Thursday, November 12, 2009

Lilium Concerns

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Evening comes too early for me now. Gail and Karl the Wonder Dog joined me in a quick walk out back after I returned from work today. I had been sitting too long and needed some fresh air and a little of the stuff that makes me love living in Vermont. We returned too quickly but the light was fading and I had a few things to finish up before dinner. The smell of acorn squash baking with maple syrup challenged my need to finish this blog on lilies.

Fall is the time many folks finally decide to plant some spring bulbs for the first time. I encourage such plantings as they make the dreary days of the last snows and snowbanks melt into great colors that beckon warmth and spring. Daffodils have always been high on our list because they are about impervious to animals, big and small. Neither deer nor voles will eat them and even in poor soil they reproduce and present more flowers for each year to come.

Besides daffodils and probably excepting the tiny crocus and muscari that are seen by the hundreds, tulips are probably the most popular spring bulb. They are less likely to succeed over time and are on about every animal menu somewhere near the top. I tell people if you can get three years out of tulips in Vermont, you're lucky. The species tulips do much better but most that we see in the stores are hybrids and susceptible to "munching". Here are some daffs pictured up top and three tulip bulbs just below.

As much as we like tulips, those who like tulips and lilium have to use care. Tulips are notorious for Tulip Breaking Virus and tulips planted in close proximity to lilies are a gardener's guarantee that in a year, two at most, both the tulips and the lilies will be gone. Aphids are usually the vectors in the case and they do their work around May here but I'm sure they keep spreading the virus into the summer according to their life cycles. I have written before about Gail and Alex planting some nice red tulips close to the walkway garden for their enjoyment. The process resulted in me losing some of the original Journey's End oriental lilies that I had cherished for years. Long and short of it is consider where you plant tulips if you like lilies. Gentle, seemingly insignificant winds might well carry virus laden aphids downwind to your lilies and after that there is no cure.

While I am at it, here's one other caution for fall planting. Stores often carry what many gardeners call "tiger lilies". I'm not sure I can think of another common name ascribed by so many gardeners as representative of the wrong plant. In this case the tiger lily people are mentioning is pictured just below. This is Lilium lancifolium, originally Lilium tigrinum, first named in 1810 and used like potatoes as food in Asia. I never got this figured out because tigers have stripes and tiger lilies have spots and sometimes people call daylilies tiger lilies. This is how I get more confused by what customers really want to by.

Tiger lilies often carry viruses but do not display any symptoms. When other lilies are planted in proximity, aphids, wind, roving animals spread the virus and both varieties die off in a year. Since the tiger lilies reproduce by tiny bulbils generated in leaf axils, there is always ample supply to regenerate another colony. These are nice lilies, very common in most every old time New England garden, but just beware of this caution when planting in your garden. That way you'll protect the beauty of other lilies you have already planted.

Here are a few more from our collection that we enjoy. Until late spring of each year, we have no idea what we still have growing.

Lilium regale

Oriental Rosy Dawn


Smokey Mountain Autumn


Lancifolium ??? can't remember

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where tonight's temperature will fall into the teens but rebound to the high forties tomorrow. Still time to plant bulbs!

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm


Randy Emmitt said...


Thanks for the education about lilies. I don't have any lilies in the garden nor tulips. Again thanks for this posting.

garden girl said...

Hi George, I learned a long time ago how appealing tulips are to varmints, and gave up on them after years of 'heartbreak,' seeing their colorful petals in shreds on the ground just as they were beginning to open.

Lilies will likely be the next bulbs I give up on. I've had great success with them in previous gardens. Here, we're lucky if the bulbs don't get eaten shortly after planting. I now cover them, not that it does much good since they are chewed to the ground within weeks of their emergence. But ah, I could sing their praises for their beauty, and the sweet, musky fragrance of the oriental varieties.

I seem to suffer from fall burnout in the garden, and have added few bulbs to our garden. There's still time here, and now that the rest of fall's garden tasks have been completed, I've been finding lots of blog inspiration to add more bulbs to our garden. I know if I don't I'll have spring regrets once again!

lynn'sgarden said...

Great info. here, George. Yes, the term 'tiger lily' is confusing. I was speaking with someone recently and she kept referring the 'ditch or roadside daylilies' as tiger lilies....

I've been planting what's considered 'perennial tulips' in the hopes of keeping them around longer. I hadn't known about the virus though, so thank you!