The Asiatic lily (Lilum asiatica) is the earliest flowering variety of lily. Alongside Oriental varieties, the Asiatic lily is one of the most popular garden varieties. An unfussy, stately plant, it rewards your attention with colorful, long-lasting showy flowers that return year after year.
Varieties of Asiatic Lily
The asiatic lily is hardy in USDA zones 4 to 9. Gardeners in cooler climates may have success growing these flowers in containers. This enables them to be moved undercover during the winter months.
Gardeners in constantly warm climates struggle to produce reliable blooming lilies. This is because these plants need exposure to cold temperatures in order to flower.
Easy to care for, the asiatic lily is an elegant addition to any garden. Coming in a range of colors it brings early season interest to otherwise dull flower beds or containers.
Asiatic lily plants are available in a range of colors from rich reds and oranges to yellow, pink and pure white.
Coming in a range of colors, the flowers of these lilies can be an endless source of interest. Planted in colorful swathes they can provide you with an eye catching display.
Many varieties of lilies are intensely aromatic. The asiatic lily, due to intense breeding, has lost much of its fragrance. However its floral attraction means that it remains a popular ornamental plant.
The variety Enchantment is a popular choice. This produces orange blooms up to 3ft in height. The taller variety Crete, reaching up to 4ft, is also a popular choice due to its deep pink flowers. For something slightly different, the America Asiatic Lily is a purple flowering variety.
The majority of asiatic lily varieties begin flowering in early summer. If you want to extend their season the relatively new LA Hybrids are a good choice. Reaching about 30 inches in height this is a large flowering variety which produces flowers in a range of yellows, oranges, reds, creams and pinks. Unlike other types of asiatic lily, the LA Hybrid also has a noticeable fragrance, similar to that of the Easter lily.
Not as aromatic as other lilies, what these flowers lack in fragrance they make up for in color. They can also be cut and included as the centerpiece in a floral arrangement.
How to Plant an Asiatic Lily Bulb
While we may talk about planting the asiatic lily bulbs, in reality they are actually tubers. This means that unlike bulbs they don’t become dormant during the winter months. Consequently you will need to mulch and water the soil constantly, throughout the year.
Plant bulbs, or tubers, as quickly as possible. The longer they are kept, the drier bulbs become. Dry bulbs will often fail. If they do succeed growth may be stunted.
Choosing the Right Location
These plants like sunny locations. They also tolerate partial sun positions, but ideally asiatic lily plants need 6 hours of sunlight a day. The ideal position enables the plant to get either morning or late afternoon sun.
Lilies growing in overly shady locations tend to bend and stretch to reach the sun. This can cause them to become spindly and can lead to stems snapping.
The soil should be rich and well draining. Work in organic material such as homemade compost before planting. Work to a depth of at least 7 inches will sufficiently enrich the soil. If your soil is a heavy clay type work in a significant amount of organic material before planting. Sand, peat moss and even straw can all be worked into the soil to help improve drainage.
Working the soil over will also help to make it loose and well draining. This helps to ensure that the bulbs won’t be sitting in overly damp soil. Allowing bulbs to sit in wet soil can lead to rot.
These lilies adore the sun. Their stems and flowers will grow and turn to face the sunlight. Avoid planting the bulbs under taller growing plants in order to encourage a strong and straight upward growth.
Asiatic lily plants prefer an acidic soil. However the bulbs will happily grow in neutral or slightly alkaline soils.
When to Plant
Plant bulbs as soon after purchasing as possible. Bulbs left for a period may dry out.
Once the soil is prepared you can begin planting the bulbs. The best time to plant is during the fall, a couple of weeks before your first predicted frost dates. Planting now allows the bulbs time to establish themselves, and their root system, before flowering in the spring. The asiatic lily also requires a winter chill in order to produce large flowers.
If you live in an area that suffers from harsh winters plant the bulbs in early spring. While flower production may not be as bountiful in the first year, spring planting gives the bulbs time to establish themselves before the winter comes. You will need to provide some winter protection to the bulbs in the fall.
