Houseplant of the Month for March 2019: The Lily

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Lilies (Lilium) can make wonderful if temporary houseplants, adding beautiful color and often exquisite perfume to the décor. 

Forced lilies start to come onto the market in March and remain available until fall. Potted lilies are characterized by an upright stem bearing dense lanceolate leaves and a cluster of long buds at the top that soon open into exotic flowers. 

The choice of colors in potted lilies is extensive: from red, yellow, orange and pink through to bicolors and pastel shades.

Origin

Slip the pot into a cachepot for instant charm! Photo: http://www.thejoyofplants.co.uk

The lily is a bulbous plant that gave its name to an entire plant family: lily family (Liliaceae). There are more than 100 known species of lily. 

It’s believed lilies first evolved in China, spreading first throughout Asia, then, via the Caucasus, the Balkans and the Alps, to Europe, and, from Siberia, to the New World. They remain largely plants of temperate climates, although a few Asiatic species are tropical. 

In the wild, lilies usually grow in a woodland setting or on grasslands with their bulb completely out of sight underground, but a few tropical species are epiphytes and grow on tree branches.

Potted Lily Range

The range of potted lilies is growing. The best-known varieties come from the Asiatic Group, often with brightly colored but scentless flowers, and from the Oriental Group, with large, highly perfumed flowers, while the Trumpet Group contributes the popular and highly scented Easter Lily (L. longiflorum). In addition, there are double-flowered lilies in pink and white, without pollen and with a light sweet fragrance. There are also compact varieties in pink or white with rounded leaves and a light fragrance. 

What to Look for When Buying Potted Lilies 

Use lilies extravagantly: you deserve them! Photo: http://www.thejoyofplants.co.uk.
  • Look for a large number of swelling buds per stem. The buds should not be open at the time of purchase but can show some color.
  • The bulb must be well rooted so that the stems are firmly supported. 
  • The plant should not have any dried-out buds or yellow leaves. 
  • If there is botrytis (gray mold) present on the flower or the foliage, the plant has been kept in damp conditions or has been given too much water. Such plants should be avoided.

Care Tips 

  • While indoors, lilies like a lot of light, but not bright sunlight.
  • The cooler the plant’s position, the longer the flowers will last (up to 2 to 3 weeks).
  • Water regularly—it’s better if the soil doesn’t dry out.
  • Removed wilted flowers. 
  • After its lavish flowering, the plant won’t bloom again indoors and the bulb can be planted in the garden for flowers in future years.

Potted lilies: they’re more than a throwaway gift plant. Try them and see!


Text based on a press release by Thejoyofplants.co.uk.

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Flowering Plants for Mother’s Day

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Most nurseries put up Mother’s Day displays filled with interesting gift plants. Source: www.timperleygardencentre.com

Tradition has that you give Mom a bouquet of flowers for her day and that’s fine. Even so, I have another suggestion. Why not give her a living plant, one with beautiful blooms? It will be just as attractive as a bouquet of cut flowers, but will last much longer and, in most cases, she can keep it going for several months or even plant the container outdoors permanently.

When Is Mother’s Day Exactly?

The date Mother’s Day is held varies from country to country, but it usually takes place in the spring. In most countries, including Canada, the United States, and most of Europe, it’s the second Sunday of May, but in Spain, it’s the first Sunday in May and in France, the last Sunday of May. In the United Kingdom, Mothering Day is the 4th Sunday of Lent, so it moves around quite a bit. Australia and New Zealand keep the “second Sunday of May” tradition, which means Mother’s Day takes place in fall.

Here are some flowering gift plants that Mom is sure to appreciate:

Annuals

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You can’t go wrong when you offer a container of annuals as a Mother’s Day gift. Source: Proven Winners

Be it hanging baskets, flower boxes or planters, you’ll find a huge selection of pots dripping with gorgeous annual flowers—calibrachoas, scaevolas, hybrid alyssums, pelargoniums, etc.—in just about any garden center, the perfect gift for a mother who has a balcony or terrace she’d like to brighten up with bloom. Ask the clerk to help you choose one adapted to Mom’s light situation, always the limiting factor: full sun, partial shade or shade. In areas where springs are still cold at Mother’s Day, she might need to keep the containers indoors for a while, until night temperatures stay reliably above 12 ° C.

Indoor Azalea (Rhododendron simsii)

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Indoor Azalea. Source: www.bakker.com

The indoor azalea is covered with a mass of usually double flowers in red, pink, white or two tones. Mom can grow it indoors while it blooms, then put it outdoors for the summer, in a fairly shady spot. Tell her not to bring it back indoors too early in the fall, as azaleas like cool fall temperatures as long as it doesn’t drop below freezing.

