Lilies forum: Size of bulb vs. number of stems

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Name: Polly Kinsman
Hannibal, NY (Zone 6a)

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PollyK
Nov 16, 2011 3:16 PM CST
Let's talk about this. Moby showed a picture of a giant Buggy Crazy lily bulb.

Anyone, please give their opinion of size of bulb vs.type of lily vs number of stems.
Name: Connie
Willamette Valley OR (Zone 8a)
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pardalinum
Nov 16, 2011 4:09 PM CST

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Probably both. I have many lilies that never put up an extra stem from the bulb (excludes stem bulblets). Culture could also be involved. It is one more way for the plant to propagate itself.

I once read somewhere that lilies are the plant propagators' dream plant. Let's count the ways:

1. Bulb division (the subject here). The bulb divides into multiple "noses", each nose capable of putting up a stem. I try to separate these when I come across them, but sometimes they are not ready so get planted as is.

2. Stem bulbils. Some species and cultivars grow little bulbils in the leaf axils, snuggled up against the stem. True tiger lilies (L. lancifolium) are well known for this.

3. Stem bulblets. These are the bulblets that form just below the soil in the stem roots of the lily.

4. Scale bulblet propagation. What you should do when you pay really big bucks for a lily. Consider it insurance.

5. Seeds, for the species.

6. Am I missing any?
Name: Connie
Willamette Valley OR (Zone 8a)
Forum moderator Hybridizer Region: Pacific Northwest Lilies Sempervivums Sedums
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pardalinum
Nov 16, 2011 4:17 PM CST

Moderator

Sorry, I slightly hijacked....

I had an oriental "Skyscraper" from buggy that had four noses, neatly arranged in a square. They didn't seem ready to separate (I give them a little twist at a potential breaking point between noses) so I planted it as is. I got the expected four stems, then the following year it didn't come back. I just don't find it advantageous to have multiple stems on one plant (bulb) sharing the same basal plate.

I don't know if there is a scientific explanation for this or I just have bad luck. Could be bad luck considering my crummy clay soil.
Name: Polly Kinsman
Hannibal, NY (Zone 6a)

Charter ATP Member Region: United States of America I helped plan and beta test the plant database. I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Irises Lilies
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PollyK
Nov 16, 2011 4:36 PM CST
I never thought about that. I always just plant them when I first get them, even though there may be more than one stem obvious. Hmmm.

Don't ever worry about hijacking a thread. I love learning from you, as I'm sure all the other members do.
Name: Connie
Willamette Valley OR (Zone 8a)
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pardalinum
Nov 16, 2011 4:48 PM CST

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I think the answer to the original question will lie in the responses here and based on their observations.

The place where I had Skyscraper is now inhabited by L. pardalinum x L. pitkinense. That one is perfectly happy and spreading well. It seems to not have a care about the clay and winter wetness. Thumbs up .
Lincoln, NE
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Moby
Nov 16, 2011 7:49 PM CST
Maybe it was just Skyscraper ~ I tried twice and it never came up. Found what was left of it this Fall and am trying to salvage the bits of scales that were left.

I don't know the trick to growing really huge bulbs. The "care and feeding" the bulb recieved the previous year certainly comes into play. Some bulbs divide like crazy and never make a large bulb.
Where are we going, and why am I in this hand-basket?
Name: Connie
Willamette Valley OR (Zone 8a)
Forum moderator Hybridizer Region: Pacific Northwest Lilies Sempervivums Sedums
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pardalinum
Nov 16, 2011 7:53 PM CST

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Maybe it is just the long season West Coast climate that allows the bulbs to grow larger. That seems to be how bearded iris behave. Iris rhizomes grow pretty big here.
Name: Anthony Gloriosoides[ sure!]
Rosetta,Tasmania,Australia (Zone 7b)
idont havemuch-but ihave everything
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gwhizz
Nov 17, 2011 2:35 AM CST
Listening-Ive had some big 'mothers' here,then they tend to divide,.,.i too[like Pard] dont like dividing unless it is extremely ready,..,
lily freaks are not geeks!
Name: Jo Ann Gentle
Pittsford NY (Zone 6a)
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ge1836
Nov 17, 2011 3:41 AM CST
There doesnt seem to be any ryme or reason behind bulb size and stem and bloom size.
I feed my lilies 2 times a year and they grow well.
I have had occasion to accidntly unearth an asiatic that was large stemmed and many blooms. The bulb was really small.
My philosophy is "if it aint broke dont fix it" so I just continue to feed and admire these wonderful plants.
I dont have the deeper knowlege of plants that some do here but seem to be able to grow lilies.
This info. is for anyone who is a novice and thinks they cant grow lilies.

