbs. If you miss fall planting, no worries! Just order them for spring planting and they will usually flower in the first summer.

Growing Lilies: Planting Tips

Fall planting is easy, just follow the planting instructions for growing lilies, below.

  • Plant lily bulbs in autumn, 4-6 weeks before frost in zones 4 – 8.
  • Plant in a spot that will provide at least 6 hours of sun (some will tolerate partial shade, check your variety), in compost enriched, well-drained soil.
  • Plant bulbs six inches deep, pointy end up, root end down! Place 3 bulbs per square foot.
  • Autumn planting will allow the bulbs to develop good root systems for hardy spring growth. If your winters are extra cold, mulch the bulbs to protect them from extremes.
  • Feed with organic fertilizer mix as the bulbs sprout and again as the flowers open. Lilies like full sun but will often flower in partial shade as well (shade also helps the flowers last longer).
  • Regular watering during the growth cycle ensures good growth and ample flowers, but remember, they don’t like soggy feet!

Companion Plants

Lilies are ideal companions for the perennial bed. They like cool feet (roots) and warm sun for flowers so plant some amongst your perennials such as roses, Agastache, Echinops, Salvia and Veronica, where the perennials can shade the lily’s roots but allow room for sunny blooms.

Be prepared to stake them for support if needed. A summer mulch will also help keep their roots cool.

Growing Lilies:Oriental Lily Stargazer
Oriental Lily Stargazer

Growing Lilies: Cut Flowers, and After Season Care

Note: Lilies are toxic to cats (the only species so affected). Keep them out of the reach of cats.

Lilies make great cut flowers too. Fragrant, elegant and long-lasting, you’ll hardly believe you grew them yourself.

  • Choose flowers with buds that are just about to open and trim the stem ends an inch or so before placing them in water. The bright orange pollen on the flower’s stamens can stain, so just cut them off if it is of concern.
  • As your flowers fade, remove them to avoid the formation of seedpods (which will take energy away from the bulb).
  • Once all the flowers on a stem have faded, cut the stem just below the blooms, leaving as much foliage as possible. The leaves will continue to nourish the bulb for next year’s blooms.
  • After the foliage has died back, cut stems off, perhaps leaving an inch or two so you remember where they are.
  • Remove old foliage from the garden. Fertilize just once in the autumn to nourish the bulbs, then don’t water as they like dry conditions when they are dormant.
  • As your lilies grow and multiply you may want to dig them up at season’s end and replant them as they will have multiplied over the years. Just remember to handle them gently and replant them at the same depth that you found them with space between for more new bulbs.

Stately and unique and yet so easy to grow, try growing lilies this fall or spring. You’ll amaze your friends and neighbors with these eye-popping showstoppers.

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