Answers to your gardening questions
effective Deer Fence!
Welcome through Fred's Garden Gate! The term "lilies" includes: tiger lilies; the common white trumpet that is forced into bloom for Easter every year; Asiatic hybrids; Canada lilies seen at the edges of meadows and fields; Orientals and others. They generally arise from a scaly bulb that will establish itself fairly deep, have attractive, rich green foliage and flower in an almost infinite range of color from pale and subtle soft colors, to brilliant, if not alarmingly-striking, displays which delight the senses. They certainly are attention-getting and a worthwhile addition to any perennial garden!
Perfect drainage is imperative. Bulbs placed in a soggy-boggy wet spot will be lucky to survive the first year. If you don't have good drainage, don't despair, raised beds will do the trick. If your soil is heavy or is made up of a high proportion of clay, add some sand and a liberal dose of peatmoss. Work it in deep -- eight or ten inches. Even though the bulb doesn't go that deep you'll have better drainage and a loose, cool environment for its roots. That makes a better anchor...and that's good. Work in a little bonemeal down deep (about 1/4 cup mixed well with the soil at the bottom of the planting hole has worked well for us). Avoid spilling bonemeal near the surface, however. Skunks, raccoons and the neighbor's little digger-dog will likely uproot your bulbs by morning. An alternative to bonemeal is finely-ground rock phosphate, available at just about any garden center. Once applied, phosphorus will generally remain in the soil and available to plants for about three years. Adjust pH to slightly alkaline (7.0 - 7.5).
Recall that phosphorus stays pretty much exactly where you put it; left on the surface (not cultivated into the soil), plants are unable to access their flower-encouraging food. The best course? -- Work phosphorus in as the soil is being prepared. Then re-work and re-build your soil, adding in a resupply of fertilizer every 3 or 4 years. Also recall that if pH is significantly off (too acidic), phosphorus is "locked" or bound away and inaccessible to plants...no matter how much of the element is worked in!
When to Plant
Lily bulbs will usually show up in garden centers or, if mail ordered, come to you in the fall. Get them out of their little plastic bags and into the garden as soon as possible so they'll have plenty of time to send down a good root system before the ground freezes. Lilies purchased from a nursery in containers have a well-rooted bulb, and may be tipped out carefully and planted in your garden during the summer. Make certain they are well watered.
Where to Plant
Lilies, on average, don't care for all-day, scorching-hot full sun. They prefer to be shaded during the hottest part of the summer afternoon. On the other hand, they don't do really well in deep shade. Allow ample air circulation to discourage disease. We like to install a couple inches of fresh, clean, usually finely-shredded bark mulch to prevent surrounding soil from splashing onto lower leaves during watering or heavy rain. (Chances are that even healthy soil will harbor otherwise benign soil organisms which, when splashed onto leaves, can cause some rather serious plant diseases.
Depth to Plant
Plant your bulbs with their tops about 4" below the surface. Smaller bulbs not so deep; larger ones deeper. Water them in thoroughly after planting. There may be a little grayish-green mold on the outer scales; it's normal and not a problem unless there's a lot, or it appears "mushy" or "rotten." Remove badly rotted scales, and reject serious overall rot. Immediately return newly-purchased, but badly rotted, bulbs to retailers for refund or exchange. It's your right!
Lily bulbs need their foliage to produce enough stored food to survive winter and prepare for next years' color. So if you cut flowers, allow at least 1/2 of the foliage to remain on the plant. Seed pods pull away energy which the bulb really needs to store up, so snap off the spent flowers, seed pod and all, as soon as they wither. Bulbs continue to grow and enlarge as long as the leaves are green. Once foliage yellows or falls to leave a bare stem, clip to the soil surface. Clean up any fallen plant material which has indications of disease (spots, mottling, mildew, mold).
Refer to the above paragraph entitled "Soil Preparation" for more details about fertilization in the garden. Except for bonemeal or natural ground rock phosphate added during soil preparation, don't fertilize at the time of planting. Work in a little 10(N)-10(P)-10(K) or a healthy helping of fresh compost and other natural forms of N-P-K as soon as green sprouts appear in the spring. Water it all in. (Rex Bulb Farms in Washington State recommends less nitrogen, and uses 5-10-10; it seems to work for them.)
A couple inches of straw or pine needles will help them survive severe Zone 4 winters. Leave the mulch on in the spring - it'll keep moisture evaporation down, control weeds and help maintain the cool growing conditions lily bulbs like. We also like to cover soil surrounding hybrid lilies with fresh, finely-shredded bark mulch.
Pests and Diseases
Slugs can be a real problem! They love the tender flowers. You might consider providing an unpleasant environment for them before they have a chance to climb the stalk and ruin your flowers. Wood ashes sprinkled on the surface make the going tough for slugs because these slimy creatures truly detest overly-alkaline conditions. A couple of inches of fresh compost (which is very close to neutral pH) may also deter slug incursions into your lily bed. The tiny, sharp daggers of Diatomaceous Earth (most garden centers have it) pierces their fragile and thin skin and, if it fails to destroy them outright, makes life most uncomfortable (SWEET JUSTICE, I think!)
Lily Botritis is another oft-seen problem causing yellowing and withering of foliage during excessively rainy and moist periods. Botritis is in the soil; raindrops splash mud up on the leaves. A mulch like shredded cedar or fir bark helps prevent the problem. Several natural fungicides are available at larger garden centers, and should be applied as an early-season preventive rather than a cure after infection has occurred.
Recently a new—rampaging—pest has attacked and destroyed countless lilies. I urge you to read the article on the Asiatic Lily Beetle (a.k.a. Lily Leaf Beetle).
That's the 'poop' on hybrid lilies. Now go ahead and take the plunge! My personal recommendation? Lilium (Oriental) 'Casa Blanca'! Enormous, 9"-10", blistering-white with a spicy fragrance that's nearly unsurpassed in lily-Nature. I'll see if I can locate a picture.
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