Chinese Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis)

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Modern hibiscus, like those in the Hollywood series, are more compact and heavier blooming that older cultivars. Source: www.hollywoodhibiscus.com

This will be a houseplant for most Moms, but a plant-in-the-ground outdoor shrub if she lives in the tropics. It has huge flowers shaped like parabolic antennas and it will bloom sporadically all spring and summer, even into fall and sometimes winter. Full sun is a big help in getting good bloom. Ma can move it outdoors for the summer if she wants.

Florist’s Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla)

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Florist’s hydrangea: keep it well watered! Source: http://www.teleflora.com

With its huge globes of blue or pink flowers (sometimes other colors), this plant never fails to please. Tell Mom to water it abundantly and often: this plant loses a lot of moisture to the air because of its huge leaves and thus dries out very quickly. This is not a houseplant: after it blooms, Mom will have to acclimatize it to outdoors conditions and plant it in the garden where it will grow in sun or partial shade. With a little luck, it will then bloom again annually. It’s not the hardiest of hydrangeas, though (it’s best suited to zones 6 to 9), and will need winter protection in colder regions.

Lily (Lilium spp.)

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Lilies make stunning temporary houseplants. Source: W.H. Zandbergen, ibulb.org

Pink, red, yellow, orange or white, with flowers shaped like trumpets, stars or turbans, scented or not, potted lilies are always gorgeous. To prolong their effect, buy a pot with many flower buds, but only one or two open flowers, a guarantee of weeks of flowers to come. Lilies are hardy bulbs (most to zone 3 or 4) and can therefore be planted out in a sunny spot in the garden after they bloom. They’ll live for decades in the average garden!

Primrose (Primula spp.)

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Polyanthus primrose. Source: www.ebbing-lohaus.de

There are many kinds of primroses, many of which are sold as gift plants. Some, such as the German primrose (P. obconica) and the fairy primrose (P. malacoides), are usually considered annuals and die after flowering. Just toss them in the compost. Most of the others, though, and especially the very popular common primrose (P. vulgaris) and its hybrid, the polyanthus primrose (P.x polyantha), are hardy. Indeed, they are classic perennials for the flower bed, most being hardy to zone 3. Plant them out in partial shade in moderately moist soil and they’ll come back year after year.

Rose (Rosa spp.)

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Miniature rose. Source: www.jacksonandperkins.com

It’s mostly miniature roses (very hardy) and polyantha roses (moderately hardy) that are sold for Mother’s Day. Often these plants will bloom several times during the summer if given proper care. Plant them in the ground, in full sun, and expect to see them back in bloom for years to come.

Spring Bulbs (Tulipa, Narcissus, Crocus, Hyacinthus, etc.)

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Daffodils and hyacinths make a great combo. Source: Wouter Koppen, ibulb

These are hardy bulbs, so after they bloom, Mom can plant them outdoors in her garden. Look for a spot that is sunny in the spring (these bulbs will be dormant and underground during the summer, so aren’t concerned in the least about summer shade).


Of course, there are many other flowering gift plants that Mom would enjoy on Mother’s Days: cinerarias, flowering shrubs, bromeliads, African violets, orchids, etc. Choose one for Mom considering not only her taste in flowers, but her growing conditions and her ability to keep them going … and then buy one for yourself too. You deserve it!20180509A www.timperleygardencentre.com.jpg

The Lily Beetle: How I Lost the Battle and Won the War

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20150610AYes, it’s true! I won the war against the scarlet lily beetle, also called the lily leaf beetle (Lilioceris lilii), an insect that greedily consumes the leaves and even the flower buds and flowers of lilies (Lilium), giant lilies (Cardiocrinum) and fritillarias (Fritillaria). leaving them looking like they’d been put through a blender. They used to be my absolute worst garden enemy, the very bane of my gardening existence, but I haven’t seen one in my gardens in 3 years!

20150610BAnd the solution was so simple! I simply pulled up and composted all my lilies and fritillarias! With nothing to eat at my place, the beetle has moved on to greener pastures, notably my next-door neighbor’s place where lilies still abound. I just wish my hammock was high enough off the ground so I could see over the fence and watch as she bobs up and down, squishing and spraying a good hour every day. I’ve already suggested she stop complaining, make a laidback gardener of herself and, especially, cease feeding her enemy, but she insists “it really isn’t all that much work”… then continues to complain.

What is the Scarlet Lily Beetle?