Container growing flowers can be planted at any time.
How to Plant Bulbs
Dig a hole large enough to comfortably hold the bulb.
Work the soil well before planting bulbs. This helps to remove weeds and pebbles as well as breaking up large clumps of earth. Working the soil in this way helps bulbs and plants to quickly establish themselves in the soil.
Some lilies, including asiatic lily hybrids only produce roots from the base of the bulb. Others, such as longiflorum, also produce roots from the stem above the bulb. These require planting to a greater depth. Consult the label on your bag of bulbs to learn how deeply you will need to plant. In general, aim to plant each bulb three times as deep as its height.
Place the bulb in the hole flat end down. Fill in the hole, being careful not to overly compact the soil. Mulch the soil lightly with leaf mould or homemade compost. This will help to further enrich the soil as well as improving moisture retention.
Space the bulbs to a distance equal to three times their diameter. Depending on the variety you are growing this can be 8 to 18 inches apart.
Growing in Containers
Like most other varieties, the asiatic lily is well suited to container growing. Asiatic lily hybrid varieties such as speciosum, auratum and longiflorum, are commonly grown in containers indoors and forced. Forcing involved keeping the bulbs in a cool environment before moving them into a warmer location, such as a house, to encourage flowering.
Your chosen container should be deep, clean and have drainage holes in the bottom. Place a 2 inch thick layer of pebbles, crocks, or other drainage material in the bottom of the container. Fill the container with fresh, potting compost.
Ensure that your chosen container is large enough to hold the fully grown plants. Clean the pots before planting. This ensures that no pests or diseases are lying in wait to attack your freshly planted bulbs.
An 8-10 inch container will hold one large bulb or up to 4 smaller bulbs. Try to space the bulbs at least 2 inches apart. Plant the bulbs as you would in the soil, flat end down and to the required depth.
Care for plants growing in containers is exactly the same as caring for asiatic lily plants in the ground. However, containers tend to dry out more quickly so you may need to water the plants more often.
When the first shoots appear the containers can be moved inside, to a greenhouse, to speed up flowering. The chosen location should be between 64-68 ºF.
After the asiatic lily plants have flowered and died back, in the fall, you will need to re-pot them. Alternatively transfer the bulbs to a location in the garden. If you are growing the plants in a large container, they can remain in position for two years before transplanting. However you will need to add a roughly 2 inch layer of compost and fertilizer or well rotted manure into the soil in the fall.
During the winter months keep the containers in a cool, frost free location. A greenhouse or cold frame is ideal.
Caring for Your Asiatic Lily Plants
If planted in the correct location these plants require minimal regular care. However there are a few steps you can take to ensure large and attractive flower production.
Asiatic lily plants require at least one inch of water a week. During warm, dry spells they will require more. Don’t allow the soil to dry out.
When watering try to only water the soil. Avoid getting the leavesof the plant wet. Damp leaves can become a breeding ground for disease.
Keep the soil around the bulbs well mulched. Begin by applying a thin layer of compost in the spring. Regularly top this up during the spring and summer months. This helps to keep the bulbs and root systems cool.
If you are concerned about your water usage why not turn an old barrel into a waterbutt? This can be used to harvest rainwater which can then be re-used in your garden.
Wet leaves and flowers can be a breeding ground for disease. Try to water just the soil around the base of the plants. Watering in the morning will allow the plants time to dry out during the day before nighttime temperatures fall.
Top dressing with a slow release fertilizer helps to provide the bulbs with a regular supply of nutrition. You can also apply a feed such as a general purpose nitrogen based plant food in early spring.
Alternatively fish emulsion or worm castings can be applied. You can also make your own liquid plant food or compost tea at home. Regularly applying any of these options will help to enrich the soil and encourage growth.
When buds begin to appear, apply a high phosphorus plant food. Alternatively apply a bone meal based fertilizer. This encourages large, long lasting flowers to emerge.
