Extension Educator, Horticulture
I need more lilies in my life. Not canna lilies, day lilies, ditch lilies, calla lilies, magic lilies or torch lilies, but true stately lilies. These members of the genus Lilium are known for their dramatic flowers, often with a knock-your-socks-off fragrance. Plant heights range from 2 to 8 feet tall and flowering times range from mid-spring to early fall.
Lilies are always eye candy in the garden especially during those lull periods as the iris and peony flowers fade. Although lilies herald in the summer with their large trumpet shaped flowers, they also offer variety in flower shape and color. Flowers may also be open-faced or have recurved petals. Whether you are tall or short there is a lily that will look you in the eye with their pendulous, outward facing or erect facing flowers.
Lilies combine well with most any sunny garden flowers. The slender stems easily rise above their shorter garden companions. The tall varieties may need staking or a supportive neighbor. Lilies prefer sun with some afternoon shade and moist, high organic matter soils.
Not all lilies are as difficult to grow as their reputation states. Lilies do require well drained soil. In high clay content soils raised beds or planting in hills may be all that is required for proper drainage. Once they find a happy place lilies are long-lived perennials.
Lily bulbs are more delicate than other bulbs such as tulips. The bulb scales can easily be damaged or may dry out. The young shoots are also delicate, so tread lightly around lilies in the spring.
The Royal Horticultural Society and North American Lily Society have developed divisions to help sort out the varieties. Some of the more popular ones include: Asiatic, American, Trumpet, Oriental and Orienpet hybrids.
Asiatic – One of the earliest and easiest to grow of all the lilies, but generally lack the heavy fragrance. Flower in early summer at 2-5 feet tall with 4-6 inch diameter flowers. Colors include red, pinks, oranges, yellows, lavender and white with mostly upward facing flowers. Popular cultivars include 'Enchantment' (orange-red), 'Connecticut King' (yellow) and Red Velvet (deep red).
American – Flower periods range from late spring to mid-summer at 4-8 feet tall and 4-6 inch diameter flowers with reflexed petals. Hybrids of North American natives. Colors are shades of yellow, orange and red. Most are two colors with friendly freckles. Many are Bellingham hybrids (yellow-orange, red/brown spots).
Trumpet and Aurelian – Flower in mid-summer at 4-5 feet tall. Flowers are downward or outward facing trumpets. 'Regale' (white-pink), 'Golden Splendor' (yellow, purple stripes) and 'White Henry' (white-orange) are popular cultivars.
Oriental – Flower in late summer at 4-5 feet tall with outward or downward facing flowers. 'Casa Blanca' (white) and 'Stargazer' (white-pink) are popular varieties with enticing fragrance.
Orienpet - Hybrids between two divisions of Oriental and trumpet lilies. As the best of both worlds they combine the beautiful flower shape and color of the Orientals with the durability and dependability of trumpets. Well suited to our hot summers and cold winters. A popular one is 'Conca D'or' (lemon yellow).
Lilies have few insects and diseases. Lily mosaic virus or basal bulb rot (caused from planting in poorly drained soil) are probably the most common.
Lilies can be planted just about anytime during the growing season as potted plants or in spring or fall as bulbs. Check out The North American Lily Society http://www.lilies.org