Asiatic lilies begin the summer parade of blooms.
image by DRW & Associates Inc.: Flickr.com
Lilies are the elegant "crowned heads" of the summer garden. Undemanding and prolific, the hardy lily bulb thrives from growing Zones 2 through 10. Thanks to gardening's popularity, the orange tiger lilies of your grandmother's garden have been joined by other types that provide a succession of bloom in the summer garden. The Asiatic lily, with its wide variety of heights and colors, is the earliest to bloom. Large or specimen bulbs can be purchased from lily growers, or bags of bulbs from garden centers can be used for massing.
Plant your lilies as soon as you buy them or receive them in the mail. This is especially important with Asiatics that bloom early in the lily season. If you can't plant them right away, keep them in a cool, dry place like the vegetable bin in the refrigerator.
Choose an area that gets a half day of full sun to plant your lilies. Since many Asiatics start growing before the trees leaf out, this rule can be more liberally interpreted for them, but they will need full sun to grow and set blooms. Put Asiatic lilies in a place where their upright open-faced blooms can show off and they'll propagate rapidly.
Locate lilies in well-drained soil. Soggy spring soil will rot bulbs or at the very least retard growth---a problem that early bloomers like Asiatic lilies will not have enough growing time to overcome. Asiatics are lime-tolerant, meaning that they will thrive in soil with a pH of anywhere from 6 to 7.
Dig a hole using a hand trowel or bulb digger about 5 inches deep---or about two times the size of the bulb---and about twice the diameter of the bulb. Line the hole with leaf mold or peat moss to cushion the bulb and retain moisture. Don't use any fertilizer---there's a bit of nitrogen held in the soil amendment, but lily bulbs already hold this year's nutrients. They start collecting next year's nutrients after they bloom.
Plant your bulb base (flat end) down and pointed side (its "bud") up. Planting an Asiatic upside-down delays bloom time, and the extra effort needed to find its way around the bulb and up to the surface may exhaust it, so it will not bloom---or blooms poorly---this year.
Fill the hole with garden soil amended with peat moss or leaf mold to give tender shoots a soft covering through which to grow. Water lilies thoroughly when you've finished and check to confirm that the water drains properly.
Mulch a new lily bed lightly with pine mulch or shredded bark to shade the lilies' roots. If the mulch layer is more than an inch, remove it in the fall---little creatures love to have shelter as they hunt for winter munchies.