Sensational, Ravishing, & Irresistible
Asiatic lilies are in full bloom right now and heads are turning to take in the show. But similar to a Cinderella fairytale, once mother nature’s clock strikes July 15th, Asiatic lilies turn into ugly brown stalks crying for the curtain to drop. A savvy gardener knows how to spotlight their beauty and camouflage their weakness.
Before providing some design tips, let’s take a look at the Lilium family. Lilies are flowering plants that grow from bulbs. Many people confuse lilies with daylilies but they are totally different; daylilies have a matted root system. Members of the Lilium family include Asiatic; Oriental; Trumpet; L.A. Hybrids; Asi-Florums; and Orienpets. Asiatics are the first to kick-off the riotous, summer lily show. Each bulb sends forth a single stem that is top-laden with buds. Asiatics bloom for three to four weeks, starting in late June and strutting their stuff through mid-July. No other Lilium group has as many colors to select from. Choices range from orange, red, white, pinks, melon, yellow, lavender and burgundy. Upward facing, cup-shaped flowers can be solid colored, bi-colored, or delightfully spotted. Heights range from petite (14”) to over 3’. Unlike highly fragrant Oriental, Trumpet, and Orienpet lilies, Asiatics have little scent. They prefer full to part sun and demand well-drained soil. Wet soil spells ‘death by rot’.
Some popular Asiatic picks are ‘Monte Negro’ (dark red, 32”); ‘Blackout’ (deep red, 24” – 32”), ‘Navona’ (white, 36”); ‘Lollypop’ (white with pink petal tips, 26”); ‘Latvia’ (soft yellow with sprays of dark maroon speckles, 34”), ‘Centerfold’ (white with short maroon center bars, 32”), any of the Pixies (various colors but they only get 16”); and ‘Strawberries and Cream’ (soft pink with darker pink centers, 40” – 44”). These are just a sample of the oh-so-delicious choices available.
Like tulips and daffodils, Asiatic bulbs are dug into the ground at a depth of three times the height of the bulb. If the bulb is two inches tall, place it at a depth of six inches. Hardy to at least zone 4, they will delight you year after year unless a foraging chipmunk, squirrel or vole snacks on them first. To dissuade munching critters, toss some sharp fragments such as crushed shells or gravel into the planting hole before backfilling with soil. You can also drench bulbs in a taste repellent (i.e., Bobbex) for three to five minutes to allow the distasteful liquid to be absorbed before planting.
When designing with Asiatics, it is best to surround them with perennials or shrubs instead of giving them their own planting area. If you don’t, you will be faced with the depressing scene of browned-out, dead looking stems once they go dormant. Unfortunately, the gorgeous blooms do not stick around for an encore after their show. They go dormant rather quickly, similar to many spring blooming bulbs. Once the stems have totally browned-out, cut them down to the soil surface. Because of their unsightly mid-summer retreat, Asiatics should also not be placed in the front of a garden. Tuck them behind shorter plants that will provide a discretionary ‘changing room’. I have found interplanting Asiatic and Oriental lilies works nicely. As Asiatics start to decline, Orientals move toward peak bloom, cleverly drawing the eye away from the stage change. Plant Asiatics in sweeps of threes, fives or sevens for best results.
By understanding these beauties, you can give them center stage when they’re in their prime and then skillfully redirect the viewer’s eye when the show has ended. Now on with the show!