Plant lilies for summer garden drama

Lilium 'Forever Susan,' asiatic Susan.

Want some drama in the summer garden? Why don’t you plant some lilies this year? You say you’re scared of lilies?

Don’t be.

'Amarossi' Orienpet lily
‘Amarossi’ Orienpet lily
Though they look exotic, lilies are pretty easy to grow.

In Oklahoma, the genus Lilium is almost foolproof grown in sandy soil. If you have clay, amend it to the max with compost, or leaf mold, or some other soil amendments that break up clay. Or, you can dig out the clay and purchase at least eight inches of good soil to place on top of the nasty stuff. If you have sandy soil, just add compost or other organic matter for better drainage. Compost and other soil amendments make clay soil less glue-like and retain moisture in sandy soil so nutrients don’t wash away. It’s almost like magic.

Lilium 'Golden Splendor Strain' trumpet lily.
Lilium ‘Golden Splendor Strain’ trumpet lily.

We Oklahomans know all about nutrients, soil and mulch washing away this year, don’t we? Even my paths have washed out numerous times with our spring storms. Not that I’m complaining or anything. I would never complain about rain.

Asiatic lily 'Lionheart'
Asiatic lily ‘Lionheart’ was wonderful, but I planted him in an area that didn’t drain well. He quit coming back. Lilies want good drainage. See, I make mistakes too.
I am no expert on lily bulbs, but I grow a lot of them.

Lilies are my recompense for before and after the June daylily season. Like some daylilies, many lilies come in the rich dark colors I favor.

It works like this. In May, we have roses and peonies. Right after they finish, asiatic lilies start blooming. Asiatic lilies have smaller horizontal foliage stacked all the way up the stem, and they tend to be on the shorter side.

You’ll see a lot of asiatic lilies in full, glorious bloom at the box stores each May because they are short and easy to transport on large trucks. I saw some last week. Often they are orange or yellow, or sometimes, a dusty pink, but note that asiatic lilies can be exquisitely colored. The ones you see for sale were brought to full bloom in a wholesale greenhouse. By the time you buy them, the blooms won’t last more than a week or two. They may return next year if planted in the right place, but they are only party favor flowers this year.

Lilium 'Forever Susan' planted in front of a red Japanese maple.
Lilium ‘Forever Susan’ planted in front of a red Japanese maple.

Yes, I see your sad faces. I’m sad you bought those too. Consider this post your fair warning for next time.

Lilium Asiatic 'Royal Sunset' which is one of the finest asiatic lilies out there.
Lilium Asiatic ‘Royal Sunset’ which is one of the finest asiatic lilies out there.
Don't buy anything in full flower at the garden nursery or the box stores. You'll often be… Click To Tweet

You could wait and buy these same lilies on the dollar rack after they bloom. Just kidding. Buying stuff on the $1.00 rack at the box store is like gambling at an Oklahoma casino. You may win big, but you may also lose your rent check. Unless you know what you’re doing, please avoid the $1.00 rack.

Instead, bite the bullet and order your bulbs from a reputable online nursery and pay for shipping.

You’ll receive your bulbs at the correct time for planting–often in October here–and you’ll start a beautiful bulb relationship that will last for years.

So where were we? Oh yes, the asiatics start. Then, come daylilies which aren’t lilies at all, but they do still have trumpet-shaped blooms. While the daylilies are often still blooming, the trumpet lilies and the interspecific hybrids begin their show, and what a show it is. There’s been a lot of breeding being done between species. Hybridizers are trying to get the best qualities of each. For example, the Orienpets or OT Hybrid lilies are the last blooming in my garden and among the strongest. They have wonderful fragrance along with really strong and tall stems. I have better luck with the Orienpets than with traditional Oriental lilies. Orienpets, like ‘Conca d’Or’–one of my favorites–, make quite the exclamation point in the July garden when little else is blooming. I buy most of my lilies from B&D Lilies, Brent & Becky’s Bulbs or Old House Gardens. My ‘Black Beauty’ lilies are from Old House Gardens. You can also find ‘Black Beauty’ from B&D Lilies. My ‘Kaveri’ lily was a gift from Longfield Gardens a couple of years ago.


Last year, I bought ‘Corsini,’ ‘Morini’ and ‘African Queen’ to add to my collection of lily bulbs. The first two are Orienpets, and the last is a trumpet strain. This year, I’ll get to see them bloom for the first time. I’m extremely excited. I grow most of my lilies along my garage in a border that faces east and gets morning sun, but I grow them in other parts of the garden too. Lilies are imbricate bulbs which have separate layers and should stay barely moist during shipment. In other words, lily bulbs are more delicate than say, a tulip or daffodil. You should plant your lily bulbs as soon as you receive them. Do not let them sit in your garage for a week or so, or they will rot, and you will be sad.

