Growing lilies from seed is the simplest, most satisfactory way to produce a quantity of lilies in a short period of time. Whilst most lilies can be grown from seed, there are some things you need to know.
- Only seed of species lilies will come true to type, and even then there may be some minor variation.
- Seed from hybrid lilies will seldom, if ever, produce plants identical to the parent.
- Generally speaking there will be considerable variation and this is the way that new lilies are produced.
- Whilst you may be encouraged by the prospect of new lilies, it is worth noting that the chance of producing a new lily of significant merit to be named and marketed is, at best, one in thousands.
- A major advantage of growing lilies from seed is that they will commence life free from disease. Of course, if great care is not taken, especially in controlling aphids and other sucking insects, then they can quickly become infected.
- As with all gardening, a little patience is necessary. Some lily seeds will take many months to germinate, maybe two years to produce a leaf, and six to eight years to flower. On the other hand, it is possible to grow some lilies to flowering stage in less than twelve months. More often, you will see flowers in two to three years. For a beginner, this may seem a long time, but if you sow a few lots of seed each year, then after about three or four years you will find that you have new lilies flowering for the first time every year, and exactly when they were sown soon becomes irrelevant as you begin to appreciate the fruits of your labours.
Two Types of Lily Seed:
Lily seed is divided into two broad groups. These are known as epigeal or hypogeal.
Epigeal seeds (quick) send up a narrow cotyledon (seed leaf) immediately after germination, which is usually a few weeks after sowing. Under the soil a tiny bulb begins to develop. The ideal time for this is in late winter or spring (depending on local climate), but if you have fresh seed then it can be sown at any time of year providing you provide suitable shade or shelter for the young emerging plants.
Hypogeal seeds (slow) require a warm period to germinate, followed by a cold period, then another warm period before they will produce their leaves. Under normal circumstances this means that no leaf will be seen for well over a year, usually emerging in spring.
Making Slow Seed a Little Quicker:
1 To expedite the process with hypogeal seeds, they may be mixed with damp peat moss and sealed in a plastic bag.
2 Place the bag in a warm place (about 21ºC – such as above your hot water cylinder). Most seeds will germinate and develop into small bulbs about the size of a grain of rice. This will usually take around six to twelve weeks.
3 Transfer the bag to the crisper of your refrigerator for a further nine weeks – not the freezer !
4 The bulbs can then be carefully planted out into a seed box where they should grow on normally. You have convinced your lilies they have been through another cycle of seasons and are now one year ahead.
Simple Steps to Growing from Seed:
- Given good conditions, seed may be sown directly into open ground, but more often it will be more satisfactory to sow it in seed boxes. These need to be several inches deep – especially if you plan to leave them there beyond the first year. Poly-foam fruit boxes (with drainage holes) are particularly suitable for this purpose.
- A good mix can be made by combining 2 parts of perlite, 1 part of coarse, sharp, gritty sand (no fines), and 9 parts of fine, well-matured pine bark (of the kind used by nurseries in their potting mixes), Other potting mixes may be used, but they must offer perfect drainage. Most commercial mixes contain fine sand which blocks essential drainage – especially in higher rainfall areas. Good quality leaf-mould can be quite useful. Coir (coco) peat (used straight) is also a suitable substitute medium.
- Fertilizer in a seed raising mix can destroy germinating seeds and must be avoided. Commercial potting mixes usually include fertilizer. However, once the tiny bulb has developed and the roots have emerged, it will require some feeding. The best of both worlds is possible. Place fertilizer in the bottom half only leaving it out of the top half where the seed will germinate.
- Seed can be planted in rows or scattered sparsely. Since lily seed is flat, pressing furrows across the surface will ensure that all seed falls on an inclined surface. This makes it less likely to rot before germinating.
- The seed may be covered with another centimetre of mix, or preferably, with a centimetre of coarse, sharp, gritty sand. This will also serve to deter slugs and snails and keep the surface open for easy watering.
- Seed boxes should be placed in filtered sunlight or light shade and be kept reasonably cool and moist. Most Tasmanian winter conditions are not detrimental to lily seedlings, but protection against severe frosts would be advisable. Covering the boxes with shadecloth, preferably on a suitable frame, will provide suitable shade, It will also keep out blackbirds which often scratch out developing seedlings in their search for worms and insects.
Apart from providing you with a generous supply of healthy, disease-free lilies of all types at minimal cost, there is nothing quite like being able to wander around your garden throughout the summer with a unique sense of anticipation, knowing that there will be something completely new appearing on an almost daily basis. Any way you look at it, growing lilies from seed makes sense!
Try some seed now – and reap the benefits for years to come !!!
If you are like many of us and enjoy your lilies, consider joining the Society and share your interest with others. That way we can all enjoy more of these wonderful bulbs.