With the arrival of spring, perhaps this year more than ever, we are yearning for growth and new beginnings. The iconic lily flower represents fresh life—a perfect symbol adding color and splendor to your garden. The Cape’s local gardening professionals have ample tips to ensure your lilies bloom year after year. Terry Soares, owner of Soares Flower Garden Nursery, has been working for 25 years to bring new flower varieties to the region. At Crocker Nurseries in Brewster, Jennifer Floyd, Perennial Manager and Grower, has a passion for their wide array of plants and best care practices. Priscilla Husband, Agway of Cape Cod’s Garden Coach, brings 35 years of landscaping and garden design experience to the region. In Osterville, managers David Griffith and Zach Stevens are reinvigorating Beacon Gardens for its second season, striving for high-quality product for their clientele. At each nursery, these professionals have a breadth of knowledge gathered from years in the garden.
Asiatic and Oriental lilies are both striking, popular hybrids. Asiatic lilies are smaller, have little fragrance, and bloom earlier in the season, while Oriental lilies are taller with large blooms, strong fragrances, and a later bloom period. No matter the variety, lilies bring a classic, colorful look to any Cape garden.
The Casa Blanca Oriental lily is one of the most popular varieties, with its pure white petals and fragrance making this a timeless choice. “The Casa Blanca is a famous white lily. I love it because the fragrance will immediately greet you when you come into your home,” Husband says. Another beloved choice is the Stargazer, a sweet rose pink oriental. At Crocker Nurseries, Floyd notes the After Eight as a standout pink oriental, as well as the Sita, a double petal white oriental. The double petal hybrid varieties bring lots of attention to the garden, so be sure to ask your local nursery which varieties they carry. At Soares, the Thalita and Isabella double lilies will be available this spring. In the Asiatic family, Tebaldi is that iconic orange lily chosen in many Cape gardens, while the Courier, a soft white, adds a peaceful layer to your perennial collection. In the OT Hybrid Lily family, a cross between Oriental and Trumpet lilies, Conca d’Or is a highly popular selection, as well as Flashpoint. Planting multiple varieties will allow for a longer bloom period in the garden.
In a massed collection, lilies incorporate well with other plants. Experts recommend planting them towards the middle or back of a perennial garden with smaller, contrasting colors in front. “They’re easy to plant. Always plant with the pointed side of the bulb facing up,” Stevens says. According to Soares, “There are early, mid and late season blooming liliums, so you can stagger those bloom times to have blooming flowers in those families for six weeks.” Priscilla Husband notes that well-drained soil is a critical component to success; if the bulbs are sitting in wet soil, they will rot. Husband also recommends planting ten to twelve inches apart to give the plants room as they mature. “A good rule of thumb is to plant three times deeper than the size of the bulb. Another good tip is once they’re planted, mark where you plant them so you don’t forget where they are and disturb them,” she shares. Husband often advocates for planting a separate cutting garden to create bouquets for the house without taking from your perennial garden. Over at Crocker Nurseries, Floyd recommends planting three big clusters with three bulbs each, as odd numbers tend to look more natural. With taller varieties, it may be helpful to stake your plants. Griffith and Stevens at Beacon Gardens note that digging up the bulbs after a few years to divide and replant will encourage new growth as the lilies multiply.
Priscilla Husband says fertilizing right before blooming with a high-phosphorous fertilizer is best. “If you plant them and they’re getting the right amount of water, fertilizer, and sunlight, they will spread in the garden,” she shares. Lilies thrive in full sun, needing a minimum of six to seven hours per day. Terry Soares believes a spot with a bit of shade from the hot afternoon sun is beneficial. To deter critters from nibbling on them in the spring, Soares shares that sprinkling some kind of rodent repellent will do the trick. The lily leaf beetle can be a challenge, attracted to the lilium family and emerging from the soil in April. Professionals recommends using neem oil, an organic pesticide that is best sprayed weekly as a preventative or once beetles appear. Since they are a bright red-orange color and easy to see, Husband believes it is easiest to handpick them off. In general, Soares shares, “they are actually fairly low maintenance flowers. Over time they will start forming little baby bulbs and spread. Lilies can last indefinitely.”
When the summer season comes to an end, Jennifer Floyd says it’s key to let the foliage die back naturally before cutting to let the bulb store energy for next year’s flowers. “I recommend letting the flowers go until they are fully brown and then cut them back,” Floyd says. Soares notes that clipping the flowers off as they fade will keep the energy going to the buds that haven’t fully opened yet. As for maintenance in the fall, Soares says, “The fall is a good time to top dress around the lilies with compost. We also recommend cutting the stalk back no more than half.” In Priscilla Husband’s own garden, she cuts the stalks back during her fall cleanup so the leaves can continue feeding the bulbs. Zach Stevens at Beacon Gardens advises covering the soil with a few inches of organic mulch to insulate it through the winter.
Harboring over perennial gardens across the Cape, lilies are a show stopping, colorful blossom that passersby greet with delight. “Lilies are so spectacular. They are breathtaking in the garden and contrast well with other perennials,” Priscilla Husband shares. Taking the right steps for your lilies will bring back their famous flowers for years to come. As they bloom, we hope you rejoice at the arrival of brighter, warmer days.
For more information about Hybrid Lilies, contact our area professionals.
Soares Flower Garden Nursery
1021 Sandwich Road, East Falmouth
1132 Route 137, Brewster
Agway of Cape Cod
locations in Orleans, South Dennis
Beacon Gardens at Osterville
182 Osterville/West Barnstable Road, Osterville