Lilies are the favorite food of rabbits in my yard! They eat the leaves off the stalk and stand on their hind feet to reach up as far as possible. So I have several little fenced yards inside my back yard.  The one lily they don’t seem to bother is the old fashioned tiger lily. This lily produces little black beadlike bulblets in each leaf axil.

          Until a few years ago the only time you could get bulbs was in the fall.  Now they have improved dormant conditions and spring purchases are possible. One of the questions people often ask is, “What do I do with this Easter lily?” I tell them, keep them healthy as possible until it is warm enough to plant outside. Easter lilies are not always the same species. The only requirement is to be white! Some will be hardy and some will not. They won’t bloom for Easter again. Growers force them into bloom by having lights on (just the opposite as is used for poinsettias.)

          Lilies used to be much more costly than some of the ones we can get now. Here in Lincoln every fall there comes a sale of fairly inexpensive ones. These are usually Asiatic lilies which for me are the easiest to grow. However, there are Lily specialists who have the expensive ones, i.e., a new color, ruffles, more blooms, blooming early or late, and re-blooming. This means you can have a lily blooming most of the summer and fall. Many of them are listed as Hardiness Zone 3 so Lincoln and Central Nebraska’s (Zone 5) cold does not disturb most.

          Lilies do not like wet feet! Especially during winter, or they will rot. They work every well in raised beds. Many growers recommend a deep hole with gravel in the bottom. I have had the short lilies growing in whisky barrels for years. They seem to do better and divide more than those in the garden. Probably due to better drainage.  Some lilies may grow as tall as 9 feet and need support when the heavy flowers develop. Other may never get over 2 feet tall.

          Some people classify lilies into two types: those that face upward and those that face out. The general classification lately has been by hybrid classes. The Asiatics are usually June blooming, easy to grow, with many colors, and 2 to 5 feet high. Aurelian hybrids (sometimes call Trumpets) are 3 to 8 feet high, usually fragrant. The Orientals are 2 to 7 feet tall, also fragrant, blooming a little later, and usually are spotted. In his group are the Imperials in red, pink, and silver. In the last several years a new name has arrived: the Orienpet which is a new line of hybrids of Oriental and Trumpet lilies. These are about 4 feet tall with 8 to 9 inch wide blooms.  These are the ones I intend to try this fall.

          Lilies are never really dormant so don’t wait to plant them! A rule that can be used is 3 times the depth of the bulb. Some do better in partial shade so the colors will not fade as fast. Madonna lilies must be planted as early as possible in the fall and not covered by more than 2 inches of soil.

          Fertilize at the beginning of the growing season to encourage larger plants. If the season is dry, keep the ground moist, not wet by watering until bloom time is over.  Then reduce watering, giving them some time in drier soil. I cut mine off if the foliage browns or a frost occurs. If your lilies are in pots they will need fertilizer more often as it tends to run out the drainage holes. When choosing a fertilizer try to get one that is “balanced” and also has the minor nutrients, especially if you use the same potting soil more than one year.

Usually I dump most of my pots each fall so it can’t freeze enough to harm the pots. As it freezes the water can expand and put pressure on the pot sides. Clay pots, especially, are likely to break under these conditions. When I dump the soil out, the soil goes in a big pile. Then to two parts of the potting soil, I add about one part of compost. Mix well. If the pile isn’t too big it will freeze during the winter, hopefully killing any “bugs” that have made it their home.

(Copyright June 19, 2005)