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Oriental Lilies Put On Late-Summer Display – for Aug. 26, 2010

We’ve all enjoyed the wonderful display of lilies in our gardens – orange ones that bloom around the end of June, the Martagons a little after that, then the tiger lilies, and finally the Asiatic lilies which begin to bloom in early July with some varieties of Asiatics blooming until mid- August. During the latter part of August and well into September we can look forward to more lilies as members of the lilium genus put on their display.

Years ago when I lived in Birtle, Manitoba, I tried to grow Oriental lilies but could not get them to winter over. I don’t know if it’s because hardier genes have been bred into them or whether our winters are milder, but now I can winter them successfully.

Oriental lilies require the same growing conditions as other lilies: well-drained soil which is a bit on the acidic side and which contains lots of organic material; at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight each day; and good drainage. Lily bulbs are usually planted in the spring or the fall, although with so many garden centres keeping potted lilies on hand all summer, lilies can be planted any time during the growing season.

Plant large lily bulbs about 15 cm deep; place smaller bulbs about 10 cm deep. Oriental lilies tend to grow considerably taller than either the tigers or the Asiatics, so planting them slightly deeper will help to anchor them so that their tall stems will stay erect. Planting the bulbs a bit deeper also helps ensure that the bulbs will make it through the winter, although deep planting also means the lilies are slower to emerge in the spring.

Lilies are usually planted in clumps to create the most pleasing display. Planted singly, they look rather lost and forlorn in a border. They do multiply quickly, however, so the bulbs should be planted about 25 to 30 cm apart to allow space for new bulbs to form. Lily clumps should be lifted and divided every three years or so. Although lilies are quite drought tolerant, they do perform best if given adequate moisture and fertilizer, but they should not be watered late in the day because this may promote the development of disease if the plants go into the night wet. The most serious disease is the fungal disease botrytis blight.

Botrytis blight first shows up on the foliage as red-brown spots on the leaves. Gradually the lower leaves turn brown and this condition can progress up the full length of the stem until the entire plant looks dead. The bulb, however, will still be alive and it will grow again the following year. The dead foliage must be completely cleaned away in the fall to prevent the disease from returning the following year. A fungicidal spray would be a good preventive measure during the following summer after a botrytis outbreak. Besides not watering late in the day, planting lilies in areas where there is good air circulation will help prevent outbreaks as will not having the plants too crowded. Healthy lily foliage is not unattractive and so if the plants are deadheaded after the blooms have faded, the clumps of lily foliage will be attractive in the garden for the rest of the growing season.

Oriental lilies produce large, spectacular blooms which are very fragrant. Many of them are spotted or have brush marks on them. “Stargazer,” a crimson one is probably the best-known variety, but “Casa Blanca,” a white one, and “Muscadet,” which has white petals, a pink throat and red spots are also quite common. The blooms are heavy and the plants usually require staking so that they don’t bend the plants over.

Oriental lilies should be mulched in the fall to ensure winter survival. I pile dry leaves on mine in very late fall and then place a tarp over the leaves to keep them dry so they will not lose their insulating value. I make sure to allow air to get in around the edge of the tarp so as not to smother the plants or cause a buildup of moisture under the tarp. With a little protection during the winter, Oriental lilies will come back the following year to again amaze us with their blooms.

– Albert Parsons writes from Minnedosa, Manitoba

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Orientallilies requirethesame growingconditions asotherlilies.

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