Lilies of summer: A great growing season

Editor’s note: This article is from the archives of the MSU Crop Advisory Team Alerts. Check the label of any pesticide referenced to ensure your use is included.    

Folks who know me also know that I am passionate about all things green. Yet sometimes a plant comes along that really blows my hair back. This year it’s the summer blooming lilies.

Earlier this spring, I wrote an article about the prolific bloom produced on flowering trees and shrubs. Prompted to produce many buds by last summer’s hot weather, woody plants rewarded us with a very memorable spring. It seems that lilies are equally affected by the hot environmental conditions and are rewarding us the same way.

Every lily in my garden, whether it’s the Asiatic, trumpet or Orienpet type, (see photo) is just dripping with buds this year. I have noticed the same striking display for several weeks now in the Grand Ideas Garden at the Kent MSU Extension office where there are many more cultivars.

MSU Extension Master Gardener CJ Brander has seen this phenomenon in her beautiful East Grand Rapids Garden too. Always a lover of lilies, Brander has planted dozens of different lilies throughout the garden. “The plants are so robust this year,” she said. “I’ve really never seen so many buds.” Brander has grown lilies for years and notes that this year with the thick stems her lilies are standing up beautifully without staking or support.

Put your money where the bulb is

Brander loves lilies because you get a big bang for your buck. Not taking up much real estate in the garden, the bloom span in a perennial mixed border is second to none. “People complain about lilies being expensive but in reality, compared to other perennials the bloom length combined with beautiful fragrance and no nonsense care requirement, I think is one of the best values a gardener can get,” Brander claims.

I would have to agree. Several years ago, I purchased an inexpensive pot of three lilies from a local retailer. They were in bloom at the time so it was an impulse buy. This year, the clump rewarded me with twelve stems of blooms, each topped with about eight buds. The effect was tremendous. Gardeners can search retailers, magazines and the web for literally hundreds of different cultivars. I can say that the ones that I am most familiar with are readily available, but if you take a shining to the hobby of collecting these beauties, there are dozens that are rare and mysterious.

One of Brander’s favorite lilies is a Trumpet-type known as ‘Nepalense.’ She says the blooms are truly unique and graceful. The funnel shaped blooms are maroon-tinged with green. The fragrance is light but not overpowering. “The yellow Oriental types are out of this world with fragrance,” she says. “I have collected lilies for so long. I always have some new stem about to open up. Right now, the tigers are coming out,” she grins.

Why the big show?

Lilies produce their flower buds during the previous growing season. With the long and intensely hot growing season of 2005, it’s no wonder that the bulbs responded with favor. One thing, Brander says that lilies (and most bulbs) require is well-drained soil. Last year, the soil moisture was not only limited, it was down right dry. Most of these bulbs have origins to semi-arid scrub lands in countries like Europe, Asia and the Philippines. Heat and drought are no threat to their productivity and in fact, once well established, they thrive.

Both Brander’s garden and the Kent MSU Extension Grand Ideas Garden are open for public display this Sunday, July 16 for the annual “Stuck on Gardening” public garden tour. Brander has literally hundreds of lily buds opening and is excited to show them off. Kent/MSU Extension Master Gardeners will be on hand at each site to answer a plethora of gardening questions. Tickets for the Stuck on Gardening tour will be available at each site and are $10.00 per person. Ten gardens are included in the tour. The Grand Ideas Garden is located at 775 Ball in Grand Rapids. For detailed information you can contact or call 336-2544.

If you are interested in becoming a lily guru, you can get in touch with the North American Lily Society at P.O. Box 272, Owatonna, MN 55060 or go to

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