The Q&A Archives: Planting Lily bulbs

Question: I would like to know the proper depth for planting lily bulbs. I have read that they should be planted six inches deep. When I plant them that deep, they do not grow. When I plant them at shallower depths they seem to do fine. Any suggestions would be helpful.

Answer: Lilies standing in soggy soil soon spoil and rot away. There are three ways to achieve good drainage so that your bulbs won't rot: plant on a slope so water drains down and away from the bulbs; make a raised bed to elevate the planting area; or, plant bulbs in hills as you would cucumbers. Soil composition is also important to ensure good drainage. Sandy soils sometimes allow water to drain through too quickly. Heavy clay soils trap moisture in the ground. Neither type provides the right kind of soil for lilies. Ideally, you want a loose, crumbly, humusy texture. To improve clay soil, add sand or gravel to loosen it up, then add compost or peat moss. To sandy soil, add lots of peat moisture which helps retain moisture.

Never use manure around lilies. Many growers believe manure causes fungal diseases like fusarium rot, so keep it away from your planting hole. Like clematis, lilies like their faces in the sun while keeping their feet cool and dry.

Although martagon lilies grow well in dappled shade, most lilies need lots of sun to bloom their best. Orientals need as much as six hours a day. As much as their blossoms like sun though, their feet love to be rooted in cool soil. You keep them cool by mulching the base of the plant with composted leaves, grass clippings or straw. But the easiest way is to surround your lilies with other plants. Their leaves will shade and cool the lilies bulbs and make your garden look full and lush.

Generally, lilies should be planted as deep as three times their diameter. Only the Madonna lily breaks this rule, requiring an inch of soil on their surface. When planting, bear in mind that lilies make more of an impact when planted in clumps, so its a good practice to plant them in groups of three or five, spaced about 12 inches apart. Fall has been the traditional time to plant lilies. However, many Oriental and trumpet lilies mature too late in the season for growers to dig and ship them before the winter freeze-up. Therefore, they're often unavailable until spring. Whether you plant in the fall or spring, water the bulbs well after planting. Every day is not too much for newly planted lily bulbs.

Fertilize for bloom and foliage Lilies are "heavy feeders", requiring nitrogen for good leaf growth and phosphorous and potassium to promote good blossoms and plump bulbs. In the spring, scratch a 5-10-15 fertilizer into the soil around the lily bed. Follow with repeated applications every four to six weeks throughout the growing season.

Keep lilies blooming by removing blossoms as they fade. This prevents the plant from expending all of its energy producing seed. Better the bulb spends its time making more flowers! When snipping off the dead flower though, be careful not to cut back the entire stem. Lilies need all of their green leaves and stem to help manufacture and store food for next season.

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