Plant lilies for summer garden drama


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 disappointed. 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.


  1. ks says:

    I buy more Lilies every year without fail. They are so easy to tuck into my over-planted garden. And I typically lose one or two to standing water induced rot during our winter rains. ‘Royal Sunset’ oh yes ! Found on B&D and order is pending.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Yes, their “tuckability” is one of their finer points. I just hope we don’t get lily beetle.

  2. JessB says:

    I love growing lillies. Mine usually bloom around Father’s Day here. They are stunning.

  3. Peggy Zortman says:

    I’m going to give them a try. My Mom always grew them. I thought they were difficult. I have to get some for my baby sister Susan. The Forever Susan is just gorgeous and has the hot exotic colors my sister loves in her garden.

  4. Sally says:

    They are beautiful and how wonderful they must smell! I planted quite a few of them last fall…..and I’m waiting impatiently!

  5. Dee Nash says:

    I’ll have to look up your ‘Lankon’ LaDonna. They are much more beautiful in person. So true.

  6. Cindy, MCOK says:

    A neighbor bought at least 10 of those Asiatic lilies and planted them around a tree. I was sad for him when I saw that. The blooms were gone, as you said, within a couple of weeks.

  7. Love those rich colors, Dee. I was given a lily in a pot last year. I stuck it in the ground and I’m amazed to see it has come back. This may be the start of my love affair with lilies. Beautiful photographs! P. x

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Pam, I think you’ll come to love lilies as long as the lily beetle doesn’t reside in your area. They are wonderful, easy-care plants with so much beauty.

  8. Layanee says:

    I do love lilies but sadly, here, the red lily leaf beetle loves them just as much as I do and short of spraying every week which would impact other living creatures, there is naught to be done. I will enjoy yours. They are quite dramatic.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Layanee, I hear your pain, and I completely understand. If the lily beetle comes here, that will be the end of my lilies too. I don’t want to lose other pollinators. I’m so sorry.

  9. Aga says:

    The collection of the lilies you grow in the garden is stunning. There are so many varieties that I have not seen before. Lilies are my favourite flowers and I also grow them. I focus on the wonderful smell they release. I once had a lovely, burgundy colour lilies but they did not smell.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Thank you Aga. I’d love to see pictures of your lilies too. There are so many varieties, it’s hard to say no to them.

  10. I like your last paragraph, and it’s so true! You have quite a collection of beautiful Lilies! I’ve had a small garden plot of them for, gosh, more than a decade now. And they come back year after year. Mostly Asiatic, but a few Orientals, too. They’re fabulous cut flowers, and they survive our frigid zone 5 winters just fine. I suppose the excellent silt/loam soil we have here helps, too. This is a glorious post with your stunning photos of the Lilies. 🙂

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Thank you so much Beth!

  11. So many gorgeous lilies you have here Dee! I nearly drooled just looking at them. I think I have exactly three lilies, and I do love them. But I don’t plant any more simply because my ground is hard pack clay, and it’s just difficult to dig through. But you may have inspired me to try harder next time, because they truly are gorgeous.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Robin, maybe just a couple more this fall when the rains come again, and that clay isn’t so hard packed? Maybe?

  12. Carol says:

    I love the Orientpets and planted several in my garden the last few years. I bought them from a local grower who told me the longer they are in the ground the bigger the “candelabra” of blooms will be. I’m excited to see what they look like this year. For some, this is year 3, for others, year 2. I avoid the lilies at the big box stores. Short, full bloom, they look like they are plastic to me.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hey Carol, I can say that yes, the longer they are in the ground, the better they get. My ‘Scheherazade’ is truly spectacular. I love that plant. It is glorious next to the ‘Australia’ cannas.

  13. One of my very favorite flowers. Love that Susan in front of your Japanese Maple. Who would have known they were so easy to grow too. Beautiful!!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Lisa, I remember being in Buffalo and seeing lilies grown well for the first time. I asked a gardener how hard they were to grow. She gave me a quizzical look and said, “They are ridiculously easy.” I knew then I had to try them.

  14. LaDonna says:

    I love my ‘Conca D’Or’. Like you said pictures can’t do it justice. I have one blooming now called ‘Lankon,’ that is a different hybrid. It has done wonderfully well! Your garden is really outstanding this year!

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