Category Archives: Techniques

A lesson learned: why I don’t grow lilies in the ground

I adore lilies of many kinds: true lilies, Day lilies, Peruvian lilies, anything lily-esque, in fact, and I’m grateful to be in a place where I can grow them all reasonably successfully.

But whilst I’ve always been happy to sling most kinds out into the borders to take their chance – especially Day lilies, which are as tough as old boots! – I’ve never felt inclined to do that with true lilies, ie. Lilium species, and have always chosen to grow them in pots.

This is for two main reasons.

Firstly, keeping them in containers allows for precise control of the growing media, which needs to be moist but relatively free-draining. My garden soil, despite improvement over the years, tends to waterlog in winter and dry out too easily in summer, so my assumption has always been that it would not provide reliably favourable conditions for lily cultivation.

Secondly, growing in containers enables me to keep a much closer watch on pests, mainly slugs, snails and lily beetles, all of which are a massive nuisance in most years. Being able to lift and turn the pots means that I can inspect them from all angles, which would be extremely awkward if they were planted in the ground. Also, I am prepared to use slug pellets in containers since the victims do not travel far and I can dispose of them without hedgehogs, birds etc. coming into contact with them, which means that I can effectively protect the succulent new shoots of lilies at their most vulnerable time. I prefer not to use metaldehyde pellets on the ground, so anything planted in the borders has to survive without that protection, and I’ve always assumed lilies would struggle with that.

But this spring, having some spare lily bulbs to hand, I decided to try a little experiment.

The previous summer I foolishly purchased 10 lily bulbs (from a shopping channel, as it happens) which had supposedly been held back so that when planted, would flower in October/November time and provide a most unusual and unseasonal display.

Of course, they did nothing of the sort, and not one flower deigned to appear before the first frost in November cut them down, so I then had to decide what to do with them – they would likely flower at the normal time in the next year (June/July), so they were definitely worth keeping.

Having weighed up my options for a while, I chose to re-plant 5 in a large pot and put the other 5 out into the ground to see how they would do.

I duly prepared the soil by digging in compost and manure, along with a handful of granular feed for good measure, planted the bulbs at twice their depth, and crossed my fingers.

Both sets were delayed by the low temperatures we experienced in the early part of the season, but eventually they got going, and initially there was little difference between them.

However, as soon as the slugs and snails began to be active, it became apparent that emerging lily stems are every bit as appealing to them as I thought they would be. Those in the pot, which I pelleted, remained unharmed, but I quickly lost 4 out of the 5 in the ground, eaten to nothing more or less overnight. Whether they have completely given up the ghost or will try to re-grow next year, I don’t know – I might have a dig around and see if there’s anything left that I can salvage.

As for the survivor, even though it has grown, it doesn’t look at all healthy:


It is small, and the yellowing of the leaves suggests a deficiency to me, possibly iron. My soil is mildly alkaline, and this might be a more acid-loving species – I don’t actually know which one it is, unfortunately.

The lack of vitality is especially obvious when compared to the pampered pot-grown specimens:


No contest, really. The plants are much taller, the foliage is a rich green and the flowerbuds are much larger and fatter.

So it would appear that in my garden, lilies in pots are definitely the way to go if I want to avoid massive losses and produce healthy plants, which, of course, I do!

A lesson learned, indeed.


Propagating lilies: 6th update

I thought it might be time once again to show my motley collection of tree lilies, originally propagated from a handful of scales back in September 2014.

Though they were all started at the same time from a single bulb, they vary considerably in their development: some are only a few inches high, whilst others are much taller and about to bear a flower for the first time!

Here they are as a group:


And here are some closer shots:

DSCF3552mblog DSCF3553mblog


The bulblets all seemed to be of very similar size when I potted them on into their current containers, so how they’ve ended up like this I’ve no idea. They all had the same compost and feed and spent the winter/spring lined up next to one another against a south-facing fence, so I wasn’t expecting quite such a difference between individuals – the shortest measures a mere 4 inches (10cm) and the tallest 24 inches (60cm). I can’t even blame pests or disease because none of the plants have been attacked by anything as far as I’m aware.

If I were being practical and space-conscious I suppose I would ditch the weakest ones, but, of course, I want to know if they eventually catch up and make garden-worthy plants, so I’m keeping them all – for now, at least.

My next update will hopefully include flowers – can’t wait!

Propagating lilies: 5th update (one year on)

It’s actually 14 months since I began this particular propagation project in September 2014, but it’s almost a year to the day since I took the following photograph, which showed that new plants were definitely on their way!

On 10th November 2014, I had this:


and now, on 15th November 2015, I have this:


Okay, it is nowhere near flowering size yet and probably won’t be for at least another year and a half, but I was aware before I began that propagating bulbs is a long process requiring considerable patience, so I am not at all disappointed.