I am with Connie and the PNW theory.Its just the perfect climate for many plants.
Name: Rick R.
near Minneapolis, MN zone 4a
I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Garden Sages The WITWIT Badge Garden Photography Region: Minnesota Plant Identifier
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Leftwood
Nov 17, 2011 10:45 AM CST
I've become somewhat of a botanical bulb fanatic (if you haven't figured that out yet), with lilies and other genera. I have much to say, whether you're interested or not. Whistling Too much for a single post, so I'll sprinkle it around.
--
Definitely, do not try to manually break a multiple nosed bulb apart if it doesn't have a naturally weak breaking point.

Some lilies have tall and wide (read: massive) basal plates that simply will not break by hand. Attempting to do so results in a naked basal plate and a multitude of broken, individual scales. The remedy, sometimes, is to let the mother bulb grow a few more years when it will naturally produce a weak, breaking point for bulb separation. Other times, this just never happens, and the only option is to knife cut the basal plate from the bottom and perhaps half way up (or more), to produce the weak breaking fissure that one can then finish manually breaking by hand.

In most cases, try not to completely cut the division with the knife. Where ever the bulbs break naturally will be the best separation point, because of both strength and natural pathogen resistance. In other words, if there is a naturally weak point in the basal plate, that is the healthiest place to separate. Cutting with a knife, even a millimeter off of the natural break point can make a difference. Although it is almost never critical, the best practice is to let mother nature guide you.

This, of course, is assuming the mother bulb is healthy. A weak point cause by mechanical damage or disease would not be a natural weak point.
Name: Corey
Chicago (Zone 6a)
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Ispahan
Nov 17, 2011 5:46 PM CST
Jo Ann, at what point in the season did you accidentally unearth the Asiatic bulbs that seemed small? I ask because it seems that lilies with active growth above ground might have used up a lot of their stored reserves which will lead to a smaller, shrunken bulb before it has a chance to grow new scales and build up its reserves again. If there is any truth to this supposition, it means that lily bulbs will always be largest just before the foliage senesces at the end of the growing season. Am I crazy thinking this? Confused

I recall reading somewhere that bulbs in general (not just lilies) are less likely to divide when planted deeper than normal. Something about the cooler soil temperatures and steadier moisture levels that discourages bulb division. The other side of the coin is that bulbs planted more shallowly than normal will be more likely to divide, being exposed to fluctuating soil temperatures and moisture levels which stress them into "survival mode." Has anyone noticed this in real life?
Name: Rick R.
near Minneapolis, MN zone 4a
I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Garden Sages The WITWIT Badge Garden Photography Region: Minnesota Plant Identifier
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Leftwood
Nov 18, 2011 2:58 AM CST
Your quick and enviable ability to search out, read and retain information, and ask logical and pertinent questions really impresses me, Corey.

Yes, stressed out lily bulbs do tend to divide prematurely, that is, at a smaller size than they normally would. In fact I had such a problem myself with some lilies in a garden that I converted over a few years to more of a dryland garden.

When I used to grow "normal" plants in that garden that required moisture - tomatoes, peppers, regular flowers, fun stuff like broom corn, amaranth, asparagus beans, etc., I watered regularly. This is a garden with excellent drainage. The two asiatic types of lilies in question grew well, with stems having a consistent 8-15 flowers each. But over several years, I began replacing the space with dryland plants - species penstemons, central Asian species bearded iris, plants native to the dry sides of the mountains and western prairies. So watering had become less frequent to none.

Through the transition, these lilies did break to many bulbs producing stems with only a few to no blooms at all. Thinking they were just crowded, I replanted them and fertilized, but results were the same. Transplanting them to a different, more amenable garden with a mulch, they regained their previous beauty.
Name: Jo Ann Gentle
Pittsford NY (Zone 6a)
Charter ATP Member I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Cat Lover Heucheras Hellebores Container Gardener
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ge1836
Nov 18, 2011 3:47 AM CST
Like Leftwood said your quick enviable research means are admirable.
I am a "thug gardener" and my soil is clay.
After the first year of hacking and hoeing holes with a pickax type garden hoe I ended up with holes that were not quite deep enough I jst gave up and did the best I could. Lilies and other bulbs dont grow at the required depth here,maybe a crocus or 2 but my digging leaves lilies at about 6 inches or so.
I had read the bulbs would eventually grow to a depth they like.

The time I saw the small bulb that produced a decent stem and flower might have been mid summer.I sometimes move blooming plants.
I plan more carefully now and have fewer color mistkes.
Digging and any spade work is diffacult for me so I give every bulb and perennial a dose of compost and hope they make it.
My gardens will be 5 years old next season so I have done a lot of small plant planting since 2008, and most of my lily s bulbs are only 2 seasons old.

