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Lush Lilies

My sister recently gave me some pictures she had taken at my daughter’s graduation party in May. In one of the pictures was, of course, my daughter as beautiful as ever, but in the background there was a planting of lilies in full bloom. They looked great, but I could not remember planting them there or what type they were.

Let’s all admit it. You plant something and you don’t write down the name or you don’t save the tag because you are sure you will never forget it, but the very next year you can’t remember what it is.

There are more than 60 true lilies or lilium species to choose from, but many of them are nearly impossible to find. The two main groups of hybrid lilies that are relatively easy to find and purchase come from either the Asiatic or the Oriental hybrid lily groups.

Even within each of these two groups, there are dozens upon dozens of cultivars to choose from and there is often much confusion. Some Asiatic hybrids are mistakenly called Oriental and some Oriental hybrids are mistakenly called Asiatic. Even in our garden store, we often label them Asiatic/Oriental hybrids because sometimes we just aren’t sure.

Lily growth
As a general rule, Asiatic hybrid lily flowers are 3-4 inches across, not fragrant, bloom in late spring to early summer, and can have a slight nod or tilt when fully open. Oriental hybrid lily flowers are generally larger, 5-7 inches across, fragrant, and bloom typically in late summer. The leaves of the Oriental lilies are often larger and more lush than the Asiatic lilies.

Growing conditions are the same for both. Full sun is best, but they do surprisingly well in part shade. In the shade, they tend to grow a little taller and can be floppy. They look their best in full sun. Well-drained soil is a must, but both types of hybrid lilies will grow in a variety of soil types. They perform quite well in my dry clay soil.

The amazing trumpet-like flowers come in a variety of colors, but mostly a variation of white, pink, red, and orange is what you’ll see. Some can be a combination of colors like the Oriental lily Stargazer, which is white, pink, and speckled.

Most popular lilies
The Stargazer and Casablanca lilies are probably two of the most asked-for lilies available today. Both are as popular as a cut flower as they are a plant for the garden. With any lily, the orange pollen in the center of the flower is quite attractive, but we suggest removing the pollen when using them as cut flowers or transporting them home if they are in full bloom. The orange pollen can make a tough stain to remove.

I never noticed how fragrant some lilies really are until I used Stargazer lilies as a cut flower centerpiece at a party. It wasn’t so noticeable at the time of the party, but, wow, the next day I came home and my daughter had put the bouquet outside because, while pleasant, the aroma was quite strong.

Care in the garden
Caring for Oriental and Asiatic lilies in the garden after blooming is quite simple. I recommend removing the spent flowers to prevent seed production. Then allow the foliage to grow naturally throughout the summer and die back naturally after frost before you cut them back.

In years past, you would always purchase dormant lily bulbs and plant them in the garden in the spring. Although you can still do this today, the Asiatic and Oriental lilies are more often purchased already growing in nursery pots in the perennial section of your favorite garden store. For other types of lilies or a more unusual selection of Asiatic and Oriental lilies, your best bet is still purchasing dormant bulbs either by mail or ordering them online.

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