In fact, I almost think I enjoy this sort of thing because of the wait, not in spite of it. In an age when so many desires can be instantly gratified I like that some things cannot be hurried – just imagining how excited I’ll feel when I spot that first flower bud after years of waiting puts a smile on my face.

And with any luck, there will be more than one plant. I have at least nine still going strong, so I have a good chance of getting several to maturity – some to keep and some to give away, hopefully!

As ever, I don’t really know what I’m supposed to do at this stage of their development, but I reckon they’re big enough to survive the British winter outdoors, so that’s where they’ll stay. They are in various sizes of pot, some singly, others in groups, so it will be interesting to see which do best from this point. At the moment, having dug a few up to inspect them and replant them a bit deeper, there looks to be very little difference in size or health, so we shall see.


Citrus propagation – 2 year progress report

Thought it might be interesting to take a look at how my citrus plants, propagated in May 2013 from a Calamondin orange tree, are coming along.

There’s no denying that they are taking their time! To be honest, I’ve been feeling a little frustrated by the slowness of growth and was glad to be able to look back at my photos from this time last year to reassure myself that they have indeed been growing!

This is how they were in May 2014, the seedling then the cuttings:



I originally had 4 rooted cuttings and one plant grown from a pip, but I gave away one of the cuttings, so here are the remaining 3 plus the seed-grown specimen as they are now:



and from a lower angle to show the height:




and some individual shots, firstly the seedling:


then the cuttings:




The tallest of the plants is actually the seedling at 18 inches, with the tallest of the three cuttings coming in at 15 inches.

Habit-wise, they’re all a bit leggy in my opinion, but that probably has to do with the less than optimal indoor growing conditions that I have over winter – if I had a cool conservatory to keep them very light and bright but frost-free I imagine that would be a fair bit better than sitting them next to a north-facing patio door in a centrally-heated lounge!

On the whole, though, I’m quite pleased. They all seem to be somewhat prone to yellowing of the newer foliage in spite of the various tonics and citrus feeds that I apply, but apart from that, they appear to be healthy and doing fine.

I am holding back from potting them on for as long as I dare because I know from experience that citrus seem to do better for being a little pot-bound and certainly don’t like being moved into too big a pot too quickly – give them too much new compost around the rootball and the roots don’t seem to want to move out into it for some reason.

So, there we are. They are outside for the summer in a fairly sunny spot and I feed them with citrus food once a week and water fairly frequently – I don’t keep them soggy but I don’t allow them to dry out as much as I do in winter.

I think it might still be a while before I see any flowers/fruit on these, but I’m sure it will be worth the wait!

Propagating lilies: 4th update

Time for another look at my tree lily propagation project.

It’s nearly two months since I potted most of them up, and they seem to be coming along nicely  (apart from the one that was eaten by a slug overnight!): lilies-mid-july

What I find curious is that some of them have thrown up a single stalk as if they were about to flower like the parent plant, whilst the others have no main stem and are forming a rosette of leaves at ground level instead. Why this difference exists I have no idea, but when I came to pot them on, it seemed to be that it was the smaller bulbs producing the single stem and the larger bulbs producing the rosette: lilies-side-by-side

Looking at the two side by side, I can’t help thinking the bulb with the rosette looks the stronger and healthier of the two and is better placed to grow on more effectively, but who knows? I’ve potted them on into larger pots of multi-purpose compost mixed with a little perlite for extra drainage and will label them so that I can keep an eye on them as they develop and note any differences in growth and habit next year. I’m fascinated to find out, I have to say!

As for the plant that was eaten by the slug, I was going to chuck it straight in the compost bin (I’m not exactly short of lilies!) but, of course, I had to see what was under the compost, and it turns out to be a perfectly healthy-looking little bulb with a decent root system: eaten-bulb

…so, naturally, I’m keeping it!  I’ve put it back in its pot in some new compost and will see how it fares.

So, here they all are, freshly potted on, including a pot (the largest one) that I left as a group having decided not to separate them from the parent scale to see if it made any difference to the speed of development: lilies-potted-on-22nd-july

One thing that did concern me as I was potting them on was how deep to bury them. When you plant dormant bulbs you are supposed to cover them with around twice their height in soil, but these of course are not dormant, so I presume that they should be covered more or less to the depth they were previously? That’s what I ended up doing, so I hope it’s right! I’ll keep them out of hot sun (assuming we get any!) for the next week or so whilst they re-establish, then grow them on in a nice light position until the end of the season when I shall have to decide how to over-winter them: coldframe? sheltered position in the open air? Not sure yet…and I’ll probably change my mind a dozen times knowing me! I expect I’ll hedge my bets and do both…:)

Lots more roots!

I think it’s time to pot up this rooted side shoot!


I measured the roots when I removed it from the jar, and the longest were about 8cm – not bad for about a week’s growth!

Next step was to carefully pot it up in some multipurpose compost and water it in very well:


I then put it in my shady coldframe so that it will be protected from hot sun (if we get any!) until the roots have had a chance to establish, after which it can go back out into a sunny spot to grow on.

