Lilies light up the summer garden with their blooms. Like this 'Yellow Diamond' variety, most flower for several weeks. Later, the bulbs need a little TLC to build up energy for next year's show. Luckily, their after-care is surprisingly easy, says Tim Crockenberg, head grower for Stargazer Barn, a source for fresh-cut flowers, wines, confections and other products.
Snip Below the Bloom
When your lily blooms fade, Crockenberg says, clip them off below the pedestal, which is the part where the flower attaches to the stem. "You don't want them to make seeds, which takes away energy from the bulb. But leave as many leaves as possible on the stem." This variety is 'Sorbonne'.
After you remove the lily blooms, keep watering the plants for about 6 to 8 more weeks. The bulbs will continue to grow and get bigger, Crockenberg says.
Cut the Lily Stems
Stop watering around the first of September, Crockenberg advises, and cut the lily stems almost to ground-level. Leave a very short section of stem.
'Sorbonne' Oriental lily
Of course, if you cut your lilies to enjoy indoors, your stems will already be shortened. When you cut them again, try to leave a minimum of 8 leaves per stem, Crockenberg says. "The more leaves, the better, to avoid decreasing next year's flowers."
When you've cut off most of the lily stems, you're ready to mulch the bulbs. Any generic mulch will do; use something fibrous, like shredded bark, coconut husks or wood chips. You want to retain as much moisture as possible.
Cover the Bulbs
Completely cover the lily bulbs with mulch to help insulate them from the winter cold. Crockenberg doesn't recommend mulching with straw, soil or compost; those are better used in spring.
Lilies can be planted in the spring or fall. Oriental lilies like these ('Sorbonne' in Crockenberg's left hand, and 'Hotline' in his right) have big, elegant blooms held atop tall stems. The bulbs like rich, moist soil that drains easily.
If gophers, moles or other critters try to eat your bulbs, bury a slotted crate in your garden, Crockenberg says, and plant the bulbs inside. Another option is to put tight wire mesh (smaller than chicken wire) in your bulb bed.
Burying the Bulb Crate
If you use a slotted crate to protect your bulbs, sink it into the ground, so it isn't visible.
'Esprit' Longiflorum Asiatic Hybrid Lily
Lilies usually wake up from their winter nap in late spring, Crockenberg says, depending on your location. At Stargazer Barn, in coastal northern California, growers start irrigating and fertilizing the plants once the seasonal rains stop.
'White Cup' Oriental Lily
As Crockenberg says, "Caring for lilies after they bloom is pretty straightforward." Lilies like 'White Cup' are started in a nutrient-rich soil mix in "rooting coolers" where the cool, moist conditions signal them it's time to grow. In home gardens, spring weather has the same effect.
'Hotline' Oriental Lily
'Hotline' is an Oriental lily with white, ruffled petals edged in violet-pink. After the lilies at Stargazer Barn form strong roots in the rooting coolers, they're moved to a glass greenhouse to continue growing. Care for your lilies after they bloom, and they'll return in your garden for many years.