How to grow lilies
The lily is known for its fabulous-looking, scented flowers, which are so often used as cut flowers. Many people think they are hard to grow, but you can grow you own without too much work, and they will flower for you year after year.
What you need to know about a lily
Name: lily, Oriental lily, Asiatic lily, Christmas lily, tiger lily Lilium species and varieties.
Height: around 1–1.5m, depending on variety
Climate: cold temperate, warm temperate, arid/semi-arid and sub-tropical. Frost tolerant.
Soil: prefers deep, well-drained soil that doesn’t dry out.
Position: full sun to light shade.
Flowering: showy, perfumed flowers that are often highly scented, in late spring and summer.
Feeding: regular feeding with a balanced, controlled-release fertiliser.
Watering: regular watering to keep the soil damp.
Appearance and characteristics of a lily
The true varieties of lily are those of the Lilium genus, and all grow from bulbs formed underground. Depending on the variety, your lily will flower in late spring or summer. The flowers appear at the top of an erect stalk that has well-spaced green lance-shaped leaves.
The plants die down in autumn to go through a short dormant phase before growing again in later winter.
Lily flowers are trumpet shaped, and in some varieties the petals curve right back on themselves. Flower colours vary from white, pink and orange and often feature stripes, dots and other patterns on the petals.
There are many plants that carry the common name of “lily” but are not true liliums as described above. These include: Peruvian lily (Alstroemeria), peace lily (Spathiphyllum), calla lily (Zantedeschia), day lily (Hemerocallis) and canna lily (Canna).
Uses for a lily
Lily is probably best recognised as a cut flower. However, it can be grown in a garden bed to add height and perfume to a mixed garden.
It can also be grown in pots and containers. These can be used to decorate outdoor entertaining areas and then, when the lily is looking a bit ratty after flowering, you can shift it to an out-of-the-way spot in the garden for when it dies down.
How to plant and grow lilies
Grow your lily from a bulb that is planted in autumn. Choose a sunny spot, or one that is lightly shaded. Ideally, the ground should be covered in mulch or a ground cover to keep the root run cool. The soil should be improved with some compost. Feed regularly and consider lifting the dormant bulbs every few years so you can rejuvenate the soil.
If growing your lily in a container, make sure to use a good-quality potting mix with a wetting agent and complete fertiliser mixed in. You need to re-pot your lily into fresh potting mix about every two years, to keep the bulbs strong and producing flowers. Do this in autumn.
A lily likes a consistent supply of water, so keep the soil damp and don’t let it dry out for too many days between waterings.
Caring for a lily
It is best to stake a lily, as it can get top heavy and you wouldn’t want the stem to snap. Make sure you put the stake a little way back from the plant to ensure so you don’t put it through the bulb. Tie the growing stem to the stake loosely with a soft tie string that won’t cut into the stem.
A lily won’t need special pruning. What you can do is remove old flowers when they have finished so the energy goes into the emerging flowers, rather than into forming seed pods.
Diseases and pests
Aphids can occasionally be a problem on the soft new growth of lilies. Watch out for these and control as soon as they occur.
How to grow lilies from cuttings
Some varieties of lily form very small bulbs at the spot where the leaf meets the stem. In autumn, take these off and pot them up. They may take two or three years to grow to flowering size.
Baby plants can be formed by breaking away three or four of the scales off the main bulb – a bit like taking garlic off the main bulb. Do this in autumn, and pot the individual scales into pots.
If you like this then try
Lisianthus: a great plant to grow for its flowers, which are one of the longest-lasting in a vase.
Gerbera: showy large daisy flowers, perfect for the garden or for picking for indoors.
Alstroemeria: showy lily-like flowers that are long-lasting.
Gladioli: sword-like foliage and a stem of bright flowers in summer for the garden or a vase.
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