Plant Culture Tips
Growing Lilies
Growing Lilies in Alaska

• What perennial flowers are among the hardiest, the easiest, and the most rewarding to grow in Southcentral Alaska?

• What perennial is low maintenance, multiplies readily, and is not a weed?

• What perennial, when chosen selectively, has a range of bloom that can span two months or longer?

• What perennial flowers last as long in the vase as they do on the vine?

• Garden lilies, genus Lilium, of course!

Types of Lilies

There are several hybrid classes of lilies. It is useful to know the class to which a given lily belongs because the class determines its flower shape, its fragrance and, most importantly, its hardiness.

Asiatic hybrids

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• reliably hardy in Southcentral Alaska (USDA zones 3-10)
• earliest to bloom, beginning in late June with L. pumilum, the coral lily, and span the summer growing season through September with the late-blooming tiger lilies, L. lancifolium
• generally unscented

Trumpets or Aurelians

• recognizable by their distinctive trumpet shape
• heavy, perfumed fragrance
• not reliably hardy in Southcentral Alaska, but may survive in a protected warm microclimate (USDA zones 5-9).
• bloom in August.
• Well-known Trumpets include L. 'Golden Splendor,' L. 'Pink Perfection,' and L. 'Mabel Violet.'

Oriental lilies

• have huge, showy flowers that can span 9 inches in diameter
• fragrance is rich and heady, sweet and spicy
• not reliably hardy in Southcentral Alaska, but may survive in favorable microclimate (USDA zones 5-9)
• the latest-flowering lilies, usually not blooming until late August and September
• Well-known Orientals include L. 'Casa Blanca,' L. 'Stargazer,' and L. 'Journey's End.'
• Dwarf Orientals, 24 inches or shorter, may be hardier here, since they bloom a few weeks earlier than the taller varieties. Dwarf cultivars include L.'Miss USA,' L. 'Mona Lisa,' L. 'Trance,' L. 'Little Love,' and the "Pixie" series.

L-A Hybrids

• crosses of the Easter lily, L. longiflorum, with Asiatic lilies (the "L" comes from longiflorum and the "A" comes from Asiatic), combining the hardiness of the Asiatics with the fragrance and form of the Easter lily
• bloom in late July and August
• cultivars include L. 'Casa Rosa', L. 'Easter Gold', and L. 'Easter Pink'


• hybrids resulting from crosses between Orientals and Trumpets (hence, Orienpets), marrying the beauty of Orientals with the persistence of Trumpets
• flowers are gigantic, measuring up to 12 inches in diameter
• bloom in late August into September
• hybrids include L. 'Arabesque', L. 'Scheherazade' , and L. 'Peter the Great.'

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Planting Lilies

• plant larger lily bulbs 6 to 8 inches deep and smaller ones 4 to 6 inches deep
• fertilize twice each year, once at the beginning of growth in the spring and again just before flowering, using 5-10-10 or 8-32-16.

Lily Culture

• Lilies flower best in full sun or in very light shade.


• The bed needs to be dug deeply and the soil might consist of equal parts loam, leaf mold, and sharp sand or gravel.
• Organic matter may be added to help hold moisture, but the use of fresh manure is discouraged.
• Lilies like our naturally acidic soils, preferring a pH of around 5.5-6.5, so the use of lime is not indicated.
• Weed killers can be deadly to lilies, damaging their roots. Avoid using them on or even near lilies.


• Lilies require absolutely perfect drainage, and perform well in raised beds and on sloping sites with natural drainage. Even a rock-filled bed provides good drainage. Waterlogged soil with poor drainage will rot the bulbs, killing the plants.

Air Circulation

• excellent air circulation required to prevent botrytis, a fungal infection which proliferates in cool, damp, rainy weather
• don't plant too closely together
• a windy site serves as a good preventive against botrytis

Pot Culture

In addition to growing lilies in-ground, they are excellent subjects for container gardening. The more tender and less reliably hardy types, such as Trumpets and Orientals, can be dependably raised as perennials as long as the containers are stored in a frost-free place (refrigerator, crawl space, root cellar, or heated garage) for over-wintering. The cultural requirements for container-grown lilies are exactly the same as for in-ground lilies: good sunlight, perfect drainage, good organic matter in the soil, and good air circulation.

Pests and Diseases

Lilies have very few problems caused by disease and pests.

• Botrytis is a fungal infection that can plague lilies and is best prevented by good air circulation
• Lilies can suffer from viral diseases, spread by aphids. Wash them off with water spray, or kill them with soap or chemical pesticide.
• Slugs are partial to the flower tepals. Hand-pick them; use slug bait; salt them or ammonia-spray them; use copper rings, wood ash, or sand to deter them; beer bait them. Just don't let them get the best of the lilies.
• Voles and shrews eat lily bulbs. To foil them, let the soil surface freeze before mulching lilies to minimize the chance of rodents tunneling their way toward the bulbs. It may also help not to use bone meal or blood meal, both of which attract rodents.

When to Plant Lilies

Fall planting is usually considered preferable because the bulbs get on nature's true cycle right away. Spring planting can be done as soon as the ground is workable, perhaps as early as mid- or late April. They may bloom off schedule that first season, although after spending their first winter in the ground, they will self-correct and bloom at their natural time in subsequent years.


• division of bulbs--cut bulbs in quarters
• bulblets or offsets from mother bulb
• scales--peel them off the mother bulb and plant individually
• bulbils--found in leaf axils of some lily stems
• seed

Cut Flowers

Lilies make exquisite cut flowers, lasting nearly two weeks in water

Enjoying Lilies

Lilies are among the most beautiful and most rewarding perennials to raise in Southcentral Alaska. They require so little, yet give so much--beauty, hardiness, fragrance, rapid propagation, low maintenance.

Annie Nevaldine is a Master Gardener, an avid hobby gardener, and a student of phytography and flower macro-photography.



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