dug up giant lily bulbs too soon (to divide & store) - help!

brit5467(7b/8a Coastal VA)October 9, 2009

I'm still learning, so bear with me. In 2005, I planted 2 ea. of the following: white Casa Blanca oriental, orange & yellow Asiatic, and 6 LA hybrid lilies which have all done beautifully and multiplied beyond my expectations.

With my climate, they do fine in the ground all winter so I never divided them. BIG MISTAKE! This summer they were so overcrowded with big, thick heavy stalks struggling to reach the sun & falling over in the process (Eastern exposure). Some of the bulbs had even heaved up out of the ground. So today, I dug most of them up and found some bulbs as big as a small grapefruit!!

I realize, after finding this site, I made a mistake by digging up the "green" ones. I was on a roll, trying to get them all up today. Most of them HAD died back but I have quite a few still green.

My question is -- will the "green" ones still bloom next year or should I replant them in pots until the stalks die? I donÂt want to replant them since I'm redesigning my garden and not sure whatÂs going where yet. I may wait until Spring to figure THAT out since there are other type plants to consider and I donÂt know where they are now that theyÂve died back.

If I donÂt have to replant in pots until they die back, can I cut the green stalks off now? Or can I just let them lay somewhere and die off by themselves? If so, where? In sunlight or darkness?

Another question -- when storing bulbs, do I leave any of the stalk on them or twist them off completely? I ask, because some of the stalks have little bulb nodes on them higher up than the bulb itself.

What would you guys do? IÂd appreciate a step-by-step suggestion, since I donÂt know what the heck IÂm doing. I apologize if this doesnÂt make complete sense, but IÂm sort of panicking after reading that I did a "no-no" with the green ones.



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hostaholic2 z 4, MN

As you now know, it's best to wait until the foliage ripens to dig them. I know you are in warmer zone than I am, but if some of them had already ripened I would think the others would have followed suit shortly. They should have stored enough food by now that they'll be fine next year.I would say cut the stalks off and replant the bulbs asap. Unless you have specialized storage like the big growers your bulbs are best replanted. Lily bulbs are never really dormant so the less time out of the ground the better. Some people do grow lilies in pots, I have never tried it in my zone. Someone else may have better advice on that.
As to the bulbs pushing up out of the ground, what you are seeing is baby bulbs that have not yet pulled themselves into the ground. Lilies have contractile roots and will actually pull themselves deeper into the ground as they grow.. The tiny bulbs along the stem are more baby bulbs, Go ahead and remove them from the stem, plant them or share them with a friend. They should reach blooming size in 2-3 years.
I would not suggest storing them. If you go to the North American Lily Society website there should be links to state or regional lily societies. There may be information about growing in pots there. If you go the planting in pots route be sure you have deep enough pots. Those big bulbs need deep planting. Good luck with your lilies.

    Bookmark   October 9, 2009 at 11:52PM
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I live on the border of zones 5/6 WV. Almost all of the lilies I have are in pots. I have tried storing lily bulbs over the winter before, but sometimes have trouble with them either drying up or rotting. I have much better luck putting them in pots. I have an Asiatic lily that was my mother's that I dug up after she passed away. I put it in a large pot. It has come back up and bloomed for 3 years now. I divided it and traded some of it this year, after the stems turned brown, and repotted it. I also have other lilies in pots that I planted last year; white spider, yellow pixel, Grand Cru. These all came back this year. I have an orange oriental lily that has been in a pot for 2-3 years, and also a Landini lily. I divided and traded some of both this year, and repotted them. I bought several new lilies this year and planted them all in pots. I have hopes of putting them into the ground, at some point. Our ground is hard, though, as we had our yard leveled up several years ago and lost all the good top soil, so I always have to add potting soil, compost, or manure, and we also have problems with something eating the bulbs (probably moles) which is why mine are in pots. I plant the bulbs at least 4-5 inches deep, deeper if the bulb is really large. You also need to make sure there are adequate drain holes in the pot. Lily bulbs will rot if really wet for too long. Mine stay outside in the pots all winter in my zone. You are in a slightly colder zone, and I don't know how much of a difference that will make. Hopefully someone in your zone will respond. That way you will know for sure. Hope this helps.