It’s actually quite a beautiful creature: elongated and bright orange-red on the top, with a black head and a black underside. Originally native to Europe and Asian, it was accidently brought to Montreal in 1942 where it seems to have spent a good 50 years acclimating, then suddenly began to spread back in the early 1990s. It is now widely distributed through New England and all of Eastern Canada and continues to spread. If you don’t have it yet (lucky you!), you probably will one day.

Plenty of Tips… That Don’t Work

I tried mightily to control the lily beetle by other means. I even succumbed to methods best described as folk remedies. Here are some of things I tried:

Hand Picking

The most effective method, but… you have to go about it every morning, as early as possible, while the beetle is still a bit woozy (like most insects, it’s often lethargic early in the day). If you start too late, when it’s more active, it has the annoying habit of quickly dropping to ground when it sees you coming and turning on its back to reveal it black underside. It then plays dead, making it almost impossible to see against brown earth.

20150610CWhen you do catch one, you can either squish it in your fingers or drop it into a pail of soapy water (I find squishing to be sensorily more satisfactory, buy perhaps that’s just me). And you have to do the same with the disgusting larvae (they cover themselves in their own feces, just to discourage gardeners, I’m sure!). And also go over each plant leaf by leaf, turning the underside up, so you can see and crush the orange eggs that hide there.

By dint of repeating these actions day after day, the population will eventually decline, but, just when you think you’ve won the battle, the second generation of beetles flies in and you have to start all over. And yes, there is even a third generation at the end of the summer!

If you keep hand picking, you can at least keep your lilies relatively intact, but… what an effort for a just few flowers!

Coffee grounds

I was told that coffee grounds were perfect tool for discouraging lily beetles. Just spread them around the base of your lilies, they said, and the odor of coffee will keep the beetles away. Result: a total flop. Not only did the beetles carry on chewing on my lilies as if I had done nothing at all, but now my beautiful scented lilies all smelled like coffee… and I hate the scent of coffee!

Companion Planting

On the advice of various gardeners and (former) friends, I tried planting garlic, onions, and pyrethrums near my lilies. The lily beetles just laughed at me.

Insecticide Sprays

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I think I tried everything that wasn’t either illegal or insanely toxic (like home-brewed nicotine spray, which can kill you quickly and painfully if you accidentally absorb it). The list includes rhubarb leaf spray, garlic spray and hot pepper spray, with or without added soap to make them stick. The results were mostly abysmal. I simply saw no difference.

Neem oil was the most effective spray treatment. By treating every 4 or 5 days, I seemed to get some control. Insecticides that included pyrethrum, a natural insecticide, also worked… for a while. I had to apply them daily for results. Insecticidal soap and dishwashing liquids worked too, but only if they actually touched the insect. And more daily sprays were required.

In all cases, I had to repeat the treatment again and again… and I have other things to do with my life than spraying insecticides. Moreover, I was (and still am) very concerned that I might be killing beneficial insects (such as bees) as collateral damage.

Extreme Cold

I really got to test this one, as I live in a very cold climate. I’d been told that since lily beetles overwinter in the ground, when it freezes to great depths, they’d be killed. Well, if they are, more fly in from somewhere else, as there are plenty of them here after even the coldest winters. Last winter, we had over a week at -22˚C (-30˚C) and the ground froze solid to a depth of 7 feet (2 m). Yet I can still see my neighbor hand picking lily beetles every single morning, rain or shine.

A Glimmer of Hope

Although I’ve given up on lilies (and fritillaries) for now, I still have hope for the future. There are natural lily beetle predators in its native Eurasia and at least two are under investigation in Rhode Island (which has a massive cut flower lily industry) to see if it introducing them into North America would be appropriate. If so, and if lily beetles went from being a scourge to only an occasional annoyance, I could live with that and would definitely plant lilies again. But that’s still years away.

In the Meantime

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Daylilies: the low- to no-care lily substitute.

Mostly I have simply replaced my lilies (Lilium) with daylilies (Hemerocallis), which, in spite of their name, are not close lily relatives. Their flowers resemble those of true lilies, come in a wide range of colors, and they are easy-to-grow and very hardy (to zone 3) perennials. And long-lived at that! A real laidback gardener plant!

I occasionally receive bonus lily bulbs when I order plants by mail. They go straight into the compost pile. Planting them would just invite lily beetles back into my yard… and I wouldn’t think of offering such a bulb as a gift. There is no one I hate enough to send such a lily bulb to.

No, it’s over for me: I want to enjoy my garden, not work on it constantly. I’ve had it with lilies. Long live the daylily!