for the love of LILIES

Lilies command the center of attention. Far from being dainty flowers that hide in your garden, they steal the show with big, bold blossoms and loud splashes of color.

Tips for growing healthy lilies:

• Lilies need really good drainage. Bulbs will rot and die if oversaturated. (This is why lilies grow well on sloping sites.) Avoid planting them in boggy soil. Adding sharp sand or gravel helps. Even a rock-filled bed provides good drainage. Because bulbs hold lots of moisture, there’s no need for supplementary watering unless it’s been particularly warm for several days.

• Sun, space and air. Lilies are happiest in the full sun. Plant your lilies approximately 4-6 inches deep for smaller bulbs, and 6-8 inches deep for larger bulbs. Space them out for good air circulation.

• Compost, bulb food or bone meal can be added to the soil when first planting. Fertilize twice each year, once at the beginning of growth in the spring and again just before flowering, using 5-10-10 or 8-32-16.

• After the bloom is gone, let the stalk die back naturally, which helps to strengthen the bulb for next year.

The love doesn’t stop there. Lilies are surprisingly easy to grow in Alaska, even for the most challenged of gardeners. These blooming beauties need minimal care and have very few problems caused by disease and pests. Of all the classes of lilies, the Asiatic lily is the hardiest and most reliable for growing in Alaska. These lilies come in a broad range of colors and the mature plants can reach up to four feet with long glossy leaves. Unlike other lilies, Asiatics have no fragrance, which is a plus for those who are sensitive to strong scents.

For a season-long color show, consider growing a variety of lilies, each blooming at a different time during the summer. Asiatics, for example, start blooming in late June. LA Hybrids, which combine the hardiness of the Asiatics with the delicious fragrance of the Easter lily, bloom in late July and August. LA Hybrids (a cross between Asiatic and Easter lily) grow to 30 inches high and come in a range of clear, bright colors from cream to pink, peach, yellow, orange and red.

Many lily plants are sold without specifying the name of the cultivar. The plant may only be labeled “orange lily,” which tells the color, but not what kind. By doing some research, you can find out what the blooming period is or when to start growing them so that you can have lilies blooming all summer long.

Who doesn't love a freshly cut bouquet of flowers from the garden? Lilies make an excellent cut flower. With their long bloom times, tall stems and ample vase life, they’re sure to brighten any room for up to two weeks.
It’s hard not to love lilies; they’re some of the most beautiful and rewarding perennials to grow in Alaska.

Types of Lilies

By planting a few bulbs of each kind, you can have lilies in bloom throughout the season. Here are some lilies to consider:

LA Hybrids (USDA zones 3-10)
With blooms in late July and August, these plants combine the hardiness of the Asiatics with the delicious fragrance and form of the Easter lily. L-A Hybrids grow to 30 inches high and come in a range of clear, bright colors from cream through pink, peach, yellow, orange and red. Varieties include Yellow Diamond, Brindisi and Eyeliner.

Trumpets or Aurelians (USDA zones 5-9)
Midsummer brings these elegant bloomers named for their trumpet-shaped flowers. They are not reliably hardy in Southcentral Alaska, but may survive in a protected warm microclimate. Chosen for their majestic trumpets, these lilies will add brilliant color and wonderful (albeit heavy) fragrance to your garden. Varieties include Pink Planet, African Queen and Regale.

Asiatic Hybrids (USDA zones 3-10)
Asiatic hybrids are the earliest to bloom, beginning in late June (with the coral lily), and span the summer growing season through September (with the late-blooming tiger lilies). These lilies are generally unscented. Some common varieties include Royal Sunset, Forever Linda and Mapira.

Orientals (USDA zones 5-9)
The season ends with a bang when the Oriental lilies start to bloom (usually around late August). Intensely fragrant, with huge, showy blossoms that can span 10 inches across, Oriental Lilies come in a range of colors. Some well-known Orientals include Casablanca, Stargazer, and Muscadet and Salmon Star. Dwarf Orientals (24 inches or shorter) are often hardier (given they bloom a few weeks earlier) and include Mona Lisa, Little Love, and the "Pixie" series.

Top row, from left: Stargazer (Oriental), Brunello (Asiatic), Mapira (Asiatic); Middle row, from left: Royal Sunset (LA Hybrid)*, Regale (Trumpet)*; Bottom row, from left: Yellow Diamond (Asiatic)*, Salmon Star (Oriental)*, Muscadet (Oriental)*
*Photos courtesy Longfield Gardens
NOTE: True Lilies, such as Asiatic, Oriental, etc., are highly toxic to cats (not dogs or people). If you suspect your pet may have ingested a potentially toxic substance, call the Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435 or contact your local veterinarian as soon as possible.
Sources: Alaska Master Gardeners; Fritz Creek Botanical Gardens