The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Lilies Add Drama to a Summer Garden

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

A round of applause and a clash of trowels to the Champaign County Master Gardeners. Their Idea Garden was selected as one of the eight Search for Excellence awards from the International Master Gardener Conference. The award will be presented in San Antonio during the International Master Gardener Conference in August. Nine Champaign County Master Gardeners and myself will be attending the conference and will be sharing the "how tos" of the Idea Garden with the 700 Master Gardener attendees from the US and Canada. Be sure to stop by the award-winning garden on south Lincoln in Urbana.

The other day I had a garden revelation. I realized I needed more lilies in my life. Not canna lilies, day lilies, calla lilies, magic lilies or torch lilies, but true stately lilies. True lilies are members of the genus Lilium and are known for their fragrant, dramatic flowers.

Their height ranges from 2 to 8 feet tall and flowering times range from mid spring to early fall. I love lilies for their magnificent flowers and their willingness to fill in those lull periods after the iris or peonies bloom or right now when many perennials are fading. Lily flowers offer variety in shape and color. Flowers may be trumpet shaped, open faced, pendulous, erect facing, outward facing, or nodding with recurved petals.

Lilies combine well with most garden flowers. The slender stems can easily rise above their shorter garden companions. The tall varieties may need staking or a supportive companion. Lilies prefer sun with some afternoon shade and moist, high organic matter soils.

Lilies are not as difficult to grow as their reputation states. Lilies do require well drained soil. The second rule is lilies require well drained soil and the third rule is well drained soil. Raised beds or planting in hills may be all that is required for proper drainage.

Also lily bulbs are more delicate than other bulbs such as tulips. The bulb scales can easily be damaged or dry out. The young shoots are also quite delicate so tread lightly around the 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, Aurelian, and Oriental.

Asiatic - 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 varieties include 'Enchantment' and 'Connecticut King.'

American - Flower times range from late spring to mid summer at 4-8 feet tall and 4-6 inch diameter flowers. These are hybrids of North American natives. Flowers have reflexed petals meaning they curve back. Colors are shades of yellow, orange and red. Most are two colors and spotted. Many are Bellingham hybrids.

Aurelian - Flower in mid summer at 4-5 feet tall. Flowers are downward or outward facing trumpets. 'Regale' and 'Golden Splendor' are popular varieties.

Oriental - Flower in late summer at 4-5 feet tall with outward or downward facing flowers. 'Casa Blanca' and 'Stargazer' are popular varieties. My 'Casa Blanca' is blooming right now with spectacular white flowers and a "knock your socks off" fragrance.

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 are generally planted in fall, but may be planted in spring using bulbs from quality bulb suppliers. Plant three times the vertical diameter. A two-inch bulb would have 6 inches of soil above it. Madonna lily is the exception at a planting depth of 1-2 inches.

The North American Lily Society contact is Stephanie Sims; P.O. Box W; Bonners Ferry, ID 83805or

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