It already has a little flower bud on it, so I may see fruit quicker than I think!


Well, it took 8 days for the first root to appear (yesterday), but my tomato side shoot is really picking up the pace today:



The question is, do I bother to do anything with it? The only reason I stuck it in some water was to see how easily it would root, and the answer is, “very!”, but I don’t actually need any more plants, sooooo….?

Actually, why am I even pretending to ponder this?? I’m a gardener, and as such I can almost never bring myself to throw away healthy plant material, so you just know that this cutting is going to get potted up and bunged somewhere or other, if only to find out how quickly it grows and becomes productive.

Inquiring minds need to know…

Propagating lilies: 3rd update

Time for a progress report on my lily propagation project, which started at the back end of last summer.

In February I posted a picture showing the new plantlets having sprouted a single leaf each:


They stayed like that for a few months, during which time I hardened them off to outside conditions. Then at the beginning of May I started to notice more growth, so I reckoned it would soon be time to investigate what was going on below the surface. I finally got around to doing this today, and here is what I found when I knocked them out of the pots:


Perfect little replicas of the parent bulb complete with tiny scales, measuring about the size of a 20p piece. Here is a slightly closer view:


They were still attached to the scales from which they grew, so I very carefully broke them off before I photographed them and then potted them up individually into 7cm pots of multipurpose compost.

I sincerely hope that my timings are right and that I’ve done what I’m supposed to do. It may be that you’re meant to leave the new mini bulbs attached to the parent scale until it rots away rather than breaking them off to fend for themselves, but I haven’t been able to find out one way or the other, so I’ve taken a chance!

I’ve put them back in my coldframe in the shade for the time being to give them a bit of protection, so we’ll see what happens next. Fingers crossed!

Alstroemeria – a moving tale(!)

Whenever I add a new plant to my collection I generally find it takes a few seasons to become properly acquainted with it, and my alstroemerias are no exception.

I’ve been growing the Planet series of alstroemerias, namely Cahors, Sirius, Uranus and Sedna, for only a couple of years, and I now know from experience that they are reasonably reliable as regards overwintering in my location, both in containers and in the ground (they haven’t been tested for prolonged periods of below -5C, but that is rare in this part of the world, thankfully!). I also know that they flower freely over a very long period from May right through to December in milder years, that they aren’t overly demanding when it comes to food and water, that their flowering stems need support of some kind and that they appear to be non-invasive.

What I didn’t know until this spring was how they respond to being dug up and moved, something which varies greatly between species, so I decided to experiment with my clump of Cahors which I’d planted quite close to Sirius and needed shifting along a bit.

I was in two minds as to when to do it: for many herbaceous plants it doesn’t really matter whether you lift them in autumn or spring, but given that in my garden all my alstroemerias insist on flowering way into December I decided spring was probably the better option. So, in late March I set to with a fork and spade, carefully digging up the clump and re-planting it in manured ground a foot or so away. Then I waited….and waited….and waited.

I have to say that by the end of April I was starting to think that I’d managed to kill it because, whilst all my other untouched plants were sprouting vigorous new shoots, Cahors was doing absolutely nothing. Nary a leaf nor stem. It wasn’t until mid May that I finally started to see signs of life, and even now there isn’t much to show for it:


Just 3 short shoots have emerged thus far compared to the dozen or so much taller ones that have come up from the untouched plants:


So I think what I’ve learnt here is that whilst they can definitely be lifted and divided, they do not particularly appreciate the disturbance and are probably best left to their own devices as much as possible, only requiring attention when they become over-congested.

I imagine that my clump of Cahors will re-establish itself fairly quickly and will ultimately benefit from having a bit more elbow room, but I shall know to leave it in peace for a good few years now!

Side-shooting tomatoes

It’s about now that I’m really on the lookout for unwanted growth on my tomato plants.

Owing to space restrictions, I grow only indeterminate (also known as cordon) varieties of tomatoes, ie. those that are reduced to a single main stem which bears the crop. This means that all side shoots have to be removed as soon as they are large enough to be grasped and detached, and as they start to appear quite early in the development of the plant, you have to keep an eye out for them.

This is what you’re looking for:


They are very easy to spot, popping up as they do at the junction of the main stem and a leaf stalk, and easy enough to pinch out with finger and thumbnail as long as they haven’t been allowed to get enormous. The only caveat is to take them off as cleanly as possible without ripping or scratching the stem – the less damage you do to plants at any stage of their life, the better as far as I’m concerned.

In the past I have always discarded these side shoots, but just for fun I thought I would try to make a new plant from one – tomatoes are apparently incredibly willing to root from cuttings, and as a removed side shoot is effectively a cutting it should root very readily.

The easiest method is simply to suspend it in water, so I found a tiny glass jar and did just that:


I will leave it in a bright, warm place, and hopefully it should start to root in a matter of days – we shall see!