How to grow Liliums
Lilies or ‘Lilliums’ are a favourite flowering bulb, and actually easy care. With many species and even more hybrids available the choice is huge. Shirely and Jane Tonkin have been growing Liliums for many years and share some ideas on the history, cultivation and how to grow these special bulbs.
Lilies (liliums) require a rich very well drained loamy soil, preferably with an easterly aspect with protection from hot afternoon sun, this will also keep the root area cool. Bulbs should be planted about 10cm deep and 20cm apart to give them plenty of room to naturalize.
When planting, the soil should be enriched with a complete fertiliser or blood and bone, it should be noted that some species prefer a very alkaline soil.
They require water at least once a week during active growing period from November to the end of January. However it is important that liliums are never left water-logged. Mulching around the bulbs will help retain the moisture and keep root zone cooler.
Lilies can be propagated from seed (only species will come true to parental type), offsets from main bulb and in some varieties bulbils found in the leaf axis. If you are game ‘scaling’ the main bulb can produce small bulbils when these scales are placed in damp peat and kept in a warm, position. The cupboard above the stove serves as a great spot for us!!
Lilies are such an exceptional addition to any garden and can be very rewarding. One of Bryan’s favourite liliums was the species Lilium wardii. He always admired its’ grace and beauty. When this beautiful lilium flowers we are forever reminded that a little part of the great man is with us. Both of us now have a real love and respect for the species especially the reflexed types. Nature has a magical way of producing many things that should not be lost or tampered with!
The Magic of the Lilium
A brief look at Lillium History.
These well known garden delights form a genus of around 100 species native to the temperate and mountainous areas, of Europe, North America and Japan. The largest number of species can be found in China and the Himalayas. Lilies have long been associated with religious beliefs dating back as far as the Egyptian’s who believed them to have sacred properties. The Madonna lily for example was the sacred flower of the ‘The Virgin Mary’ and other Renaissance paintings show this lily to be a sign of purity. Interestingly it is said that the Romans used the leaves of the Madonna Lily as a healing agent from Scorpion stings through to child-birth (we wouldn’t want to try this!). Whereas in Greek mythology the lily was said to be the flower of Zeus’s wife Hera. It is thought to have been ‘BC’ that the first liliums were cultivated by the Cretans. They have been extensively cultivated and hybridized in the 20th century, producing many fascinating and often hardier garden and commercial varieties.
Lilium flowers are very diverse in both colour and form allowing a greater variety of choice. Blooms are six petalled and can be cup, bowl, trumpet or reflexed in their shape and are often scented. These blooms borne at the top of the stem can be upright, outward facing or nodding. Stems can be from 30cm to 3metres depending on the variety. Leaves vary from grass like foliage to broader elongated ones that are either scattered up the stem or arranged in ‘whorls’ (a perfect ring of leaves around the stem). Bulbs are made up of fleshy scales attached to the basal plate from which the roots appear. They are either concentric (where bulb holds the same shape and offspring are produced around the basal plate) or rhizomatous (where the offspring are borne at the end of a ‘branch’ grown out from the mother bulb).
Planting and Growing Liliums
The time to plant liliums in Australia is from winter through to early spring. best planted as soon as they are purchased remember that unlike some other bulbs lilies do not like to dry out, so be wary of ‘pre packaged bulbs’ that look little on the dry side.
Dividing lilies is only needed when the clump becomes ‘over crowded’ in fact lilies seem to resent being disturbed so divide only when needed.
They can be divided any time when dormant, winter to spring. Make sure you dig well away and then under from the bulbs themselves to avoid spade or fork damage.
They are best replanted as soon as possible to avoid drying.
Liliums like lots of light, but filtered in all but the coolest areas where full sun is OK.
Generally lilies are easy to care for and have few problems, some issues are:
- Soggy or wet conditions can cause the bulbs to rot, if you lilies seems to just ‘disappear’ they have probably rotted away. Good drainage is essential.
- Aphids can attach new buds, a insecticidal or horticultural soap usually fixes this.
- Humidity can cause fungal problems, good air circulation usually controls this
- Bulbs can be eaten by mice, rabbits and other pests.