Various ways of propagating lilies

Within the garden’s peaceful scene

Appeared two lovely foes,

Aspiring to the rank of Queen,

The Lily and the Rose.

Yours is, she said, the noblest hue,

And yours the statelier mien,

And till a third surpasses you

Let each be deemed a Queen.

~ William Cowper (1731-1800)

In Sunday’s column (Sept. 3, 2017), I wrote about Shakespeare’s use of the Madonna lily (Lilium candidum) to symbolize beauty and purity in his plays. As bulb plants, “true” lilies can be propagated  in the fall by bulb division, scaling, or by gathering seeds.

As a lily bulb matures, it will eventually divide into two parts, called offsets. When you see two plant stems growing close together, that probably means the bulb has split. In the fall, once the leaves have died back, dig up the bulbs and separate the offsets with a clean, sharp knife or pry them apart gently by hand. Replant the offsets immediately in rich, moist soil and allow to overwinter. It may take a few years for the plants to bloom.

Madonna lilies have “scales,” which can be removed and propagated. In the fall, once the foliage has died back, dig up the bulbs, remove the outermost ring of scales from the bulb and discard. Gently remove the rest of the bulbs down to the central “pit.” Dry the scales and pit overnight without washing or cleaning them, and then replant the pit the next day in rich, moist soil. Place the scales between slightly moistened vermiculite or peat moss and place in a plastic bag, making sure that the scales don’t come in contact with the plastic. The bag should not be sealed but loosely folded over, and moisture should not be allowed to collect inside the bag. Place the bag in a dry, dark location that is about 70 degrees F for 8-10 weeks. When the scales have grown into bulblets a little larger than the size of a pea, place the bag in the refrigerator for another 8-10 weeks to chill, and then plant the bulblets out in the spring. Like offsets, it will take a few years before the young plants grown from scales will bloom.

Lilies can also be grown from seed although, unlike “cloning” the plant from offsets or scales, lilies grown from seeds may not look like the parent plant (“true to type”). To gather lily seeds, wait until the flower has dropped its petals naturally and the remaining long, thin, seed capsule has turned brown and soft. Then remove the seed capsule from the stem, place in a paper bag and store in a dry, dark location that is about 70 degree F. for 8-10 weeks. The seeds will then be ready to remove from the pods. Immediately sow the seeds in pots, using rich, moist soil. Like other forms of propagation, young plants will bloom in a few years.

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  • About the Author

    Rhonda Nowak

    Rhonda Nowak is a Rogue Valley gardener, writer and teacher. With more than 25 years of gardening experience and a Ph.D. in literature and language arts education, she combines a love for plants, poetry, and prose in her Literary Gardener blog. ... Full Profile
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