The Oriental lily is distinguished from other lilies primarily by an unmistakable, heavenly fragrance that will possess your garden in the late summer heat. An open starfish-shaped flower with textured, striped or dotted inner petals, Oriental lily species grow on tall stalks up to 6 feet in height. Lance-shaped leaves demurely adorn the stalks, while pastel pink, white and yellow or even red blooms with sometimes frilled edges nod gracefully to complete the pretty picture. Take care with planting and maintenance procedures for beautiful yearly results.
Choose a site with good drainage. If Oriental lily bulbs sit in water for any length of time, they will surely suffer from bulb rot. To improve drainage, follow the cultivation tips in Step 2 and, if necessary, create a raised bed by mounding soil before planting. Provide a full sun location with protection from wind or direct, harsh afternoon sun.
Prepare the site by cultivating to a depth of 10 to 12 inches, mixing in organic matter such as peat moss or composted pine bark, to provide better drainage and soil nutrients. Deep bulb bed cultivation provides best access to the benefits of the organic matter for bulbs year after year.
Plant Oriental lily bulbs in the fall, immediately after purchase or on arrival from mail order. Plant bulbs at a depth of three times their height. Typically, this will mean a hole 6 to 8 inches deep. Be sure the nose or point of the bulb is facing up or the bulb will not be able to send up a shoot. Allow 8 to 10 inches between bulbs. When planting in clusters, 3 to 5 feet between groups is advisable for air circulation and adequate space for mature growth.
Stake tall varieties to provide support against wind and inclement weather. Heavy blooms may also cause buckling if stalks are not staked.
Remove spent blooms to prevent seed production, which takes energy away from the bulb. Cut back stalks to 6 inches only after they have begun to yellow and die back; to preserve energy the foliage feeds into the bulb for next season's bloom.
Provide a 4- to 6-inch layer of mulched leaves or wood chips spread loosely over the surface for winter protection. Remove mulch in the spring only after the last hard frost has past.
Fertilize the soil around Oriental lilies with a slow-release blend in spring to promote blooms later in the summer.
Spray blooms and foliage with a garden hose to remove aphids, and pick off slugs by hand. Rabbits may want to eat Oriental lily foliage, so a nontoxic, natural spray deterrent may be useful.
Dig and divide Oriental lily bulbs that are not producing the same quality blooms as when first planted, often in 3-year cycles. The reduced growth is due to small daughter bulbs called offsets that have sprouted on the mother bulb, creating more abundant, smaller blooms. Once the offsets are divided from the mother, replant as detailed in Step 3.