Lilies for the prairies

A Canola Queen yellow Asiatic lily.

by Margaret Driver

Most of the lilies grown in prairie gardens are hybrids of Asiatic species. Their ancestors originated in Asia in a climate very similar to ours. They can vary in height from 10 inches to 4 feet and come in a generous range of colours, blooming variously from June to late August.

The Longiflorum-Asiatic (LA) hybrids have similar characteristics to the Asiatics, but are sturdier, bloom more profusely, and are altogether showier. They can be more prone to colour-breaking virus especially the purple-red varieties. These have been are primarily hybridized in Holland where disease resistance is not high on the list of breeding goals. All are up-facing.

Martagon lilies have very good disease-resistance and tolerate a wide range of conditions. They should be well watered when planted and given another good watering each spring and occasionally in summer during prolonged dry conditions. Otherwise, they require very little additional water, actually preferring being kept on the dry side. Their down-facing blooms are dainty, recurved and often described as turkscaps. Blooming begins during the last week in June and some have as many as 50 flowers per stem. They are best placed in a semi-shady spot.

The best time to plant lilies is mid- to late-September. Choose a site that is well drained and where they will receive at least 6 hours sun per day. Heavy soils should be amended with fibrous materials such as coarse peat moss. Sharp sand, washed gravel or crushed gravel can be added to beds as well to improve drainage. Lighter soils can be amended with compost or other organic material to improve water holding capacity. However, do not plant bulbs in close contact with rotted manure. For xeriscape gardens, Asiatics and martagons are usually the best bet, but a number of LA hybrids will perform well too.

Plant in small groups of 3 or 5 bulbs, spaced 20 to 25 cm (8 to 10 in.) apart. In light soils, final planting depth should be 3 times as deep as the bulb’s diameter (= 5-6 inches deep); in heavier soils, twice the depth as its diameter (= 4-5 inches).

CTo start, dig the hole 2 inches deeper than required, sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of general lawn fertilizer (e.g. 16-20-0 or 11-52-0) in the bottom, add back 2 inches of soil, then set the bulb in the bottom and cover with soil. Water well.

During the first winter, cover with mulch to add an extra layer of protection.

The lilies listed below are tried and true and highly recommended by experienced prairie lily gardeners. They are available from both garden centres and local lily societies as well as through mailorder.

Asiatic Lilies
Orange: ‘Amarylis’, ‘Buff Pixie’, ‘Enchantment’, ‘Katinka’, ‘Parkland Orange’, ‘Port Alberni Tiger’, ‘Reta’s Comet’, ‘Super Nova’

Yellow: ‘Butter Pixie’, ‘Canola Queen’, ‘Connecticut King’, ‘Edith’ (‘Aleida’), ‘Golden Age’, ‘Golden Princess’, ‘Gran Cru’, ‘Helios’, Haydee’ (‘Hilde’), ‘Ivory Pixie’, ‘Lemon Queen’, ‘Moon Pixie’, ‘Northern Lights’, ‘Petit Brigette’, ‘Yellow Pixie’, ‘Skydancer’

Pink: ‘Barber #17’, ‘Carol Jean’, ‘Chianti’, ‘Crete’, ‘Denia’, ‘Dusky Belles’, ‘Embarrassment’, ‘Honey Pink’, ‘Honeywind’, ‘Ikaria’ (‘Malta), ‘Melissa Jaime’, ‘Minuette’, ‘Monte Rosa’, ‘Pink Pixie’, ‘Prairie Pink’, ‘Robinson’s Comet’, ‘Sassy’, ‘Sonata’, ‘Toscana’, ‘Tropic Delight’, ‘Tropical Dream’

Peach: ‘Doeskin’, ‘Honey Queen’, ‘Peach Supreme’, ‘Salmon Cream’, ‘Tiger Babies’

White: ‘Centrefold’, ‘Cinnamon Toast’, ‘Misty Eyes’, ‘Mont Blanc’, ‘Moon Baby’, ‘Polar Bear’, ‘Roma’, ‘Sweet Surrender’

Red: ‘Bold Knight’, ‘Ed Brooman’, ‘Lovelite’, ‘Mirabella’, ‘Morden Butterfly’, ‘Olina’, ‘Petite’/’Petit’, ‘Red Carpet’, ‘Red Velvet’, ‘River Rouge’, ‘Rosefire’

LA hybrids
Yellow: ‘Royal Dream’, ‘Suncrest’

Pink: ‘Moneymaker’

Peach: ‘Royal Sunset’

Red: ‘Coral Fashion’, ‘Manhattan’, ‘Royal Parade’

Martagon Lilies
Yellow: ‘Mrs R. O. Backhouse’, ‘Joslin’

Pink: ‘Amelita’, ‘Moonyeen’, ‘Rosalinda’

Peach: ‘Brocade’,

Orange: ‘Orange Marmalade’

Whilte: ‘Tarlton’

Brown: ‘Dalhansonii’

For more information about these and other hardy lilies, or to purchase locally grown lilies, come to the Canadian Prairie Lily Society’s annual fall lily bulb sale at the Mall at Lawson Heights in Saskatoon, Sept 29-30, 10:00am-4:00pm. For sale: Asiatic, martagon, orientpet, trumpet, LA and species lilies of many colours, heights and blooming times. Money raised supports horticulture students at the University of Saskatchewan and Olds College.

Margaret is the past-President of the Canadian Prairie Lily Society (

This column is provided courtesy of the Saskatchewan Perennial Society (SPS;;; Check out our Bulletin Board or Calendar for upcoming events.