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Selecting hardy lilies for your garden

Corso Oriental Lily. Photo by Wally Peck

Lilies provide an easy to grow, impressive display in your garden.

By selecting bulbs that bloom from early to late-season, you can have lilies from mid-June to September. Lilies are easy to care for and each bulb can grow to become an impressive clump.

When selecting lily bulbs to grow, it's important to understand what the different terms to describe them mean. First of all, all plants with lily in their names are not true lilies. Examples would be day lilies or peace lilies. True lilies have distinctive characteristics to help identify them. They grow from bulbs that are fleshy with overlapping scales and no protective covering. Their stems are stiff with strappy leaves from top to bottom and the flowers appear in clusters at the top. Flowers can vary and be trumpet shaped, bell shaped, downward facing or have reflexed petals. Some are wonderfully fragrant.

There are many different species of lilies available and all are not hardy in Minnesota. When selecting bulbs make sure they are hardy to Zone 3 or 4. Asiatic and Oriental lilies are the most common lilies for Northern gardens. The Asiatics are the most hardy and are not particularly fussy about soil as long as it is well drained. The Orientals are more tender, but are desirable because of their large showy blooms and wonderful fragrance. Some familiar varieties are "Casa Blanca" and "Stargazer." Mulching them really well in the fall will help them survive our cold winters. The OT, Orienpet, or Oriental-trumpet lilies (all the same, just different descriptions) are lilies that have Oriental and or Trumpet lilies in the breeding line. These lilies can have stunning, fragrant blooms similar to the Orientals. They, too, are a little less hardy and will benefit from a good mulch for winter. Another lily that's hardy in our zone is the Martagon or Turk's cap lily. This lily takes a few years to establish and will grow in a part-shade environment.

Lily bulbs can be planted in spring or fall. In our area. plant by mid to late September, or lilies in containers found in the garden centers in spring can be planted as soon as the soil has warmed. Lily bulbs are never completely dormant and must not dry out.They need to be planted as soon as possible after purchase. Asiatic and Oriental lilies grow best in full sun, at least six to eight hours per day. In less sun, they tend to be weak-stemmed, spindly and floppy. Choose an area with good air circulation and well-drained soil. Fertilize with a complete flower or rose fertilizer labeled 5-10-10 as soon as sprouts emerge in spring when they are growing fast to make a stem and again just as the flowers are opening and the bulb has exhausted its store of food. About a tablespoon for each large stem should be all you need.

Now is the time to think about planting new lily bulbs for a beautiful display in next year's garden. Get your catalogs out and order some bulbs.

Refer to the revamped and updated University Of Minnesota Extension Service website,, for more information on horticultural topics.

Local Master Gardeners will answer your questions on home horticulture. Call (218) 444-7916, leave your name, number and question and you will receive a return phone call.