Lily Bulbs

Hybridizers have created a glorious mix of lilies with 3"-12" flowers in a variety of distinctive shapes, resembling peaked caps, turbans, bowls, trumpets, or broad, curly stars. They bloom in shades and combinations of white, pink, red, yellow, orange, lilac, and green, many dotted in maroon or near-black. Plants bear a few to 2 dozen or more flowers atop 2-7', upright stems clothed in narrow lea\e>. Most lilies are hardy in Zones 3-8, with protection in the North, especially during the first winter.

Lilies thrive in sun or part shade in deep, fertile, moist but well-drained, humus-rich soil out of strong winds. Unlike the hard, dense bulbs of tulips and daffodils, a lily bulb is a fragile package of individual scales joined together rather loosely, making it quite prone to damage and drying out. Also, lilies never go completely dormant; plant them carefully, as soon as possible after you receive them. It is preferable to plant them in fall, although spring planting is quite common. Many specialists prepare the soil to 1 '//deep on a warm fall day and mulch the site heavily to keep the soil unfrozen and ready for planting in very late fall, which is when many dealers ship lilies. Most lilies produce roots along the length of their below-ground stems, which help to feed and support the large plants. Therefore, even tiny lily bulbs should have no less than 6" of soil above the top of the bulb.

Mark the planting sites to help avoid injuring the newly emerging shoots. As they appear in spring (sometimes surprisingly late), carefully cultivate and scratch in the first of 2 organic fertilizer meals for the season. Fertilize again before bloom; avoid excessive nitrogen applications. Mulch with several inches of compost or finely shredded bark to keep the soil cool. Water during dry spells. Stake tall lilies and deadhead after bloom. After the tops die, cut the stems down to a few inches to mark the spot for next year. Clear away faded foliage and plant debris to remove overwintering pests and diseases.

Move or divide lilies only when overcrowding makes it absolutely necessary; their fragile bulbs and fleshy roots resent any disturbance. Dig bulbs after stalks die back; replant immediately or wrap them in a plastic bag of barely moist perlite to keep the roots from drying out, and store in a cool place. Discard any bulbs that appear diseased or damaged. Expect minimal growth the first year after transplant. Small bulbils or bulblets may form in leaf axils or near the base of stalks; harvest and plant these at the end of the growing season to produce new plants.

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