Oriental and Asiatic lilies are some of my favourite cut flowers to grow.
They're easy-care, multiplying each year, with spectacularly showy summer blooms that are long-lasting in a vase.
Orientals typically have a powerful scent, with colours ranging from white through to pinks and deep burgundy reds. There are no oranges in Oriental hybrids, and yellow appears only in the centre of the bloom. Their flowers are usually outward facing or pendant, although some of the newer hybrids have upward facing blooms.
If you like your yellows, oranges and brick reds, look to the Asiatic types. There are a few cream and pale pink varieties available too, though typically I think of Asiatics as bright and bold.
Asiatics don't have a fragrance, though their stems are very sturdy and their heads are upward facing (although some have outward facing blooms and others are pendant), which is why they are great for the cut flower industry.
Upward-facing lilies are great for containers too. Place them on a patio or deck where their blooms can be admired from above. Asiatics are very hardy, so commercial growers like them too.
Asiatic lilies bloom before the Oriental lilies do, from around late November or early December. The Orientals bloom from either January or February through to March.
There are trumpet lilies too. The flowers of these varieties are generally downward facing or pendant and they also have a sweet scent. They begin to flower in December, just in time for Christmas. The Christmas lily (Lilium regale) is well known for that; its deliciously fragrant white blooms that are shaded rose-pink on the outside perfuming the air at Christmas-time.
If you want to grow the regale lily in bulk, you can buy seeds from Kings Seeds.
Trumpet lilies come in many shades and are cold-hardy as well as tolerant of summer temperatures of 30deg.
You'll find lily bulbs in garden centres from around June or July. That's because they require a good winter chilling for flower development in summer, so the cool ground between now and September is the perfect time for planting. Plant them as soon as you bring them home. Lily bulbs have no outer papery layer so they're prone to drying out. When selecting bulbs from the garden centre, avoid those that are dry or damaged.
Plant in a light, humus- rich soil in sun to light shade. Most lilies like their heads in full sun and their feet in cool soil, so make sure you mulch the ground in spring and summer. Dig in lots of compost or leaf mould at planting time - a soil with 50 per cent organic matter is perfect for lilies.
Free-draining soil is a must. Although lilies like their soil moist, bulbs won't survive water- logging. Plant in raised beds if necessary, or grow in containers.
The usual planting depth is about twice the size of the bulb, around 10cm below the soil surface. Though because they like their feet cool in summer, a planting depth of 15cm is fine.
While lily bulbs are hardy, the soft sprouting tips can be damaged by late frosts. You might like to cover the tips if a heavy frost is expected.
Feed plants with a balanced fertiliser when they emerge, and once again a month later. They won't need anything more than that, unless your soil is very poor. If you feed your lilies with too much nitrogen, their stems may be weak. Too much nitrogen may also contribute to bulb rot.
When cutting your flowers for indoors, leave behind the bottom one-third (at least) of the stem. What's left behind will help build up the food supplies inside your bulbs for flowering the following year.
NEW LILIES AVAILABLE
Take a look at what's on offer at your local garden centre, or look out for these new varieties from online mailorder nurseries.
Lilium 'Papiljo' is an Oriental lily with a soft fragrance and soft pink and lemon blooms. Its strong stems, up to 1m high, do not require staking. From Parva Plants.
Lilium 'Lilac Cloud' is a double Oriental lily with deep pink petals with a lilac overlay. Each bulb produces five to six blooms per stem, all with a fine fragrance. They're perfect for picking. Height: 1m. From GardenPost.
Lilium 'Lionheart' is a striking Asiatic lily with narrow near- black petals with contrasting bright yellow tips and centres. It's an easy-to-grow lily with sturdy stems reaching 90cm high. From Parva Plants.
Lilium 'Candy Blossom' is an Asiatic lily with spotted candy- pink blooms. The double blooms sit atop sturdy stems that reach 1m high. A great lily for picking. Available from GardenPost.
- The Southland Times