Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Upper South
July, 2011
Regional Report

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New lily hybrids are characterized by large flowers, rich colors, and vigorous growth.

Long Live Lilies

For much of my life, I admired lilies from a distance. Growing up, lilies were not in my mother's flower garden, and I just never seemed to get around to growing them myself. Two things changed that for me over the last decade. One was buying lilies that were marked down at the local floral shop. I discovered that as cut flowers they often lasted two weeks or more. Plus, only a few stems made a gorgeous display. The other was receiving several bulbs of 'Silk Road', a type of lily called Orienpet. Growing up to six feet tall in the garden, there were these lovely red-and-white flowers for weeks in the garden, making a striking midsummer display. Soon, I was buying more lily bulbs for the garden.

Whether you've been growing lilies for years or have just been thinking about adding them to your garden, this time in lily history could not be more opportune. Dutch hybridizers are developing new interspecific hybrids that far outshine anything previously found in the world of lilies.

Types of New Lilies
The new lilies are divided into groups, each named with the initials of its parentage. The OT Hybrid Lilies, also known as Orienpets, combine the shape and fragrance of Oriental hybrids with the red-yellow-orange color range and vigor of Trumpet lilies. These hybrids have larger, Oriental lily-type flowers in a full range of colors. Most notable for our region, the OT Hybrids also have impressive heat tolerance in the garden. The LO Hybrids meld the color of Oriental lilies with the elegant elongated flower shape of Longiflorum lilies, plus there are lovely new fragrances. The OA Hybrids are a cross between hybrid Orientals and hybrid Asiatic lilies. This achieves larger flowers, Asiatic color influences, and upward-facing flowers, but, alas, no fragrance.

Some of the new varieties to look for as you shop for or order lily bulbs this summer for fall planting include Robina, Marlon, Fujian, Saltarello, Gizmo, Triumphator, and El Condor, but there are many more as well.

How to Grow Lilies
Lilies grow best with at least a half day of sun. In very warm regions, choose an area with dappled shade. Lilies need perfect drainage to prevent bulb rot. A sloping site with natural drainage is the best location. If your soil is especially heavy, grow lilies in a raised bed. Sandy loam soils rich in humus but fast draining are ideal. A pH of 5.5 to 6.5 is best. Feed with a complete fertilizer, such as 5-10-10, when the stem starts to emerge in the spring, then fertilize again just before flowering. Apply a top-dressing of well-rotted manure or compost in the fall. A lily planting is most attractive when groups of three bulbs of the same variety are planted in a triangular formation, spacing bulbs 12 to 18 inches apart. Four to 6 inches of soil should cover the top of the bulbs. For lily varieties that grow taller than 3 feet, it is advisable to stake the stems. Just be careful to not stab the bulb with the stake.

Use Lilies in Bouquets
Lilies have become one of the most popular cut flowers. Whether purchased or gathered from the garden, their popularity is not surprising, as they last for up to two weeks in bouquets and, of course, the blooms are spectacular. To maximize their use in bouquets, position lilies in the arrangement so that the faces of the flowers are turned towards the viewer. Also be sure to leave enough room in the arrangement to allow for the flowers opening fully.

To prepare stems for arranging, trim off the base of each stem to open up the water uptake channels, using a sharp, clean knife. Choose a vase that is tall and sturdy enough to support the heavy flowers. Add clean, cool water, plus a packet of cut flower food to keep the water clear and fresh. As the lower blooms fade, snip them off to keep the arrangement looking fresh.

One downside to lily blooms is the pollen, which can stain skin, fabrics, and the petals. There are two strategies to deal with this. Either snip off the anthers and remove the pollen totally or learn to live with it. If pollen gets on fabric, don't try to rub it off with a wet cloth, which only sets the stain. Instead, let the pollen dry, then lay strips of tape across the area and lift the dark powder off. If any residue remains, lay the item out in full sun, which makes the last traces vanish.

The more widely grown Asiatic and Oriental lilies will continue to dominate in gardens for awhile, but as gardeners discover the possibilities of these new hybrids, with their different flower shapes, combinations of colors, softer scents, and other attributes, they will prove too tempting to resist.

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