CARING FOR LILIES

LILIES are among the most beautiful of all garden bulbs. There is no need to feel that they are difficult plants best left to the expert.

Lily bulbs consist of a mass of overlapping scales and as these are liable to dry out they should not be exposed for very long to light and air, otherwise the bulbs may’suffer badly. For this reason it is best to buy from a reputable bulb supplier or from a specialist dealer in lily bulbs. Some lilies produce their roots from the base of the bulb only. Others produce feeding roots from their stems as they grow and these, known as ‘stem-rooting lilies’, are planted more deeply than non-stem-rooting kinds so that their stem roots will have something into which to grow. Actual depth of planting depends to a great extent on the type of soil.

On very light well-drained sandy soils they should be planted 7 or 8 in. deep. On heavy clay or loam it is enough to plant them with 5 in. of soil covering the bulb. Most non-stem-rooting kinds need to be covered with about 2 in. of soil. An exception is the Madonna lily (Lilium candidum) which should be planted with the tip of the bulb showing or only slightly covered at the most. Lilies grow best in a freely draining soil. They may be grown successfully on heavy soils but only if these are prepared properly. This means digging them over deeply and improving the drainage by digging clinkers, coarse ashes or gritty sand. Humus is essential for lilies. Some soils contain a good deal of this, particularly those of a leafy nature. But most soils are capable of improvement and benefit from having leafmould, compost or moist peat dug in freely. The light sandy soils tend to be ‘hungry’ and will swallow up large quantities of compost, leafmould and peat. These soils should be mulched each year with these substances, preferably in the spring, as the mulch will then also help to retain moisture and keep the soil below it cool.

A few lilies do not do well on chalky or limy soils. But there are so many that will either tolerate lime in the soil, or actually need it, that the gardener who has this kind of soil has no need to worry.

As far as the planting situation is concerned, lilies in general like to have a cool root run with the bottoms of their stems in shade, but many of them will flower in full sun. Thus good positions are among shrubs whose height is less than that of the lilies, so that the lily stems and flowers can overtop them as they grow.

On light soils bulbs may be planted in the autumn or spring as they become available from suppliers. But on heavy soils it is better to wait until the spring before planting. On all soils. Even I hough they are well drained, it is best to provide extra drainage at planting time. This means that after a hole of suitable depth has been taken out with a trowel, a little heap of sand or fine gravel should be plared in the bottom on which the bulb can rest. Once the bulb is in place, more of the sand or gravel should be placed round it. This extra drainage material will ensure that water does not lie around or under the bulb to rot it. This being one of the most frequent causes of failure’ with lily bulbs.

Some of the taller lilies may need staking later in the summer otherwise their stems may be broken by wind. To provide stakes when planting is unnecessary. And few gardeners want to see a small forest of tall stakes spoiling the look of the garden. However, if staking is left until the stems have grown Up there is the distinct danger of damaging the bulbs when the stake is thrust into the ground close to them. This can be overcome by putting in a short cane by each bulb at planting lime and replacing this with a taller cane later.

As the summer advances it will be necessary to chaw up soil round (he lower stems of the stem-rooting lilies, or to mulch round them with rolled compost, leafy soil or a mixture of these and damp peat. Like most plants lilies benefit from summer feeding. Much of their food requirements will be supplied by the mulch of compost and leaf-mould but other safe plant foods are finely ground bonemcal and hoof and horn meal. Both these may be applied at the rate of 2 oz. Per square yard, scattered on the soil round the plants and afterwards watered in. Do not hoe round the plants, especially the stem-rooting kinds, otherwise they may be damaged inadvertently- Instead, when weeding is necessary it should be clone by hand.

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