'Casa Blanca' is a pure white oriental lily. It has very fine petals and is quite beautiful. It's also been hard to get started in the best border in my garden. It is not that easy to grow here.
‘Casa Blanca’ is a pure white oriental lily. It has very fine petals and is quite beautiful. It’s also been hard to get started in the best border in my garden. It is not that easy to grow here.
I don’t want you to be sad.

Plant lily bulbs in fertile, well-drained soil and your lilies will bloom the following year. If they are happy, they will grow bigger and better, often multiplying year after year. You can dig up and transplant the small plants as they come up in spring once you have an established stand of lilies. You can also give them away to your friends. Asiatic lilies really multiply if happy. You’ll have plenty to share in a few years.

'Conca d' Or' - Orienpet Hybrid Lilies are much more beautiful in person than online.
‘Conca d’ Or’ – Orienpet Hybrid Lilies are much more beautiful in person than online. I think that’s true of all lilies really.

The one culprit to lily joy is the scarlet lily beetle, but I’ve never seen the little creeps in Oklahoma. I hope they never come here either. We have enough problems without them.

I hope I’ve enticed you to grow a few lilies in your garden. It’s almost daylily season. I’ll do my best to allure you to these non-lily perennials too, but now, it’s the start of lily season, and my garden rejoices at each open bloom.

Plant lily bulbs and plant happiness. Drama too. It’s a win-win.

Garden editing, i.e. weeding

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus) on passalong Phlox paniculata.

Late summer is the season of garden editing especially in a year with consistent rain and moderate temperatures. Consistent rain and moderate temperatures in Oklahoma? Yes, indeed. The summer of 2015 reminds me of the summers of my youth. There’s heat, but only a few days over 100F, and it’s rained every few weeks throughout June, July and August.

Rudbeckia hirta 'Chocolate Orange' weeding
Rudbeckia hirta ‘Chocolate Orange’

I am overjoyed by this turn of events until I think of my garden blogging friends out west. In case you haven’t heard, California is drying up and on fire. Washington and Idaho are also going up in flames. Because I’ve blogged since 2007, I have friends in all of these places. I see their shares on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and my heart hurts for them. Oklahoma is frequently dry and on fire too so I empathize. I am praying for that Godzilla El Nino with a vengeance even though it will mean mud slides because of a lack of vegetation.

Echinacea 'Powwow Wild Berry' has very erect stems and bright color.
Echinacea ‘Powwow Wild Berry’ has very erect stems and bright color.

Because my friends are such good and generous people, I know they don’t begrudge Oklahoma finally having a decent summer. They’re far too kind. Usually, by the end of August, my garden is very, very dry. Not this year. In fact, more rain is forecast this week, and we had beautiful storms two days ago. I am still watering, but not as often, and for once, the gardens at my church, which I care for, are in pretty good shape.

Butterflies aren't the only winged beauties in the garden. This White-lined Sphinx moth, Hyles lineata, has wonderfully patterned wings.
Butterflies aren’t the only winged beauties in the garden. This White-lined Sphinx moth, Hyles lineata, has wonderfully patterned wings.

At home, where I can watch things day-to-day, summer gardening is all about editing. Weedy grasses want to take over any space left bare. Late summer is an easy time to pull/dig weedy grasses because they elongate, and you can spot them from their inflorescences (blooms/panicles.) Even so, try to reach down and get grasses and other weeds where they grow. Otherwise, they will just break off in your hands. Weeding is all about getting to the root of the problem.

'Becky' shasta daisy with Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldsturm'
‘Becky’ shasta daisy with Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm.’ If you deadhead, leave some of the stem because some small native bees lay eggs in these stems, and their young emerge in spring. If you don’t mind having more plants, you can leave the seed heads for birds like the American Goldfinch too.

My garden, in a good year, is packed to the gills with plants. Part of this is that I’m a girl who just can’t say no, but there’s also method to my madness. A garden full of growing plants crowds out many weeds by throwing shade.

Four o'clocks, coleus, asiatic lilies make this border sing.
Four o’clocks, coleus, asiatic lilies make this border sing.

A visitor in spring asked me what I spray for weeds especially in the gravel paths. I use regular vinegar, not the stronger horticultural type, but plain old vinegar set at 5% acidity. It will kill smaller weeds and weaken larger ones, but mostly, I just pull weeds and smother others with mulch or even black plastic on a warm day. Weeds in the gravel paths are at their worst in early spring when we have moderate temperatures and rain.

Cup plant, Silphium perfoliatum, in all of its eight-foot-tall glory.
Cup plant, Silphium perfoliatum, in all of its eight-foot-tall glory.

