Thursday, 30 June 2022 13:30

Gardening with Peter Bowden: It's Lily Season

By Peter Bowden | Home & Garden
Native Canada Lily Native Canada Lily

Summer is lily season. All the wonderful lily varieties we enjoy were bred from about 150 wild types found worldwide. We have five native lilies that grow wild here in the northeast, the Michigan Lily, Turk’s Cap Lily, Woodlily, Trout Lily and the Canada Lily. If you are lucky enough to see one of these beauties, look but leave it alone. All are protected in New York State. 

Lilies are some of the showiest flowers to be found anywhere. Many of the thousands of cultivars thrive in our northern climate including two of my favorites, Asiatic and Oriental Hybrids.

Asiatic hybrids are the first of lilies to flower in early summer. Asiatics mature and reproduce rapidly, making them a rewarding choice for gardeners. Asiatics are available in reds, whites, pinks, oranges, and yellows of every shade. Some feature solid-colored petals while others are ornately speckled. Asiatics are not strongly scented but come in a range of sizes from 2’ to 5’ tall! 

To find fragrance, we must sniff out the Oriental lily hybrids. Many Oriental varieties are hardy in zones 4 and 5, hardy enough to thrive in our area. Oriental lilies will produce some of the showiest flowers that you could expect this side of the tropics. 

True lilies grow from bulbs. You’ll start seeing them in garden centers in March. Plant your lilies as soon as the ground has thawed. Choose a location that is in full sun with well-drained soil. In summer you’ll find them available growing in pots to plant right away.

Another lily enjoyed by many is not a lily at all. Everyone knows them as daylilies but they are not true lilies but Hemerocallis. You have seen them growing wild in roadside ditches and just about anywhere. We can thank our ancestors who planted them generations ago. Hemerocallis is a Greek word meaning ‘beautiful for a day’. Each flower opens in the morning and withers away at the end of a single day. 

Daylilies are about the easiest plants to grow. They love full sun but will thrive in partial shade and aren’t particular about the soil they’re planted in. Only a few years ago, a clump of yellow daylilies was considered exotic. Now red, gold, peach and burgundy daylilies are turning up in perennial borders. Daylilies with bi-colored flowers are commonly available. Miniatures and strongly scented daylilies have also appeared.  Another recent development is the Tetraploid Daylily. Tetraploids have double the number of chromosomes. This has opened up a whole new world of breeding possibilities. The large flowers of tetraploid daylilies make them irresistible to flower gardeners. Another attribute of the tetraploid daylilies is their ability to blossom repeatedly through the summer. Most daylilies are done for the season once the first round of flowers is done in early July. Tetraploids will continue to send up flowering stems through July, August and even September! 

The daylily has come a long way from the common roadside plant that our ancestors planted. They have taken up a new role at the heart of the garden. Give them a try. 

Thanks for the read!

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