Monday, March 24, 2008

Healthy Lilies

Monday, March 24, 2008

Another sunny day here in Vermont but another day when the sun was prominent but the rise in temperature was not. The snow banks are still so high that they don't seem to move. I fear for a repeat of last April's snow which in this area amounted to almost three feet of new snow in about three weeks. It went as quickly as it came but this year that kind of storm would draw out spring and create big problems for the state's deer herd.

Gail and Alex were at a neighbors when I returned from work and Karl the wonder dog was anxious to get outside. So was I. I leashed him up and we headed down to the pond. The ice on the roadbed crinkled and crunched as we walked along. It was cold as soon as we got into the woods cover. Red squirrels were busy everywhere and we crossed three sets of coyote tracks which bothered Karl some. It was good to get out just the same.

I received a comment yesterday from Frances from southeastern Tennessee where she writes a great blog named Faire Garden: Humble Thoughts About My Garden. She inquired about Eucharis grandiflorum which I pictured, and she also wanted to know more about the less than admirable Easter lilies I observed just prior to Easter. She asked about identifying lilies with problems.

Eucharis grandiflorum is a plant I have grown for ages. The green leaves aren't anything special but when the blooms begin, not a visitor enters the house without making a comment. This is a flower which you might not pick up in a greenhouse or nursery even if you saw it because when not in bloom, it;s just a pot of big green leaves. With good potting soil that is organic and drains well, the plant grows quickly and flowers three or four times a year.

Frances inquired if it was hardy outside and I knew it was more of a tropical but didn't know the exact zone. Coincidently, a flower catalog showed up today and part of the mystery was answered. Understand this is just a catalog that came in the mailbox. I have no experience with the company but they do sell Eucharis grandiflorum. They list the plant as zone 10 and higher and they sell it for $19.95. They mention that it likes high humidity but I can vouch for the fact that it's about 6 feet from our wood stove here so I guess it can survive without the humidity as long as it gets watered on schedule. The company is Stokes Tropicals from New Iberia, Louisiana. The website is

As for identifying any lilies with problems, let's just say that when you have grown tens upon tens of thousands of them over twenty years like we have, you can spot problems or good health from a distance. Botrytis is a common floraculture problem. In lilies this fungus first appears as small round, brown circles on the lower leaves. Think of something not bigger than a pencil eraser sized spot. When you notice these on the leaves, it's usually too late to do anything. The fungus is common in the ground and garden debris and it attacks the underside of leaves, essentially growing through the leaf as it spreads about the plant.

Botrytis will not kill the lily but by virtue of destroying some leaves, the lilies will be less vigorous the next year. Oriental lilies and some Longiflorum Asiatic hybrids are strong and less susceptible than most Asiatic lilies. If you have ever seen lilies in a garden and the bottom 8 inches of leaves are browned and shriveled, then you have seen botrytis. This is an easy problem to care for and should not have been something I noticed in a greenhouse grown lily. Those problems were common at one place I stopped at.

Lily virus which I found to be more prevalent is something unstoppable. To see it in a large number of crops suggests the bulbs were infected to begin with. Although lilies with a virus will often grow in your garden for a few years, they usually weaken over time and eventually just give up. The leaves are often curled and contain yellow stripes or variations of leaf color. It takes more than a quick glance to figure this out because over or under use of certain chemicals can produce confusingly similar discoloration. Lilies with virus should be removed from your garden and discarded (no composting!) so the problem doesn't spread. Green and clean is what you want to see in a leaf.

Lilies are in tremendous production because they are so heavily used by the florist industry. They can be cut while still budded and they ship well so they are a popular plant. The industry changes colors annually to provide plenty of opportunity for the floral industry. The downside is that fields and bulb crops do not always get tested as they should and a bulb growing in a pot, unless tested, takes a while to develop signs of problems. If you see lilies exhibiting any of these descriptions, leave your doubt about the real diagnosis and the plant at the store or garden center. No matter how tempting the price might be, there's no sense in bringing home a problem.

The chef has given second call and that means I must close for now. Someone...somewhere... reading this has the luxury of fresh spring flowers or forced forsythia branches on the table. Our azalea and tulips continue to do the trick for us but we can't wait for our own flowers.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond,

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener