Elegant, long-lasting lilies (Lilium spp.) can be the royalty of any flower border. They also grow well in pots and make superb cut flowers. Unfortunately, if you're planning a special event with lilies, they can be prima donas when it comes to making an appearance. Use temperature, light and water to encourage lilies, whether cut or potted, to open.
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Lily bulbs grow all year in a continual cycle of growth, bloom, recession and gathering, building new tissue and bulblets to support new plants. Hardy lilies grow in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 8, although some species grow in more limited ranges. Your lilies will bloom beginning in spring throughout the summer -- cut the stems in the morning and leave at least one-third of the stem. Start bulbs indoors about 60 days before you'll want to bring them into flower.
Getting Buds to Open on Cut Stems
Cut lilies should start opening once they come indoors and are placed in water. To hasten bud opening, make a new cut 1 inch or more up the stem to open new capillaries to carry water upward. Plunge the stems immediately into lukewarm water -- 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit -- and keep the vase at least one-half full at all times. Keep the lilies away from direct sunlight but place them near a window so they get plenty of light. For an extra boost, tent your lilies, stems and leaves as well as blooms in their vase, with a large plastic bag. If you use a bag from dry cleaning, turn it inside out, so buds aren't exposed to the cleaning solvents.
Forced Potted Lilies
Grow the lily plants in a cool room until they're ready for bloom, then move them to a room where the temperature stays between 70 and 75 F. Put the plants under fluorescent light at a distance of 1 foot for 14 to 16 hours a day or leave the lights in the room on around the clock. Adjust the grow light according to the room's temperature so the tender lily petals don't scorch. Tent the lilies, pot and all, or set the pots on a large dish or tray full of pebbles filled with water. Keep the soil moist but allow water to drain when watering lilies. Wet soil stresses and eventually rots the bulbs.
Tips for Success
Keep cut lilies clean by stripping leaves off cut flower stems below the water level and change the water daily to reduce the growth of bacteria on the stems. Cut the stems on an angle to increase the uptake of water. Use water treated with a florist preservative or water that sits in an open container overnight to allow chlorine to evaporate out of the water. Once you've encouraged your lilies to bloom, prolong their attractiveness by pinching off the anthers covered in yellow or brown pollen. Allowing the pollen-covered anthers to stay on the lily causes petal stains.