Lilies are exotic, impressive flowers with an reputation for being hard to grow. While some types of lilies are difficult, Asiatic hybrids, crosses between a group of species native to central and eastern Asia, are hardy and undemanding. Given reasonably good care, you can expect them to send up more and more stems each year, eventually making an impressive clump that can produce flowers in summer for as long as a month.
Asiatic hybrids have flowers in the greatest range of colors found in lilies, white, pink, plum, red, yellow and orange, sometimes with spots and brush marks for contrast. They can be upward facing, outward facing or pendulous and are generally unscented.
They are also the earliest of the hybrid lilies to bloom, either in June or early July. Some popular varieties are Enchantment, orange; Connecticut King, yellow; Corsica, pink; Crete, deep pink; and Dawn Star, cream.
Lilies bloom at the top of vertical stems, 2 to 10 feet high, with narrow leaves standing out all along the stem, 3 or 4 inches long. Asiatic lilies are shorter than some, usually 2 or 3 feet, sometimes 4 or 5, and do not need to be staked, a plus for busy gardeners.
The stems grow from a large underground bulb that has many divisions, called scales, a bit like a garlic bulb. Lilies also have two different kinds of roots, the usual ones that grow from the bottom of the bulb downward, and others that grow outward from the stem as it pushes up through the soil.
Caring For Asiatic Lilies
Asiatics are fairly sun-tolerant, but do like their roots in shade. A situation where they emerge from clumps of perennials or through low shrubs is ideal. If you live in an area with strong, hot sunshine, give them a bit of shade, but try for at least a half day of sun to keep the stems from stretching and leaning outward.
Choose an area with well-drained soil and add extra peat moss, compost or steer manure to help it hold moisture. Lily roots dislike drying out, so give them even moisture without standing water. Mulch well to keep the soil cool and weeds from sprouting.
Asiatics are among the hardiest of hybrid lilies, easily grown in USDA zone 3. Do add extra mulch before winter to keep the soil temperature even and allow the roots to grow for a few more weeks in fall.
Fertilize in spring with a 5-10-10 fertilizer according the directions on the label.
Planting The Bulbs
You'll find lilies for sale in both spring and fall, but for best growth plant from mid-September through mid-October, later in mild winter areas. This gives the roots a chance to establish before the spring and summer flush of growth occurs.
Bulbs should be planted immediately upon receipt, taking care to keep them from drying out. They will arrive in a semi-dormant state, but should have some plump roots at the base. They never go totally dormant the way tulips and daffodils do.
Plant them two or three times deeper than the height of the bulb itself, and try to plant in groups of three or five for best effect.
You may grow lilies from seed, but the easiest way to get more of your favorite lily is to dig up the clump in fall and separate the bulbs that have developed from your original planting. You'll have some large bulbs, some medium and some tiny offsets that won't bloom for a few years. You can pot these up and grow them on by themselves or just include them with the larger bulbs in a new location.
Some lilies will have little bulbils along the stem where the leaves are attached. Each of these will grow into a new lily plant if you pot it or plant it in the ground.