Stately lilies
Kiran Narain

Lilies at a florist’s shop
Lilies at a florist’s shop

The aristocrat of bulbous plants, lily varies tremendously in form, colour and habit. While some of them may be difficult to grow, others go on for years in the garden if happily situated. In Srinagar the old gardens adjacent to the Church and the Emporium and others have clusters of Lilium regale flowering year after year, without much care, in the month of May and June. Very much sought after by the florists, the various varieties of lilies are now being grown commercially in Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir Valley as well as in the plains.

Lily bulbs are never completely dormant, so it may be a good idea to book your orders with the nursery in advance so that the bulbs can be sent to you as soon as possible after digging. Buy sound and crisp bulbs of a good size.

Lilies must have perfect drainage and good air circulation, which would keep many garden pests and diseases away. A gentle slope in your garden may be ideal or else growing them in raised beds would be a good choice. For pots choose a loose and porous soil mixture with two parts sandy loam, one part leaf mould and one of sand. An inch of gravel at the bottom of the pot would ensure good drainage. A handful of sand under, around and over each lily bulb will keep the bulb happier. Some lilies like many Asiatic hybrids and Regal lily being stem-rooters, should be planted 15 cm deep, while other lilies which rely mainly on roots from the base of the bulbs will be happy at a depth of 5-10 cm only. Take care not to damage the roots in planting.

During the growing season, light applications of nitrogen-based fertilisers as top-dressing will help increase the flower size and also benefit the formation of the bulb for next season. Lilies are gross feeders and root deeply so they need a porous, well-aerated soil, rich in humus. They like a good mulch of well-rotted farmyard manure, rich compost or decaying leaf mould, which can be applied several times during the growing season. The mulch also keeps the soil cool and eliminates the need for surface cultivation, which might hurt the stem roots. A sharp eye must be kept for normal pests like aphids and thrips or fungal attack. Snails and slugs can also cause problems.

Like all bulbous plants, lilies need their stems and foliage to build for next year’s growth so while cutting flowers, do not cut the stem too long. The lilies never have a dormant phase as just after the flowering stem dies down, new shoots begin to form in the bulb.

Therefore, it is important that after lifting, bulbs are cleaned up and stored in damp sphagnum moss or sawdust in light polythene bags, which have been perforated. It is better to plant them as soon as possible as the liliums are most at home in the ground.

The scales that get detached from the main bulb can be dipped in a fungicide like Captan for 15 minutes and stored in damp moss in a warm place about 24°C. After about six weeks they will have small bulbs, which may bloom in a couple of years.