    Bookmark   October 10, 2009 at 2:02PM
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Sorry, Bonnie, I was mistaken when I said your zone was colder than mine. I think I looked at hostaholic's zone in her reply. Your lily bulbs should be fine over the winter planted in pots if you don't have time to replant them all in the ground. As hostaholic said, they would definitely do better planted in pots than simply stored for the winter.


    Bookmark   October 10, 2009 at 2:23PM
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brit5467(7b/8a Coastal VA)

Thanks to both of you. Good reasoning on the dying back of most of them being a good indicator that the others were soon to follow. They were actually the big, thick ones, so I guess they had more "juice" left in them...ha ha ha.

I guess my best bet is to stick them all in pots then, and not try to keep them in peat or sand until Spring (which I'd read about). I do remember when I ordered them, I couldn't immediately plant them since I was moving, but they started sprouting in the bags! So my husband planted them in 2 window boxes (so they'd be all in one long row, side by side) and they did just fine when we transplanted them once we moved. They were very resilient.

Charlotte, since you've had experience with wintering them over in pots, I'll pose this question to you. Since I have soooo many, do you see a problem with just getting a few giant pots and sticking in as many in as I can, just to winter over, then digging them up (just as I did yesterday) to replant in Spring?

Or, I suppose since I'm not going to redesign my garden until Spring I could just replant them back in my garden now, but all in one big round hole. Then dig up, divide, and transplant in Spring?

I guess what I'm asking is -- between now and Spring, will the roots grow more because if so and I plant them close together, they'd get all tangled up. But if they go pretty much dormant from now till Spring, I can't see a problem with sticking several in one pot or planting them all in one big group in the ground.


    Bookmark   October 10, 2009 at 8:31PM
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I'm pretty sure they go dormant in winter, at least in my zone. Your zone would be somewhat warmer, though, so I don't know how that would affect the bulbs. I don't think they would grow much if at all. If you put a little bit of space between the bulbs and plant them either in the ground or a pot just for the winter, I don't think you would have a problem separating them. I planted 6 lily bulbs in a large pot this spring. I ordered them and they had really nice sprouts. They grew really fast and most had buds. Then I dug one up and traded it to a lady. I didn't have any trouble at all getting it out. It was about a foot tall. I dug the bulb and left the green growth on it. I also traded one from a pot of lilies that I planted last fall. These had been growing all through the spring and part of summer. I had a little more trouble getting that one out, as these had started to multiply. You would definitely want to separate and replant them as early next spring as you could. I wish I could give you a 100% definite answer on the winter growth, but I've never planted one in the fall and then dug it up and replanted it the next spring. Sorry I couldn't be of more help.
Good luck with however you decide to do it. Please let us know what you decide to do and how it works out in the spring when you go to replant them.


    Bookmark   October 11, 2009 at 7:47PM
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linnea56(z5 IL)

I dug up a lot last fall and still had not prepped the new bed where they were to go. They were stored in empty pots in my garage. Then it got way too cold, too early, the ground froze, and I had no choice. It was early December, freezing rain every day, and I was desperate. They were getting dry and I had to do something.

I kept each variety separate and labeled several pots. I layered bulbs and soft soil from a new bag of topsoil. I might have had as many as 8 bulbs ( ! ) in a half gallon pot, with only enough soil to separate them from each other. Some had stems and some did not. Then I clustered the pots against the leeward side of a stone wall, and stacked unopened bags of topsoil and mulch completely around and on top. The ground was frozen so I had to buy bags of soil! I did not sink them in the garden because I was worried about drainage. At that time the garden was frozen on top, and underneath sopping wet from nonstop rain.

I thought for sure I would lose them but they ALL survived and grew. I did resurrect them very early in the season, at the time when the in-ground lilies had not yet emerged, maybe March or early April. I was shocked to uncover them and find them still firm and perfect, with no root system at all. I planted them as soon as I finally got that new bed ready (made me motivated to get out there and get it DONE, even in down coat, hat and gloves).

They grew, they bloomed, IÂm still amazed. I canÂt guarantee this will work for everyone. Maybe they were tough or I was lucky.

