Lilies are my absolute favourite flower as they are simply beautiful. Lilies make excellent cut flowers as they have long stems. They look stunning in bouquets and are a popular flower for wedding arrangements. They can be scented and unscented, coloured or plain white. Lilies feature prominently in our flower garden every summer without fail.
As a novice gardener five years ago, I was a bit daunted by the prospect of growing lilies. They are so exquisitely beautiful that I assumed they would be difficult to grow. This is not the case at all. My first lily in the garden was an oriental lily called Hot Spot, which I planted in memory of my father after he passed away in 2012. To my surprise, it flowered on cue in February, producing the most beautiful speckled pink and white oriental lily with a strong perfume fragrance.
Lilies are very easy to grow and require very little care. Once planted, they can be left in the ground for many years undisturbed.
Set out below are some of the main lily varieties.
Asiatic – Asiatic lilies come in a wide range of colours and have no fragrance
Oriental – Oriental lilies are highly fragrant and incredibly beautiful
Double oriental – Double Oriental lilies are double-flowering and highly fragrant
Double Asiatic – Double Asiatic lilies are double-flowering without any fragrance
OT Hybrid – OT hybrid lilies are a cross between Oriental and Trumpet lilies. They are fragrant like Oriental lilies. OT Hybrid lilies are my favourite variety as they are perfumed and have long stems, which make them perfect for picking.
LA Hybrid – LA Hybrid lilies are a cross between Asiatic and Longiflorum (Christmas) lilies. They are colourful, softly fragrant and very popular for floral use.
Patio Asiatic – Patio Asiatic lilies are shorter and therefore ideal for containers
Patio Oriental – Patio Oriental lilies are also shorter in size and are perfect for pots. They are fragrant like regular Oriental lilies.
Christmas lilies – Christmas lilies are commonly known as Trumpet or Longiflorum lilies. If planted by September, they will flower around Christmas time. Christmas lilies make stunning cut flowers or they can be left in the garden to admire.
Tiger lilies – Tiger lilies make a somewhat unusual addition to the garden. They are tall and are very easy to grow.
How to grow lilies
Lilies can be grown from a bulb or from seed. If grown from store bought bulbs, lilies will flower in their first summer. You can expect lilies grown from seed to flower in around five years.
The most common way to grow lilies is to purchase lily bulbs in winter when they are dormant. It is imperative that lily bulbs remain moist when they are out of the ground. If they dry out, they will fail to grow. This is why they are commonly sold in a bag filled with some dirt or sawdust. You can find lily bulbs in garden centres in winter, from June until early September. Palmers stock a great range of lily varieties every season. As you become a more experienced gardener you might find yourself searching for more specialised varieties. Mail order companies such as Bulbs Direct and NZ Bulbs stock a fantastic range of lilies every winter and deliver directly to your door. I have been a customer of both of these businesses for many years and have always been impressed by the range and quality of their lily bulbs. It’s a good idea to place your order early in the season to avoid missing out on popular varieties which can sell out very quickly.
To plant a lily, dig a hole in the ground about twice as deep as the bulb. Make sure that you loosen the soil around the area. Add some bulb fertiliser and mix well into the soil. Plant the bulb with the roots facing downwards. If the bulb has started to shoot, the green tip should be facing upwards. Cover gently with soil, making sure that you don’t damage any shoots in the process. Water well. It’s a good idea to insert a plant label at the time of planting, so you can find your bulb later on after flowering, when the foliage has died down. Patio varieties can be grown in containers and look fantastic when they are flowering. For taller varieties, some support is recommended. It’s a good idea to place a stake in the ground at the time of planting to avoid damaging the bulb later on.
How to care for lilies
As mentioned above, lilies require very little care. As their most active growing phase occurs in spring when it rains very often, you probably won’t need to water your lilies until November, when it rains less frequently and the soil becomes noticeably drier.
When your lily flowers, you have two options. You can either leave the flower in the garden to admire or you can pick your lily and put it in a vase inside the house. If you choose to pick your lily, make sure you leave at least 1/3 of the stalk in the ground, as this provides nourishment for the bulb after it finishes flowering. Leaving no or little of the stalk will result in poor flowering the following season. As the foliage on your lilies dies down, sprinkle some bulb fertiliser around the base of the plants to feed the bulbs so they flower well the following season.
Multiplication of lily bulbs
Lilies are great value as they multiply profusely. Over the years, I have acquired quite a collection of bulbs without having to purchase additional bulbs each season. There are three ways that you can increase the size of your collection of lily bulbs.
Firstly, lilies multiply underground (or in pots in the case of Patio Asiatic and Patio Oriental lilies) over time. Every few years it’s a good idea to carefully lift your lily bulbs and gently separate the mother bulb from the smaller bulbs which surround it. Don’t leave it until after five years like me, or you will find that the task becomes much more difficult and takes a long time as the bulbs are much bigger. If like me you don’t have a lot of ground space, you can replant the smaller bulbs in a trough until they reach flowering size and are large enough to go into the garden.
Another way to increase your collection of lily bulbs is to remove and transplant the bulbils which form up the stalk of the lily after flowering. This is how I managed to dramatically increase my stock of Christmas lilies which I originally purchased from NZ Bulbs around five years ago. After they had flowered, I noticed that some of the lilies had formed little bulbils up the sides of the stalks. I carefully pulled them off the stalks and planted them in five plastic terracotta troughs filled with potting mix. Some of them flowered last year, although the flowers were shorter than those from the mother bulb. This makes perfect sense, as the mother bulb is older, bigger and therefore produces more and taller flowers. Over the past week, I planted all of these bulbs into the garden. They are a mixture of Triumphator (pink and white) and White Heaven (pure white, as the name suggests) Christmas lilies.
Finally, you can save seed from your plants and try to propagate lilies from seed. If you wish to save seeds from your lilies, you’ll need to leave the flower on the plant. After the flower dies, you will notice that some lilies contain seed pods. Wait until the pods are completely dry on the plant. Carefully cut the pods off the plant, open them and remove the seeds. Let the seeds dry for a couple of months before storing them in a ziplock plastic bag or paper bag. Label and leave them until Spring. You can sow the seeds in a punnet filled with some seed raising mix and leave it outside. I like to use Gardn Gro's seed raising mix as it is fine in texture. Seeds can push through the dirt easily and rise to the surface. It takes awhile for lily seeds to germinate, so be patient. Once leaves start to emerge, let the seedlings grow for a year, after which time you can carefully transplant them to a larger trough or container. Last year, I successfully propagated lilies from seed purchased from a mail order seed company. I also saved some seed from my own plants last season so it will be interesting to see whether I’m able to propagate them successfully this spring. Watch this space.
Promotion from NZ Bulbs – Christmas Lily White Heaven
At the moment, NZ Bulbs are running a promotion on the Christmas Lily White Heaven, which is reduced to just $2 per bulb. This is a reduction of more than a third of the usual retail price and is an excellent bargain. White Heaven is a slightly shorter variety of Christmas lily, making it perfect for picking as it’s not too tall and heavy for a vase. If planted now, White Heaven will flower at Christmas time.