When fertilizing plants be careful to not exceed the recommended dose. Over fertilization can encourage too much foliage to emerge, at the expense of flowers.
Remove flowers when they begin to fade. This prevents the plant from wasting energy producing seeds. Instead the plants efforts can be placed into storing energy in the bulb, helping them survive the winter period.
When the leaves brown and die back you can also cut away the stem. Cut dead stems down to the ground in late fall or early spring.
Use a sharp secateurs or scissors to prune. A sharp blade will help you to make clean cuts. These are less likely to become diseased.
Regularly weed around the plants. Weeds are fast growing and can smother or stunt the growth of young plants. Be careful not to damage the bulbs as you weed. In particularly weed ridden areas try applying a homemade weed killer. Homemade weed killers may be chemical free but they are just as effective as commercial controls.
As the temperatures fall apply a layer or mulch such as organic or homemade compost. The layer should be 4 to 6 inches thick. This prevents the ground from completely freezing, allowing the roots to keep growing. You may need to reapply the mulch during the winter depending on weather conditions. Mulching plants to protect them from winter temperatures forms part of the fall transition process.
Mulching the soil above bulbs will help to protect them from extreme winter weather. Remember to regularly check organic mulches during the winter, they may need to be replaced or topped up.
Once the last local frost date has passed, remove the thick layer of mulch. This exposes the soil, helping it to warm up in the spring temperatures. As the soil warms the bulbs will once again begin to flower.
Remember to keep the soil moist during the winter months.
Asiaitic lily plants will need to be divided every 3 to 4 years. Bulbs that aren’t divide produce small, baby bulbs that drain water and nutrients from the main bulb. This can slow down or prevent flower production.
Division is best done in the spring just as new growth emerges.
To divide the plants you will need to lift the bulbs. Divide the clumps, you may need to use a spade or a sharp, clean knife. Be careful not to damage the large bulb as you do this. The divided bulbs can then be replanted.
Finally remember to stake taller varieties. This will help to prevent the plants from toppling over or snapping. The best time to install support is when you plant the bulbs. As the flowers grow they can be loosely tied to the support. Don’t tie the plants too tightly, this may damage the stems.
The asiatic lily will get on well with most other plants. This makes it an ideal companion plant. Many people like to plant short flowering annuals around the bulbs location each spring. This helps to shade the bulbs and the soil. Plants such as Impatiens, Zinnias, Marigolds and Geraniums are ideal. Not only will they shade the bulbs, they will also add more color and interest to your beds.
Attractive and colorful, zinnias can be planted alongside asiatic lily plants. As well as providing contrast, their foliage also helps to shade the lilies bulbs from the extreme heat of summer.
The perennial Lamb’s Ear is a particularly attractive companion, as is Hyssop, Coreopsis, Red Hot Pokers and Black Eyed Susans. Daylilies also thrive alongside Asiatic Lily plants.
If deer are a problem in your area, you will need to place some form of protection over the plants. Asiatic lily bulbs are edible and deer will happily consume them if they are able. Groundhogs, rabbits and voles can also eat the bulbs.
Grey mould can be a problem if the plants are not correctly spaced. It is also more common during cool, wet periods. Correctly spacing the bulbs will ensure the air can circulate between them properly, reducing the chances of grey mould striking.
Aphids can target plants, bringing viruses with them. Regularly check plants for infestations. Aphids can be removed with a blast from a hosepipe or an application or soapy water. Persistent infestations may require more than one application to fully clear the plant.
Slugs, snails and red lily beetles can also target the plants.
Bright and colorful the asiatic lily is a popular ornamental garden plant. Despite the appearance of their showy blooms these flowers are pleasingly easy to care for.
The asiatic lily is one of the most attractive flowers to grow in a garden. Coming in a range of colors, its large, showy blooms are also a favorite with butterflies. If planted correctly the bulbs will give you pleasure, and your garden color, for many years.