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Growing Green - Lilies for your perennial garden

One of the easiest perennial plants to grow in your garden is the lily. True lilies (genus Lilium) are abundant in style (upright, outfacing or nodding) and flower color, and are extremely tolerant of our cold Minnesota winters.

Native lilies greeted the earliest Minnesota settlers. The native wood lily with a large bright reddish-orange, upright flower prefers sandy soil and can be found in sunny openings, woodland edges, and often along roadsides and in native prairies. The native Michigan lily has a nodding orange flower and can be found in part shade to full sun in moist fields, bogs, along shorelines and at the forest edges. Both bloom mid-summer. If you would like to include lilies in your garden, you are not limited in color, flower size or plant size. Select one or more of the following varieties to try in your garden this year:

• Asiatic lilies: These lilies are among the earliest to bloom and are also some of the easiest to grow. Plant in bright sunshine or along forest edges for a bright pop of color. They have the broadest color range of any type, including whites, pinks, plums, yellows, oranges and reds. Their flowers can be up-facing, out-facing, or nodding, and generally are not scented.

• Martagon lilies: These are tall lilies with many little nodding (down-facing) flowers. Martagons grow well in partial shade and brighten up a woodland garden. Be patient with these lilies as they are slow to start, but once established, they will thrive for years. Yellow, white, pink, lavender, light orange and deep dark red are the colors most often seen, often with freckles and spots.

• Oriental lilies: These lilies are not the easiest to grow, but will reward you with giant, fragrant flowers. They bloom in shades of white, pink, salmon and crimson. Grow in a site protected from the heat of the day (afternoon shade),in humus rich soil that is slightly acid, and mulch deeply to keep soils cool and moist. The most familiar cultivar of this lily type is the "Stargazer" lily.

Plant lily bulbs in the spring or fall. (Your potted Easter lily may be planted after it has finished blooming, for years of enjoyment in your garden.) In Minnesota, Asiatic and Oriental lilies need six to eight hours of full sun to thrive. Martagons do well in shadier conditions. Plant in groupings of three to five bulbs. Bulbs should be planted eight to 12 inches apart and four to six inches deep. When blooming has finished, allow the plant to die back naturally to feed the bulb for next year. When the ground begins to freeze, mulch newly planted bulbs with four to six inches of weed free compost, leaves or wood chips. In the spring, leave mulch on until all danger of frost has passed. Fertilize with a phosphorous rich fertilizer (5-10-10). Divide and replant large clusters of bulbs every three years or so, or when it seems they are no longer blooming as well as they once did.

For more information about growing Lilium, visit: or or

Until next time, happy gardening!


"But who will watch my lilies, when their blossoms open white? By day the sun shall be sentry, and the moon and the stars by night."

- Bayard Taylor