Most gardeners like lilies that are dependable and reasonably easy to grow; they want to be sure of a certain splash of color or of a particular quality of charm or dignity in their border or landscape picture. Fortunately, the majority of our lilies fall into this category of dependability.
There are quite a number, however, that present a certain challenge, that demand of the grower something in the way of special knowledge, skill and care. As it happens, most of these less easy-going lilies are so startlingly beautiful that the real gardener is only the more intrigued by their relative difficulty.
Some lilies do not easily adjust themselves to the garden because they are capricious wildings which come from natural environments hard to simulate on the small plot. Others are difficult because they react badly to lifting and shipping. Still others are subject to various diseases under garden conditions.
The three diseases which cause most of our difficulties are mosaic, basal rot, and botrytis. Botrytis blight, however, is so easy to control with Bordeaux mixture that it is fallacious to call lilies affected by it difficult. Mosaic is a virus that is spread by sucking and chewing insects, chiefly the melon aphid. Basal rot is a soil-borne fungus that causes the bulb to rot and the entire plant to go to pieces.
Mosaic - The reactions of different lilies to mosaic are highly variable. In some it may appear only as a mild mottling in the leaves with no effect on the plant itself. In others the characteristic mottling is accompanied by a gradual deterioration in the health and vigor of the plant over a period of several years. In a relatively few species the mottling is more serious and the effect of the virus causes a marked distortion of the leaves, buds and flowers; in such cases the disease generally results in fatality within a year.
Mosaic cannot be wholly prevented or controlled under any but ideal conditions. Nevertheless, relative prevention and practical control are well within the reach of every gardener. Since it is carried only by aphids, its spread can be prevented by regular spraying and dusting with malathion to kill these pests, and by garden placement that will prevent their movement from plant to plant.
Aphids are generally wind-borne and are not likely to move more than 30 or 40 feet in the garden; consequently this amount of space between highly susceptible species and plants already infected is a natural safeguard. If this space is broken by shrubbery, plants, or a building, so much the better.
The principal caution that gardeners have to observe is to avoid planting highly susceptible lilies, immediately next to those that are almost invariably infected with the disease.
Basal rot. Much less has been written about basal rot than about mosaic, although this disease has also been responsible for many bulb losses in the past. But with our present knowledge of lily culture and of the prevention of the disease, basal rot need no longer be considered a major hazard to lily growing.
If the bulbs are in good condition when purchased and if the plants are happy in the garden, they are not likely to develop basal rot, except for a few highly susceptible species and these only when planted in soil that has previously been badly infected.
Over a period of years I have found that 75 per cent of the trick of preventing basal rot is to find just the right location for each variety. In preparing the bed, good drainage must be insured by placing coarse gravel, crushed stone, cinders or tile at some distance under the bulbs; I have also found weathered coal ashes most helpful. Manure should be definitely avoided with all difficult lilies it is far too likely to stimulate any bacteria that may be present in the soil.
It is equally important that bulbs of susceptible varieties, should be planted with the possibility of previous soil infection in mind.
It is also wise to disinfect bulbs of difficult lilies before they are planted. Clean the bulbs of all rotted tissue and soak in a fungicide solution. Clip the roots of difficult lilies also. This not only removes injured roots as a possible source of infection, but also acts to disinfect the bulbs and stimulate new healthy root growth quickly.
Rots caused by digging, storage and shipping are not common these days because of our increased knowledge of handling bulbs. A number of species, however, do not travel well, especially if they are not dug at exactly the right time.
If the bulbs of any lilies are bruised when a shipment arrives, the injured and rotted scales should be removed with a sharp knife and the bulb disinfected. If the bulbs are badly rotted they should be returned to the supplier.
Environment. The influences of environment on the adjustment of lilies are important, but often so subtle that they are not clearly understood.
According to most lily care guides, Lilium candidum, has a natural preference for a sweet, dry, relatively heavy soil and for full sun. Yet the finest lily specimens of this plant I've ever seen were established in a bed of azaleas, growing right up through the woody shrubs. And the soil, of course, was acid. The average gardener, however will do well to select the sweet, sunny location.
Lilium parryi is considered a lily for bogs, for damp places and light shade; and by all means this is the safest way to plant it. Yet I know of some magnificent specimens growing on top of a dry, sandy, windswept, sunny knoll which seem to be completely at home and satisfied.
If it is at all feasible, however, the conditions under which difficult lilies grow naturally should be given them in the garden.
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