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Lilies come to life in July

One group of flowers that really stand out the month of July are lilies. The first group to bloom are the Asiatic, which come in every color but blue, and are in full bloom now. Next we will see the Oriental, which have large fragrant blossoms and grow to up to 6 feet tall. These tall upright plants belong to the genus Lilium, which have stiff stems with narrow leaves which whorl along the entire length of the stem. They grow from bulbs made of fleshy, overlapping scales without a protective covering.

There are nine different divisions of lilies, but the four most common are the following.

Asiatic lilies are the earliest to bloom. These showy blossoms face either upward or outward and have no real fragrance. Their sturdy stems don't need staking if planted in full sun. If they have too much shade their stems may be weak and floppy. Asiatic lilies root above the bulb, along the stem, and can be planted deeper than other lilies. This makes them sturdy, hardier and easier to grow.

Oriental lilies are popular because of their large blossom size and intense fragrance. Casa Blanca, the classic pure white Oriental lily, is known for its heavenly scent. These lilies bloom in mid to late summer, are some of the tallest lilies and benefit from some protection from strong winds.

Trumpet lilies are so named because their petals are partially fused and extend forward like a trumpet. They have the distinction of having no spots, a strong fragrance and can grow to eight feet tall. So protection from strong winds is important. Recent hybridizing with Oriental and Asiatic lilies has resulted in a wider range of colors of Trumpet lilies.

Turk's cap lily or the Martagon hybrids have petals that face downward with swept-back or reflexed petals, giving them the appearance of a Turk's cap. The Martagon lilies began as woodland hybrids so they are able to handle some shade. Their flowers are smaller than the other lilies and their fragrance is not agreeable to every gardener. They range in height from 4-7 feet and come in shades of burgundy, yellow and orange, with many having speckles and spots.

Lilies grow best in well-drained soil. If your soil is heavy clay or sandy, it is especially important to add organic matter. Lilies do not like too much water and heavy clay soil may hold too much moisture and cause the bulbs to rot. In Minnesota, lilies need a minimum of 8 hours of sun each day to bloom well.

Lily plants and bulbs may be purchased in the spring and planted to bloom the first summer. However, fall planting is better for bulbs, or if you need to divide a group of lilies. The advantage of fall planting is that the roots get well established before the growing season begins next spring. Lily bulbs need to be planted deep, (3 times their diameter) to keep them cool. They should also be mulched so that the ground stays cooler in the summer, and the soil does not warm up as quickly in the spring. Before winter, the first year the bulbs are planted, they should be mulched over the top with 4-6 inches of loose, weed-free compost, or leaves to delay freezing and allow roots to grow deeper into the soil. After they are established they do not need mulch over the top, if snow cover is dependable. A phosphorus-rich fertilizer (Second number should exceed the first) can be applied in the spring when the lilies emerge and again just before flowering. Spread the fertilizer in a circle around the lilies, never directly over the top of the plant.

Lilies are attractive when planted in triangular groups of three bulbs of the same variety, spaced 8-12 inches apart. The triangle's point should face the way the flower bed is viewed. This will make the flowers appear to have more depth and fullness. Each group of lilies should be space 3-5 feet apart. Lilies multiply quickly and probably will need to be divided every three years or so.

When cutting lilies for bouquets, cut the stem when the buds haven't quite opened, but are showing color. This will help them last longer. Never cut more than one-third of the flower stem, so that there is plenty of foliage to feed the bulb. Also deadhead when they finish blooming so they do not produce seed, and all the energy goes back down into the bulb for next year's growth.

Kyle Schulz is a Wadena County Master Gardener from Sebeka, and the regular gardening columnist for the Wadena Pioneer Journal.