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Garden Journal

Asiatic lilies provide lots of bang for the buck

By Paul Barbano | Sep 26, 2012
To keep Asiatic lilies blooming for years to come, cut or break off flowers after they fade.

In 1908, Edward A. Filene came up with the idea of selling closeout merchandise in the basement of his father's store, and Filene's Automatic Bargain Basement was born. Many gardeners have been looking for bargain basement deals ever since.

One of the best bargain basement flowers is the Asiatic lily. In bulk, you can pay as little as 35 cents per bulb.  Even small boxes of Asiatic bulbs are often less than $1 a bulb.

Asiatic lilies grow from bulbs made of fleshy, overlapping scales.  They have stiff stems with slender strap-like leaves. The large, showy flowers grow at the tip of each stem.

Asiatic lilies are great for beginners because they are nearly foolproof. They grow from two to four feet tall and do well in large beds and can spread or naturalize.

These hardy flowers need no staking, do well in almost any soil, and multiply for years.

For a long bloom period of June through August, try a naturalizing mix of Asiatic lilies.  There are hundreds if not thousands of individual varieties so you can choose Asiatics to match your color scheme.  Enchantment is a June-blooming orange, along with the yellow Connecticut King. Late June-early July brings the pink Corsica, and dark pink Crete. You can plant Asiatic lily bulbs from mid-September through mid-October.

When buying bulbs locally, choose firm, fleshy bulbs with roots attached. Because bulbs never really go completely dormant, plant them immediately so they do not dry out.

Asiatic lilies grow best in average soil in full sunlight.  For good drainage, add lots of compost or other organic matter to the soil.

Try a south-facing raised bed that drains well.  Plant each bulb about four inches deep or three times the height of the bulb.

Luckily, lilies’ roots will actually pull the plant down to the correct depth, so it is better to plant them too shallowly rather than too deep. A moderate soil pH of around 6.5 is best, but these bargains do well nearly everywhere. For best effect, plant Asiatic lilies in large drifts or beds.  Individually, try a cluster of five or more bulbs to form a clump.  Space the bulbs eight to 12 inches apart.

In the late fall or early winter, put a nice layer of organic mulch over your Asiatic lilies. In spring, keep the mulch in place until all danger of killing frost is past. Fertilizing is not necessary, and can do more harm than good.  Too much nitrogen will grow lots of lush leaves and few flowers.  If you must fertilize, choose a slow-release organic fertilizer such as bone meal that is rich in phosphorus.

Your Asiatic lilies are pretty much carefree, though in damp weather you might find botrytis blight, a fungal disease that produces reddish-brown spots on the leaves.

Only water early in the day to give the lilies time to dry out by nightfall.

Keep weeds down and lots of room for air to circulate to prevent disease. To keep Asiatic lilies blooming for years to come, cut or break off flowers after they fade.  Do not cut or remove stems or foliage, because they put energy into the bulb.

Eventually your Asiatic lilies will increase both by the large bulb dividing into smaller ones and new, small bulbs forming along the stem. Once your clumps get too thick, you can pass along the free bulbs by digging them carefully with a garden fork and dividing them in September or October.  And any bargain hunter knows, a bargain is a bargain, but the best bargain is free.

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