I am not positive if my shallower lilies have multiplied faster ,I dont think so.
Name: Rick R.
near Minneapolis, MN zone 4a
I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Garden Sages The WITWIT Badge Garden Photography Region: Minnesota Plant Identifier
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Leftwood
Nov 18, 2011 4:23 AM CST
Shallow may or may not mean stress. In heavier clay soils, a bulb's natural depth will be more shallow than in a sandy soil. In fact, in my previous discussion, the bulbs were quite deep (5-6 inches) for their size. In fact, I initially wondered if that was the reason for them being so small. But further inspection revealed that they were not dwindling in size, rather they were small bulbs dividing into even smaller bulbs.

Regarding the bulb "shrinking and growing" supposition over a growing season, that is not usually the case with lilies. The "depletion" of food from the bulb during the early season growth cycle doesn't seem to have much of an effect on lily bulb size. I suspect that while certain needed nutrients are removed, it does not really impact the empirical structure of the bulb itself, merely its internal make up.

Thumb of 2011-11-18/Leftwood/7fa13a

In this pic of a Lilium sulphureum bulb dug in the fall, one can clearly see the part of the bulb that is the current season's growth, with the loose looking outer scales from the previous year that are not shrunken at all. Also in the photo, notice the remnants of scales from what I assume to be the year before that. Had these senesced earlier in the season during stem or flower growth, they would have decomposed to nothing in the moist clay soil the bulb grew in. I contend that their demise coincided with the onset of serious bulb production and storage priority that begins in earnest as flowers wain.

The Lilium genus is quite diverse, and as in most cases with almost any botanical theory, there are no unbroken rules. There very well could be some that support the early season shrinking theory, but I don't think it is the norm.
Name: Corey
Chicago (Zone 6a)
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Ispahan
Nov 18, 2011 2:56 PM CST
Rick, truly great posts! Geophytes are one of my favorite plant groups and I find myself reading about them constantly, so researching lilies is a fun way to de-stress for me. The more I read, however, the more I realize how little is actually known about plants and biology in general. There are hundreds of exceptions to every supposed "rule" in nature.

I am learning so much from all of you. What an awesome forum! Big Grin
Name: Jo Ann Gentle
Pittsford NY (Zone 6a)
Charter ATP Member I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Cat Lover Heucheras Hellebores Container Gardener
Birds Region: New York Irises Garden Ideas: Master Level Avid Green Pages Reviewer Lilies
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ge1836
Nov 21, 2011 3:39 AM CST
Its "seat of the pants " gardening here.
Name: Brian
Ontario Canada (Zone 5b)
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bearsearch
Jan 7, 2012 1:23 PM CST
pardalinum said:Probably both. I have many lilies that never put up an extra stem from the bulb (excludes stem bulblets). Culture could also be involved. It is one more way for the plant to propagate itself.

I once read somewhere that lilies are the plant propagators' dream plant. Let's count the ways:

1. Bulb division (the subject here). The bulb divides into multiple "noses", each nose capable of putting up a stem. I try to separate these when I come across them, but sometimes they are not ready so get planted as is.

2. Stem bulbils. Some species and cultivars grow little bulbils in the leaf axils, snuggled up against the stem. True tiger lilies (L. lancifolium) are well known for this.

3. Stem bulblets. These are the bulblets that form just below the soil in the stem roots of the lily.

4. Scale bulblet propagation. What you should do when you pay really big bucks for a lily. Consider it insurance.

5. Seeds, for the species.

6. Am I missing any?


I recently read an article where leaves of asiatic lilies were removed from right at the stem and placed in damp sand in bright indirect light and formed bulbils at the ends in the sand. If I can find the article again I'll put a link to it here. I found it.

http://www.growingthehomegarden.com/2009/05/propagating-asia...
[Last edited by bearsearch - Jan 9, 2012 7:18 PM (+)]
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Name: Connie
Willamette Valley OR (Zone 8a)
Forum moderator Hybridizer Region: Pacific Northwest Lilies Sempervivums Sedums
Pollen collector I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Plant Database Moderator Charter ATP Member Garden Ideas: Master Level Plant Identifier
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pardalinum
Jan 7, 2012 1:29 PM CST

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I have also read that article. I suspect some lilies may be more responsive to the treatment than others. It certainly wouldn't hurt to try it if you have a stem break off.
Name: Brian
Ontario Canada (Zone 5b)
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bearsearch
Jan 7, 2012 1:31 PM CST
I'm planning on trying it this summer to see if it works on non lancifolium types.
Name: Connie
Willamette Valley OR (Zone 8a)
Forum moderator Hybridizer Region: Pacific Northwest Lilies Sempervivums Sedums
Pollen collector I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Plant Database Moderator Charter ATP Member Garden Ideas: Master Level Plant Identifier
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pardalinum
Jan 7, 2012 1:36 PM CST

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