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lilies

Under ideal conditions, Asiatic lilies can grow to about six feet tall.

By Ellen Barcel

This is the second article in a three-part series.

Last week we looked at a number of plants that have the word “lily” in their names but aren’t true lilies. Now, let’s take a look at true lilies.

What botanically is a lily? According to the North American Lily Society (www.lilies.org), “The bulb is the most distinguishing characteristic. It is composed of fleshy scales without a protective outer coating. A true lily is never dormant … it must be considered and treated as a living perennial plant. … Lily flowers, though completely varied in size, shape and color, always have six tepals and six anthers.” The society also comments on the fact that lilies are very fragrant flowers and have leaves on the same stem as the flowers.

Note how the lily buds are on top of the stems filled with leaves. Photo by Ellen Barcel

There are over 100 species in the genius Lilium. Check the variety you are considering because the cultural requirements are not necessarily the same across the board. In general, lily bulbs are planted in fall since they need a cold winter to thrive. Like daffodils, if they are planted in the deep south, they need to be refrigerated first before planting.

Lilies need a fair amount of sunshine to thrive and do best in a moist but well-drained soil. They do well in an acidic soil, down as low as a pH of 5.5 but do tolerate a higher pH. Remove spent flowers but take no more than one-third of the stem since it’s filled with the leaves, which are helping the plant grow.

Always check the package tag, but in general, lilies need to be planted deeply as they grow very tall. Since once planted, lilies will return year after year, you need to periodically apply fertilizer. I prefer natural fertilizers like compost, compost tea or fish emulsion, but the choice is yours. With Long Island’s generally sandy soil, make sure you add compost when planting them.

Easter lily (Lilium longiflorum) is a scented native of the Ryukyu Islands. The white Easter lily is sold throughout the United States, usually for the holiday. Easter lilies are hardy in zones 7 to 9. As a result, you may find that your holiday plant will not survive in your garden if there is an unusually cold winter or if you have not heavily mulched the bed where they are growing over winter. Be careful with Easter lilies as they are toxic to cats.

Lilies come in a variety of colors including red, yellow, white, pink and orange. Photo by Ellen Barcel

Tiger lily (L. lancefolium also known as L. tigrinum) is one of several lilies known collectively as tiger lilies and are natives of Asia, known for their showy orange flowers. Bulblets can form along the stem at the leaf axis and can be used to propagate these plants.

Asiatic lilies (L. asiatica) tend to bloom earlier than Oriental lilies. They come in many colors and sizes ranging from just about a foot tall to about six feet tall.

Oriental lilies (L. oriental) bloom in mid to late summer and can grow quite tall, some almost eight feet tall. Flowers tend to be white, pink, red or bicolored.

Dwarf Oriental lilies are as their name implies quite small, some that can easily be grown in containers. They are hardy in zones 5 through 9, so yes, you can comfortably grow them on Long Island.

Next week we’ll take a look at daylilies.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.

Water lilies are not true lilies.

By Ellen Barcel

This is the first article in a three-part series.

There are many plants in the garden with the word “lily” in their name. But, all are not true lilies (genus Lilium). There’s calla lily, plantain lily and toad lily to name just a few as well as mountain lilies (Ixiolirion tatarcum).

But, why should the gardener be interested in what is a lily and what is not? Why do we care what botanists think? Well, for one thing, many plants that are not true lilies have different garden requirements.

Hostas, though sometimes referred to as plantain lilies, are not true lilies. Photo by Ellen Barcel

Take, for example, the plantain lily — the hosta — which prefers shade or only filtered sun. Lily of the valley too prefers shade. That’s very different from the calla lily, which requires a fair amount of sun. In addition, calla lilies are generally hardy from zone 8 to 10 or 11. Long Island is zone 7; so calla lily bulbs need to be lifted and stored over winter in our area or treated as annuals. You don’t need to lift hostas or lilies of the valley each fall since they are herbaceous perennials and hardy on Long Island.

Then there’s the question of toxicity. Easter lilies are poisonous to cats, and lily of the valley and calla lilies are considered to be highly poisonous (to people as well as pets). On the other hand, the flowers of some daylilies (Hemerocallis) are edible and used in Asian cooking.

So, yes, save those tags, label your plants and follow the directions that came with your purchase for successful “lilies” in your garden.

Some lilies are not lilies at all

I. tatarcum is usually known as the blue mountain lily, Siberian lily or lavender mountain lily. This is a small plant (12 to 15 inches high), a native of Asia, that is hardy in zones 3 to 9. Once planted (usually in fall) it will come back year after year. Its flowers come in shades of blue and violet. Because of its size and hardiness, it makes an ideal plant in the rock garden.

The fragrant, long-lasting flowers make good cut flowers as well, blooming late spring to early summer. So, consider adding some to your cutting garden. One more plus – it’s deer resistant. You need to do very little to this plant to have it come back year after year. To help it multiply, scatter the ripe seeds in other areas of the garden.

Water lilies are not true lilies either but are in the family Nymphaeaceae. Water lilies have leaves (pads) and flowers that float on or show above the water but are rooted in the soil beneath. They are divided into three types: hardy, night blooming (tropical) and day blooming (tropical). To grow water lilies you need a freshwater pond or water feature. If you select hardy ones, then you don’t need to lift the rhizomes over winter.

The toad lily works well in a shade or rock gardens.

The toad lily (genus Tricyrtis) includes a number of species including T. formosana, T. hira (hairy toad lily) and T. macrantha (yellow flowers). Toad lilies are shade-loving perennials, hardy generally from zones 4 to 8 and bloom with delicate purple, plum or lavender flowers that appear in late summer and fall. The plant is somewhat deer resistant and is propagated by division but can also be grown from seed. This is a small plant and works well in a shade garden or rock garden.

In addition to plantain lily, hostas (old name funkia) are sometimes referred to as August lily or Corfu lily. They were once classified in the family Liliaceae (due to the flowers resemblance to true lilies) but are now classified in the family Agavaceae, genus Hosta. Like the true lily, they are herbaceous perennials. They grow from underground corms or rhizomes, doing well in shade. While they are grown primarily for their leaves, they do have flowers, which are usually white or pale purple, sometimes fragrant.

Next week we’ll take a look at true lilies.

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850. 

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