By Philip Fry of the
Old Field Garden and Wildflower Nursery
The location chosen for planting native lilies should correspond as much as possible to their native habitat. The Canada, Michigan and Turk's Cap Lilies are found in damp forest edges, clearings, and meadows in well drained, slightly acid to neutral humus-rich loam. The Wood Lily is found in dry woods and clearings in sandy, quite acid soil. Both sets of requirements can be filled in most gardens if care is taken to watch over watering, drainage and mulches.
Lilies that like damp conditions can prosper in garden loam enriched from time to time with leaf mould or well rotted "horse chips." They need at least a half-day of direct or slightly filtered sunlight, or they will not grow to their maximum and may fail to bloom. The Canada and Michigan Lilies (we are not sure of the Turk's Cap's limits) can tolerate full sun, but only if the soil remains damp and the bottom portion of the plant is in deep shade, as in a lush meadow or raspberry patch. Ensure that the soil around lily bulbs is protected from over heating by the sun. At the Old Field Garden, we have found that tall grasses, raspberries and ferns do the job of shading and cooling well, but any plant that does not crowd out the lilies would do.
Requiring a much more acid, sandy soil, the Wood Lily is perhaps more tricky to establish in a small garden unless there is already a conifer growing on site to help acidify the soil. We have observed that this lily can tolerate, and perhaps even appreciates, some limited periods of full sun, but it also thrives in dappled light. The important thing is to have a fairly dry site and to keep the plant nourished with acid mulch.
Lilies should be planted at the depth they have established while becoming mature - somewhere around three times the height of the bulb - then well covered with mulch. Lilies can burrow down in the soil to find the depth they prefer, but they cannot move upwards. If, then, there is any doubt about planting depth, it is better to be too shallow than too deep.
We recommend that any of the lilies be fairly well spaced. The first reason is aesthetic: when they are mature, the flowers of these lilies have a characteristic shape that is obscured if other plants are too close by. We have learnt that "clumping," while it creates an impressive effect, works against the intrinsic beauty of the individual flowers.
The second reason for adequate spacing is safety from predators. In our experience mice love the Canada Lily, especially at the moment of bloom. They cut the stem at the base, and then cut it up into sections as they dine on each whorl of leaves. And there is a new threat: the Red Asian Lily Beetle which has struck wild populations of lilies in Quebec as well as garden hybrids and has become so difficult to control in the Ottawa area that even veteran gardeners have begun to pull out their lilies in despair. The only viable remedy seems to be picking off the beetles daily by hand. Spacing plants makes them more difficult for predators to find and makes observation and care easier.
Some thoughtful placement will allow you to enjoy the magnificent beauty of North America's native lilies - from the flaming bright orange-red of the large Turk's Cap Lily (a more southern species) to the Canada Lily whose flowers range from a radiant lemon yellow through various orange hues.
See also Native Lilies, Part One: Growing from seed