Consider the Lily


For six straight weeks last summer, the Orienpet lily ‘Silk Road’ perfumed my garden. Before you shrug your shoulders because you, like almost everyone in the Triangle, have a deer problem, let me assure you that yes, you can grow lilies in your garden—with a little planning.

However, not all lilies can survive our hot, humid summers, not all lilies are tall, and not all lilies are fragrant, so it’s up to you to do a bit of sleuthing before you plant the bulbs.

Now, by “lilies,” I mean members of the genus, Lilium, which belongs to the family Liliaceae. I am not referring to water lilies, daylilies, toad lilies, rain lilies, or crinum lilies, which, although wonderful, are not true lilies. The genus Lilium is composed of Divisions, which include the Asiatic, Oriental, and Orienpet lilies, along with the species lily, Lilium formosanum. These are the lilies you will probably encounter in the Triangle. One word of caution: the showy Oriental lilies want more temperate summers than we can provide so keep this in mind if you choose Orientals.

Because all lilies need a good cooling period, we can plant these bulbs in November with little fear of damaging the bulbs. Plant the bulbs in a sunny location, five inches deep in well-draining soil—a necessity, as lilies do not fare well if they are waterlogged. Plant them close together, close enough to fence them in but not so close to be touching. Because lilies appreciate cool roots, mulching the area is always a good idea. Refrain from adding fertilizer, as the bulb will provide the necessary nourishment. During their period of active growth they will appreciate some water but all, except for the Oriental lilies, will adapt well to dry summers after they have finished flowering.


Lilium ‘Kissproof’ by JC Raulston Arboretum

Lilies have one major downfall: they are supremely edible and tasty to both rabbits and deer so as soon as the plants appear in the spring you must provide them with protection. Place a round tube of chicken wire, four feet high, around them. Yes, you are caging the lilies but fear not, you can hide the wire. Lilies, particularly young lilies, typically need support so the cage will provide both support and protection. I have found that the longer lilies are in the garden the less support they generally need, although some will always need some sort of staking.

Your job now is to disguise the chicken wire cage so you must find a tallish plant that your deer won’t eat. My deer refrain from dining on Colocasia, so I plant C. esculenta ‘Ruffles’ or ‘Rhubarb’ around the cage. The big leaves contrast beautifully with the smaller horizontal leaves of the lilies, which will soar above the Colocasia. I have also used the bog salvia, S. uliginosa, to hide the cages. Other plants, such as Lantana ‘Miss Huff’ and ornamental grasses, would also work well.

Once the lilies have finished blooming—and different lilies bloom at different times—leave the stalk alone. In August or September, whenever the stalk turns brown, you can then cut if off. With a little thought, research, and organization, you can enjoy lilies in the garden.

Featured image – Lilium ‘Flore Pleno’ by JC Raulston Arboretum.

A serious gardener for the past twenty years, Kit Flynn resides in Chapel Hill. She is also a Durham Master Gardener.

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