If you’d like to read more about natural versus chemical weed control, check out the recent discussion between Jeff Gillman and Margaret Roach on her blog, A Way to Garden. Note, I don’t use the epsom salts/vinegar mixture they discuss, but their talk gives you good insight about chemical methods versus organic ones. I only use plain vinegar on my paths, but vinegar doesn’t kill the roots of most perennial weeds. In spring, when the weather isn’t as dry, I also use a propane gas torch to kill weeds. Over the years, I’ve improved the soil in the garden beds and borders so it’s pretty easy to pull weeds. I know most people don’t work from home like I do, but if you weed thirty minutes a day after work, you’ll find you have a lot fewer weeds, and you won’t need so much herbicide, organic or not. Remember, weeding has a meditative quality too.

Rain lilies and purple heart because we've gotten rain this year.
Rain lilies and purple heart because we’ve gotten rain this year.

As the weather gets hotter, there are fewer weeds in the paths because the rocks are really hot and dry. I pull weeds in the gardens and in the paths everyday. With certain weeds like the ever-present Bermuda grass, you have to dig down into the soil to get the larger roots. In another bed, I have a stand of Johnson grass,which is worse, because I swear, those roots go all the way to China. I will probably spray it with vinegar, being careful not to overspray other plants, and then work on digging it out a few days later. I find a garden digging fork is my best took in the fight against weedy grasses. Will I ever completely rid my garden of Bermuda and Johnson grass? No. To achieve root kill on nutsedge, Bermuda and Johnson grass, I think you’ll have to use a chemical spray designed for that purpose. However, I’m organic so I just beat things back all the time. I do a lot of digging.

A new gardening friend visited and asked how I amend the soil. This is where I tell you should first get a soil test. I no longer get soil tests every few years because I’ve worked out my methods of soil amendment. If I’m having a problem with a particular bed though, I would then get a soil test to see what’s lacking. This spring, because I’m working hard on prepping new daylily cultivars for the regional tour in 2017, I did a lot of work on the soil, and the garden really responded. I used Back to Nature on the beds in March and April. It took two weeks to weed the garden and put down BTN wherever I’d weeded. One of the things I like about BTN is that when I place it on top of the soil as a mulch, it initially seems to stop some weed seed germination. If you tilled it into your soil, it wouldn’t have this effect. Further, this effect is simply based upon my observation over the years. To sow seeds in a certain location, I would cover them instead with shredded leaves for best germination. I waited a few weeks to let the earthworms till the BTN into the soil and once it decays to half its original size, I placed either shredded leaves as mulch, or fine pine, wood mulch. I used fine pine because it is very small and will degrade within a season. It provides better weed control than the shredded oak leaves. Think about it. In the forest where leaves fall to the ground, they provide a perfect soil amendment for understory plants. They do the same thing in your garden. If you don’t have fibrous leaves like those from our oak trees, you don’t even need to shred them.

Different view of the garden. The potager is on the left, and the vegetable/cutting garden is on the right.
Different view of the garden. The potager is on the left, and the vegetable/cutting garden is on the right.

I was also asked what I do about bugs and insects in the garden. I don’t do much to discourage them. Instead, I work to provide a haven for birds and all types of wildlife excluding deer of course. Deer visit anyway, and if they’re hungry enough, only a large fence, or large active dogs will stop them. I don’t have a large fence, but I plant large grasses and tall plants around the exterior of the garden because deer don’t like to venture into a space where they can’t see all around them. It’s not a perfect system, but it works pretty well. Maddie and Tap also patrol outside and reduce some of the nightly visitors like skunks, deer, opossums, raccoons, armadillos, etc. I still have damage here and there especially if I forget that deer love a certain plant and put it in the gardens further from the house. I’m thinking of the variegated oyster plant I grew for a day or two before the deer found it in the bed next to the street. Whoops.

Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldsturm' needs a lot of editing in a moist garden.
Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’ needs a lot of editing in a moist garden. It spreads by roots and seeds.

In addition to the weeds, there are also plants that need editing. Some plants, especially passalong favorites like Phlox paniculataRudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm,’ goldenrod, Physostegia virginiana (false dragonhead) and some asters, must be pulled out. You can wait until next spring, but by then, they will be even more entrenched. I pull many of these volunteers away from other established plants. It gives everything a bit of breathing room. I pulled large piles yesterday. I may remove Verbesina alternifolia, yellow ironweed, because it is trying very hard to take over the lower beds. I do love its tall stature though at the end of the garden so maybe I won’t. I also have an aster that’s run amok, and I’ve pulled it, smothered it with plastic and sprayed with vinegar. It loves a wet clay area of my garden and is a real problem there. We all have our problem children, ‘er plants in the our gardens, don’t we?

My husband calls this area the zinnia garden because there are more zinnias in the cutting garden than anything else. It's wonderful. I can't capture the true nature of the colors.
My husband calls this area the zinnia garden because there are more zinnias in the cutting garden than anything else. It’s wonderful. I can’t capture the true nature of the vivid color.

Well, the morning is cool so I’m off to do more editing. The skies are cloudy, and I’ve got people coming to visit on October 17. Wish me luck that I get things tidied up by then.