    Bookmark   October 14, 2009 at 12:23AM
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Bonnie, I'm so glad you asked this question. I have the same question ... but not for the same reason. For several years now I have ordered Lilies in the spring. When they come, I plant them in big pots just outside my back door. Each fall I plant them in the garden to stay.
Well, now, for the first time, I've run out of places to put them in the garden. I have a black pig cauldron/pot that has some expensive bulbs in it. It has good drainage, is way to heavy to move to a warmer spot. I was considering leaving the bulbs in the pot over the winter.
But now, with all the great replies you've gotten, I'm thinking of moving them all to 2 smaller pots, putting these pots in an area that I believe is a zone 7 (supports zone 7 plants anyway. Letting them overwinter there and putting them back in the black cauldron in the spring. These lilies are mostly Oriental lilies which seem to be a little more 'picky' than asiatics.

I do move 2 pots of Dianthus to this area (they are in small shallow pots) and they survive the winter. I also have a pineapple lily bulb in this area that is in the ground and comes back each year. I've tried to dig this the pineapple lily out, but it must be very deep and is surrounded by too many other plants ... I just keep thinking when I redo that part of the garden I will get it then ... lol.

Do you have a warmer protected area close to your house like this?

    Bookmark   October 16, 2009 at 6:50AM
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brit5467(7b/8a Coastal VA)

Charlotte, you said to let y'all know what I decided to do. Well, I got some manpower to help so I took advantage and dug up entire garden. HAD TO, due to invasive ginger lilies taking over in back. And as I'd said, all lily bulbs were already out. Or so I thought. Once we started ammending soil, we found even MORE Â again HUGE with lots of roots. Once I break them all up IÂm sure IÂll have over 100+. NO WAY am I going to try to repot all those so am thinking of just replanting them now.

Question 1 ÂHostaholic said they are never really dormant so have I harmed the ones I pulled out before by letting they lay for couple weeks in dry, shaded area? They still look fine. IÂm letting the stalks die back naturally on the ones I pulled too early, others are just bulbs with roots, then some smaller ones (corms?) Have I killed any of them by waiting too long?

Question 2 - Most of the big bulbs have nice root system. Not going to be able to plant ALL of them, so which is better for planting now? Dividing the big ones or using smaller bulbs but with no roots or does it matter?

Question 3 Â Do you just slice them in 1/2 or 1/4's leaving on some root? What about the pieces that fall off that look like artichoke leaves? Will they grow?

Question 4 Â Can you interplant in between lilies? Trying to compensate for when theyÂre done blooming but you still have stalks. Need something that can compete with the shade the lily foliage creates. Something that might start blooming late summer into fall? And preferably something tall? (IÂm also going to post this one as a separate question since it doesnÂt really belong here. But like the feedback IÂm getting from yÂall HERE :o)

Thanks everyone!

    Bookmark   October 27, 2009 at 11:45AM
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fishman49(AL 8b)

1] Unless they have totally dried, they are not harmed that much. The ones in the stores stay dry much longer and most of them grow just fine.

2] For storage, just replant 'as is' at least 2" deep with about 1-2" between bulbs. Be sure to transplant ASAP next spring when you know where you want them.

3] Unless you want more bulbs, there is no reason to 'break-up' your lily bulbs. The larger the bulb, the better the flowers. DO NOT SLICE LILIES IN HALF- they are not 'Onion-Type' bulbs. You multiply them by carefully removing the outermost scales. Most of the scales that fall off will form new bulbs. Plant them in 6-8" bulb pots about 1/2" apart with the root end down and the tip right at soil level. Sink the pot where it can get morning sun but is shaded when hot. Keep slightly moist but not wet.

4] If you want to interplant, use anything you want that keeps it roots in the top 6" of soil and plant your lilies about 12" apart.

Just a suggestion. Replant all your large bulbs and use the marble size bulblets for trading material. I wouldn't mind getting a small start of your ginger lilies, BTW. See my trading page.


    Bookmark   October 29, 2009 at 9:43AM
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brit5467(7b/8a Coastal VA)

Gosh, Don...wish I'd gotten this answer prior to digging up everything. I threw away all those little scales that fell off due to the misconception that I was going to be cutting up my bulbs. Thank God I had not done THAT yet. I could have sworn that Roberta's said to slice them up (when I'd emailed them a few years back). I AM going to go ahead and get everything back in the ground now so I appreciate your suggestion to replant all the large ones and trade the others.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2009 at 8:42AM
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