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  Lilies Add an Exotic Look to the Garden

By Judy Feather, Colorado Master GardenerSM, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, Denver

Look to oriental and Asiatic lilies for help in adding a spot of summer color or refurbishing bare areas of a garden. Bulbs are readily available for planting in late March and April.

The lilies grown today are the offspring of species that once grew wild in parts of Europe, Asia and North America. These new hybrids are healthier and hardier than the originals.

Asiatic lilies are the easiest and most reliable in the average garden. They bloom early, usually in June and July. Stems are strong and erect, ranging in height from 1 to 4 feet. Most are hardy enough to grow in USDA zones 3-10. Bulbs can be left in the ground and multiply readily when planted in an ideal location. This is a great benefit and requires no work on the part of the gardener.

Plant lilies in loose, well-drained soil in an area with partial shade. Keep the roots shaded by planting between other plants or covering with mulch.

After blooms have faded, pinch them back to prevent seed pod formation. This will increase the number of flowers in future seasons. Lilies planted in late instead of early spring may not bloom or grow much foliage. If left undisturbed, they will perform well in years to come.

One of the most beautiful Asiatic lilies is "Connecticut King." This lily naturalizes easily and is a great cut flower. Stunning bright yellow 4-inch blooms in June and July make this a garden favorite.

Another Asiatic is "Enchantment." Its blooms are orange-red, spotted with black. In pastels, there's "Pink Floyd," an ivory pink banded with rose pink, and "Sancerre," pure white and unspotted.

Oriental lilies are the latest to bloom (late July or August), and also the most exotic. They bear big (up to 9 inch), fragrant flowers. Most orientals are tall, with nodding flowers, but a few species are dwarf and have upward facing blooms.

A popular oriental lily often seen in Colorado is the Tiger Lily (Lilium tigrinum). It blooms in summer (July-August) and grows 30-40 inch tall with beautiful, bright orange, curled flowers with speckles. It thrives even in poor soil, although most lilies benefit from an amended soil that is loose and well drained.

Another popular oriental lily is Star Gazer. This July/August bloomer has stunning rose red blooms with white margins. Flowers are about 5 inches in diameter and last well both in the garden and as cut flowers. Its fragrance is an added benefit.

A fragrant, exotic-looking oriental lily is Nippon. Its pure white petals are marked with a band of yellow and are edged in pink with dots. Its height of 35-40 inches makes a fantastic display among shrubs or perennials in July and August.

If space for lilies in your garden is a concern, consider planting them as container plants. Plan on one bulb in a 5-7 inch pot, or five bulbs in a 14-16 inch pot. Fill the pot 1/3 full with potting mix. Then plant the bulbs with roots spread and pointing downwards. Cover with about an inch of soil, water thoroughly and move pots to a cool place that is protected from frost. Keep the soil moderately moist during this root-forming period. When top growth appears, add more soil and gradually fill the pot as stems elongate. Leave a 1-inch space between the surface of the soil and the pot rim for watering.

When the weather is reliably warm and pots can be taken outside, move them to a partially shaded terrace or patio during the blooming period. Later after blooms are expended, re-pot bulbs in either the late fall or early spring.

Whatever your needs, remember Asiatic and oriental lilies. They're easy to plant, easy to grow and reward you with reliable blooms every year.

Photograph courtesy of Judy Sedbrook.

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010