From the ground up: Showcase lilies in your garden

Many plants called “lily” aren’t lilies at all. Day lilies, lily of the valley and peace lily aren’t members of the lily family. True lilies are in the genus Lilium and they grow from fleshy bulbs with overlapping scales.

Lilies are great flowers for the garden because of their showy and sometimes fragrant flowers. They have trumpet-shaped flowers sitting on top of tall stems, making them visible throughout the garden. Several different varieties mean you can have flowers from spring to fall.

Asiatic lilies bloom early. There are white, pink, yellow, orange and red hybrids, varying in height from 1 foot to as tall as 6 feet. The Asiatic lily doesn’t have much fragrance, but they do well in flower arrangements, so that’s a plus.

Oriental hybrids bloom mid-to-late summer, just about when the Asiatic lilies are fading. The Oriental lily has a strong fragrance that is most intense after dark and they often produce masses of big white, pink, red or bicolor blooms.

Plant lily bulbs in autumn, usually mid-September through October. For the best effect, plant bulbs in groups of three or five identical bulbs. Plant small bulbs 2 to 4 inches deep and larger bulbs two to three times as deep as the bulbs are high.

Lilies need well-drained, fertile soil in a spot that gets about six to eight hours of sun a day. The well-drained soil is a must, so amend your soil if necessary to get good drainage. It’s a good idea to have low plants around them to keep roots from drying out. When lilies are actively growing, keep them well watered with about an inch of water every week.

As the flowers fade, cut back stalks to the base of the plant. You can divide plants after they bloom. Divide them every three years or so, or when it seems that they’re not blooming as well. Replant them with some compost and bonemeal to fertilize.

Lilies can be carefree if planted correctly, but if we have a wet, cool spring or summer, gray mold could be a problem. Deer, rabbits and other critters also may eat the plants. You may want to use wire cages for bulbs if that’s a problem.

Day lilies are different from lilies. Day lilies are in the genus Hemerocallis and have flowers that bloom for one day. However, there are many buds per stalk, and many stalks per plant, so flowering is often weeks long. Plant in the spring in sun for light tones (yellows), part-shade for darker tones (reds).

Any of these hardy, colorful additions are beautiful for your sunny garden, giving you bright blooms all summer long. For answers to your garden questions, call the Linn County Extension Hortline at (319) 447-0647.

•Jean Wilson is a Linn County Master Gardener.

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