Decisions, decisions -- elegant blooms come in a host of sizes, shapes and colors

Nan Sterman,  – January 22, 2007

Size and fragrance, or color and number of flowers? These may be your hardest decisions when choosing lilies ― those elegant, six-petaled, trumpet-shaped flowers that bloom in summer.

Asiatic lilies: Bold and reliable, each 1½- to 4-foot-tall stem produces five to seven flowers in shades of gold, orange, pink, red, or white in early summer; petals may be speckled, banded, or clear.

Start with three top-size bulbs this year and have a dozen flowers by the following summer. Try yellow ‘Desert Flower’, red-orange ‘Soiree’, or ‘Oklahoma’, whose gold petals fade to raspberry pink at the tips. Sunset climate zones A1-A3, 1-9, and 14-24.

Oriental lilies: These start flowering just as Asiatics finish. Their out-facing or upright blooms range in color from white to deep raspberry. They’re often bicolored and spotted ― and always extremely fragrant. Top-size bulbs produce three to five flowers per stem the first year, 10 to 20 blooms when mature. Grow pure white ‘Casablanca’ or deep raspberry and red-freckled ‘Starfighter’. In hot inland areas, try bright yellow Oriental/trumpet lily hybrid ‘Conca d’Or’. Zones 1-9, 14-24. 

Species lilies: Instead of the typical trumpet shape, these lilies sport Turk’s cap flowers with recurved petals. Humboldt lily ( Lilium humboldtii, zones 3, 7, 14-24) has golden orange flowers with maroon dots. Moisture-loving leopard lily ( L. pardalinum, zones 2-7, 14-17) has orange to orange-red flowers with brown spotting. Eurasian native Turk’s cap lily ( Lilium martagon, zones 1-10, 14-17) produces up to 50 flowers per stem.

How to cut: Snip when buds crack open, leaving two-thirds of the plant to recharge the bulb for next year’s bloom. To extend vase life, strip off lower leaves, and add a teaspoon of bleach and a pinch of sugar to the water. To avoid stains, carefully pluck off and discard gold or brown stamens. 

What lilies need
Set bulbs in the ground immediately after purchasing them (wait until the ground thaws in cold climates).

Planting: Choose a site in full sun or dappled shade with well-drained soil. Locate bulbs away from foot traffic to protect fragile stems and flowers. Dig holes 6 to 7 inches apart and 8 inches deep; position bulbs with pointed side up. Refill the hole and water to settle the soil. Mulch to keep the soil damp and bulbs cool.

Fertilizing: In spring, top-dress the soil with a low-nitrogen fertilizer.

Watering: Most types of lily bulbs never go dormant, so water regularly during the growing season, then occasionally the rest of the year. The exception is Humboldt lily ― allow it to go dry during summer dormancy.

Sources: B&D Lilies, the Lily Garden (360/253-6273), or Lilies in the Valley (705/732-2224)