Lilies are my favorite flowers. Big, colorful and often fragrant, they are the highlights of my midsummer garden. While they are relatively easy to grow, I'm sharing my care tips learned over more than 25 years.
True lilies differ from other plants that are also called lilies, such as daylilies and canna lilies. True lilies grow from bulbs that resemble artichokes. Their upright stems carry many short leaves; the stalk is crowned with clusters of flower in either June, July or August, depending upon the variety.
Lily species are found throughout the northern hemisphere. Three main groups are commonly grown in gardens. These are the June-blooming Asiatics and the later-blooming trumpets and Orientals. Many hybrids have been bred--even between these groups and including genes from Easter lilies--so the lines of distinction between the groups has become somewhat blurry. Trumpet lilies and oriental hybrids are very fragrant, while the Asiatic group is largely scentless.
All of these lilies are hardy except for the Easter lily. Native to southern Asia, it's a struggle for it to survive here. If you'd like to try to save your Easter decoration, plant it close to a foundation that might just keep the soil warm enough in winter. If successful, it will revert to blooming in June next year.
With lilies, soil is everything. It must be fertile and well-drained. Heavy clay isn't suitable. If your garden soil won't suit lilies, grow them in pots. I grow many dozens in five gallon plastic pots. Use a premium potting soil; if the bag you buy is full of chopped wood, that won't work for lilies--or anything else.
Either in the ground or in pots, plant the lily bulbs about six inches deep. Provide nearly full sun although afternoon shade is a benefit. The shade will protect the flowers on hot days with low humidity. Keep the soil moist but not soggy. Lilies will rot if over-watered.
After the flowers fade, snip off only the seed pod. Never cut back the whole stem as you will be cutting off the leaves the bulbs need to regenerate for next season. If you grow your lilies in pots they will need winter protection. It is just too cold in pots for them to make it through the winter. Store the lilies in their pots in a very cool, dark place such as an unheated garage or basement room. Keep them just slightly moist. with care, they will prosper and multiply for many years.