We love incorporating lilies into our landscape designs. They are a strikingly beautiful perennial, bursting forth with gorgeous blooms that appear as though they should be in the tropics. They are so pretty that is may seem that they must be extremely delicate and hard to grow, but thankfully, however, this is not true. A dedicated group of lily breeders in Alberta have increased options for and knowledge about the species, and lilies are a hardy and easy-to-care for addition to any property.
Olds College, which has long worked to advance the agriculture industry in Alberta, has an established relationship with the Alberta Regional Lily Society. The two groups collaborate to carry out research on Alberta-bred lilies, and the College houses an Alberta Bred Lily Collection where gardeners can come and browse different types to add to their wish lists. Interestingly, one of the best lily breeders in recent memory hailed from Vermillion, Alberta, and is responsible for some of the finest lilies in the world today. Fred Fellner, born in 1931, has more than 100 official varieties of lilies registered, all of which have been bred to exhibit drought and disease resistance, winter hardiness, high bud count, and brilliant, fade-resistant colour. Fellner’s two works, A Lifetime of Lilies and Robert Simonet and the ‘Rescued Lilies’, tell more about his life and work.
What types of lilies are available?
Lilies vary greatly in height, arrangement, colour, and number of blooms. You can have an entire garden of lilies, and all will look different.
In accordance with the Royal Horticultural Society of England, Olds College identifies nine major groups of lilies:
- Division I – Asiatic Hybrids: Hardy in Alberta, plus the easiest to grow and least expensive to purchase.
- Division II – Martagon Hybrids: These produce small, downward facing flowers with recurved petals and are among the most expensive buy due to the years it takes to establish a bulb.
- Division III Euro‐Caucasian Hybrids (Candidum Hybrids): You won’t find these in Alberta, as they can’t survive the climate.
- Division IV ‐ American Hybrids: A couple varieties of American hybrids will grow in Alberta, but they are not often available for purchase.
- Division V ‐ Longiflorum Hybrids: The longiflorum hybrid is your classic Easter lily, and is not considered hardy enough for gardens.
- Division VI Trumpet and Aurelian Hybrids: These will grow in Alberta as long as care is taken to protect them from early or late frosts, and are tall, stately and full of fragrance.
- Division VII Oriental Hybrids: Oriental hybrids are developed from lilies found in Japan and are most often found in bouquets, not gardens, in Canada.
- Division VIII Interdivisional Hybrids: One of the newer lilies available, interdivisional hybrids produce unique flowers. Not all are hardy in Alberta and they can be difficult to grow.
- Division IX ‐ Species Lilies: Species lilies are the parent species of all the different types of lilies in existence.
Caring for your lilies
As with all living things, your soil needs to be healthy and rich in order to grow the most beautiful lilies. If you have good soil, no additional fertilizers should be needed. It’s always good to check the quality of your soil and manage its pH levels, plus nutrient and mineral levels.
- Keep soil consistently moist. Healthy lilies can handle some periods of drought, however consistently moist soil is best.
- Plant lilies in full sun or dappled shade. Find out how to measure the sun levels on your property here.
- When blooms have died, cut back your lilies below where the blooms came in, but they still need leaves and stems to keep feeding the bulb and roots.
- In the fall, stems can be cut back further, but be sure to leave enough above ground to create habit for burrowing bees over the winter.
Report the dreaded red lily beetle
The red lily beetle is a garden scourge that can absolutely destroy lilies. Watch for signs of chewing (holes in leaves) and bright red creepy crawlies. It’s important to take action early if you spot one, so remember that adults can wake up from winter as early as April. Female red lily beetles lay their crimson or orange eggs well into June, which they usually deposit on the bottom sides of lily leaves.
Fight back by making regular checks to see if there are any signs of these eggs, or of hatched larvae. You can pick them off by hand, and experts recommend dropping them into a bucket filled with soapy water. Diatomaceous earth can be a natural remedy, as it will dry out these beetles’ bodies and kill them off. Put it directly onto their bodies if you have a severe problem.
Also be sure to report spotting the red lily beetle to Alberta’s lily organizations. This helps to determine how bad the problem is and where mitigation could help control infestation. The parasitic wasp Tetrastichus setifer, native to Asia, has recently been released in southern Alberta and does a great job at eating up the pests. If you see red lily beetles, please take a picture and contact Alberta Regional Lily Society (firstname.lastname@example.org), Ken Fry, PhD, at Olds College (KFry@oldscollege.ca) and Carlton University (lilybeetletracker.weebly.com).
Mirage Landscaping for residential and commercial property beautification
Mirage Landscaping has over three generations of experience providing our southeast Calgary residential and commercial clients year round, full-service landscape maintenance and construction services. You can rely upon us to listen to your ideas and plan your backyard getaway with your input into every phase of the plan. Help designing, or redesigning a holistic landscape that reduces plant problems and maintenance is just a free quote away.