overwintering lily bulbs

diggerdee zone 6 CTJuly 31, 2010

So, I find myself in a bit of a quandary.

I started growing lilies in crates a few years ago. I overwinter the crates in my garage. The last few years I have staggered bloom by 1)bringing out the trays at different times; 2)putting some crates in shadier areas to try to delay bloom; and 3) planting my new bulbs in succession, after the crates have been brought out.

Of the three, the last is really the only thing that makes much difference. (The lilies start growing in the garage whether I bring them out or not, so I can't delay much just using that method.)

However, I've reached the point (for now) that I most likely will not be buying many new bulbs. I had planned to dig up my existing bulbs and overwinter in a fridge, and then succession plant to get staggered bloom.

But now I read that lily bulbs cannot really be overwintered like that. Uh-oh...

I've seen references to having bulbs delivered at staggered times - so how do the big bulb growers hold them?

Any suggestions or ideas? I did do a search on this forum, and interestingly there was one thread where *I* answered someone's else's question, lol - and basically said the same methods I do above. But now that I don't want to add new bulbs I'm not sure what to do.

Thanks for any help!



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I can't help with your dilemma, but am very interested in hearing the responses. My husband and I have been selling lilies in pots this year and I was wondering what the best method was going to be to overwinter them. I have "heeled in" clematis plants with great success - but was told the lily bulbs would rot if I tried that with them.
Was also wondering if you could tell me more about the basics of growing lilies in crates(?) I've heard and read a little bit about that, but do not know the particulars of how it is done.

    Bookmark   August 2, 2010 at 10:22PM
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I plant my orientals, orienpets and others types in 25 gallon tubs that are made from 55 gallon plastic drums cut in half using a chain saw. They get good drainage that way. Which seems to be the deciding factor whether or not they live. I'm in zone 5.
I don't try to stagger the bloom time though. They just bloom where they are.

    Bookmark   August 3, 2010 at 1:42AM
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Here is an interesting thread on storing lily bulbs.

Here is a link that might be useful: lily forum thread

    Bookmark   August 4, 2010 at 12:34AM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Thanks, phlowerpower, for that link. I had actually already read that thread (did a search on the lily forum as well as here) and unless I'm reading it incorrectly, it seems to advocate shorter-term storage in the fridge. That particular thread may actually have been the one that dashed my plan, lol!

I am not looking to store the bulbs in soil/potting mix; that is what I already do with the crates.

What I'd like to do is store just the bulbs, over the winter, and then re-plant them in succession to stagger bloom times. Seems that everything I find, though, discourages the longer-term storage of bulbs only.

If anyone has any ideas on how to store bulbs for the winter - just bulbs, not planted - I'd love to hear!

Dreamgardener, if you have an unheated garage, you can just pull your potted lilies in there. That's how I store my crates - and lots of other potted perennials. Honestly, a few crates did not even make it into the garage last year and they did just fine this season.

As you are in zone 4, you may want to do a bit of research on temperatures; I'm not sure if there is a base temperature that you should not go lower than. I don't have a thermometer in my garage, but for the most part my zone 6 winter seems to work well in terms of overwintering many things in the garage.

Hope someone can help me out on the bulb storage! Thanks so much!


    Bookmark   August 4, 2010 at 9:08AM
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It was my understanding that you could store asiatics at 28 degrees, and orientals at 30 degrees, until you are ready to plant them in order to stagger blooming time. In general, from what I have read, asiatics can be stored longer than orientals. The problem seems to be that this is colder than a refrigerator, but warmer (and needs more humidity) than most freezers.

I saw similar info in publication from Florida and I think Massachusets...but now I cannot find those links. Funny how hard some info can be to find on the web!
Good luck, and let us know. :)

    Bookmark   August 5, 2010 at 1:21PM
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Here's some info:

Production of Hybrid Asiatic and Oriental Lilies1
Michael R. Evans and Ron Beck2
From University Of Florida Extension

"Precooling Requirements
Asiatic and oriental hybrid lilies require a cold treatment of a minimum of 6 and 8 weeks, respectively, at 34 to 36°F before planting for rapid shoot emergence and flowering. Additional cooling is not harmful. Once the bulbs are precooled, they should not be exposed to temperatures above 36°F for extended periods of time or premature sprouting will occur.

Bulbs which will be used for late forcing (usually after February) are usually frozen in peat and maintained at 28°F. Holding the bulbs at this temperature prevents sprouting, reduces loss of the bulb's energy reserves and minimizes disease problems. However, bulbs must be totally vernalized before freezing. Further, the case must have adequate moisture since freezing temperatures are very drying and the bulbs can dehydrate easily. Allow for free flow of air between and around cases, and do not allow bulbs to thaw. If bulbs are allowed to thaw, and then refrozen, flower buds may not develop properly.

When bulbs are needed for planting, or when frozen bulbs are received from a supplier, defrost the bulbs slowly at 45 to 55°F for one to three days, or until the bulbs are thawed. As soon as the bulbs are thawed, they should be planted. If planting is delayed, sprouting and disease problems may occur."

Here is a link that might be useful: Univ Florida extension publication

    Bookmark   August 5, 2010 at 1:39PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Thanks phlowerpower! That's great info and I appreciate the time you took to find it.

Sounds like you are right - these temps (and moisture levels) may be difficult to achieve with just a home refridgerator.

I do wish they'd be more specific with times. These bulbs would definitely be cooled for longer than 6 to 8 weeks, but I wonder what they mean by "additional cooling"...

Perhaps I will buy a good thermometer and see what my fridge can do. I wonder how to add moisture to such cool temps though... doesn't seem like a pan of water in a cold fridge would work the same way as a pan of water in a hot oven, lol. Hmm..

Well, I've got some time to play around a bit before I dig up the bulbs. Thank you all again for your help!


    Bookmark   August 5, 2010 at 2:56PM
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flowers4u(z6 OR)

Dee - I think you should try freezing them! Then, take them out when you need them...since you're not storing them in soil.

Last year I needed my crates for my dahlias and stored my lilies in sawdust in buckets outside all winter (covered in plastic to prevent too much moisture build-up. Then, when the temps stayed above freezing I did bring the buckets into my cooler and succession planted them back into crates.

I also get lilies a couple of times starting in May - July from Van der Salm bulbs. These are frozen and arrived slightly thawed. I then plant them into the crates (which I went to their location and bought 125!).

This year, they're going to be stacked in a location over the winter, near my cooler, then moved in again in early spring and we'll see how this works! May not be ordering many new bulbs next year!

Good luck,

    Bookmark   August 13, 2010 at 1:49PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Wow, freezing? Really Wendy? I never would have thought that! I would think that would ruin the bulbs. Although, one year I left a pot of planted tulip bulbs out too long. When I tried to lift the pot up to bring in the garage, it was frozen to the ground and the whole side of the (cheap) plastic pot tore off, leaving the bulbs exposed. I figured they were goners, but amazingly they bloomed in spring!

So, maybe I will experiment and try freezing some bulbs. I'm still a bit hesitant to believe, lol, but I guess I should give it a shot. If it worked for you it may work for me, and this would be a great way to stagger bloom.

Thank you for the suggestion!

    Bookmark   August 14, 2010 at 11:35AM
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