The 2004 gardening year was a challenge, and quite disappointing for us, to say the least. The most outstanding (almost bizarre) point I found, was that our heavily mulched lilies were the first to sprout up, a full two weeks sooner than those not mulched. I find this bizarre because typically, the mulched areas sprout a full two weeks LATER than unmulched areas. The only reasonable explanation I have heard for their contradictory behavior comes from my husband, who says there was no frost under the snow at all, throughout the winter, as we received a heavy snowfall early in the winter which provided a cozy insulating blanket for the lilies all winter long. As he does excavation for a living on a year-round basis, he is completely familiar with ground, soils and all their charactaristics. His explanation is the only plausible one; the heavy snowfall insulated the ground well enough to keep it from freezing at all this winter.
The lilies were all coming on quite strong and looking very good until mid May, when we experienced a heavy, killing frost - not unusual in itself, but the fact that the lilies were already approaching six to eight inches in height was! Of course, this frost did some heavy damage to the majority of lilies, and the LA hybrids in particular. Since the flower buds are already formed within the tip of the stems, even at this early stage of growth, I knew we were unlikely to enjoy the beautiful show of blooms we are used to in mid July. I was not too disappointed yet, as we have lily beds throughout our acreage and not all were sprouted up or suffered the heavy frost damage apparent in the mulched beds. I expected we would still have a glorious bloom season for the end of July and early August.
Our next challenge came in the form of drought danger. Although we had above average snowfall through the winter and early spring, it melted so fast in April that more ran off than soaked into the ground. Spring winds contributed to the soil drying out quickly, and I realized by the end of May we were going to have to irrigate all the newly planted beds if I wanted them to sprout up and grow normally - the majority were still not showing themselves by this time. Low and behold, Mother Nature answered our prayers for rain in the first week of June - but with it came damaging hail! We received one inch of rain in under 45 minutes, ending in hail that damaged the lily foliage, including our potted stock.
In mid June we had another killing frost, but this one only seemed to damage the already suffering LA hybrid lilies (turning some to mush), the rest appeared to have only suffered minimal damage that I thought they could recover from. We also continued to receive on average, one inch of rain per week, almost always in a heavy downpour - this weekly trend continued until mid August, I might add.
The real disappointment came at the beginning of July, when it hailed hard again, and started to rain and continued to do so for 9 days straight. On about the 5th day I noticed the lily stems were looking odd, went for a closer look and was horrified to see that Botrytis had set in, in a big way. It was pointless to spray anything as a control as the rain had not stopped yet. By day 9, the majority of the lilies that had suffered frost damage previously were a horrible mess, and I knew they would NOT be providing a beautiful show of flowers this year! I was able to control the botrytis and prevent it from getting any worse in the other areas by spraying Rovral, but it was immediately apparent that our flower show was not going to live up to my expectations and I canceled our Open Gardens event as a result. I also knew this meant I was in for a huge amount of cleanup work in the Fall, to get rid of all those disease ridden stems and foliage, and spraying the ground to prevent infection the following year.
NOTES ON HARDINESS TRIALS AND SUCH
In the end, it was not a great year to evaluate lilies here in central Alberta. But everything bad has a good side too, and I was able to get a very detailed list of what was disease resistant and what was not. That too is an important consideration for garden lilies, as there are many parts of the world where high humidity and rain are the norm, and lilies are in demand to grow under those particular conditions.
All of Dick Bazett's lilies (planted in Fall 2003) survived and bloomed for us in 2004, escaping much of the Botrytis damage until later in summer. Was it because they were resistant or because they had a fresh bed with no spores from the previous year to deal with? Golden Surprise, his hardy trumpet x asiatic only sprouted up to about 6 or 8 inches, and unfortunately did not bloom for us. I suspect the early drought they suffered had much to do with their failure to bloom. I am anxious to see how they will perform in 2005 for us though! All 5 Orienpet varieties he sent us also survived the winter, only one bloomed for us (Regal Star) while the others lost buds or grew deformed or blind due to botrytis and/or frost damage. These orienpets were planted without any mulch in order to evaluate hardiness. I will continue to evaluate these in future.
I planted more aurelian x asiatic crossed lily bulblets from Ivory Belles and Silky Belles in Fall 2003, to an exposed, unmulched area and they all grew and some even tried to bloom this past summer, but I pinched the buds in order for them to conserve bulb energy in their first year. Our established beds of the Belle series appear to be thriving, despite the constant climate changes and unpredictable weather. They are propagating on their own now, after 3 years in the ground.
The orienpet bulblets from Northern Star which were planted in Fall 2002 also returned and many sent out one bud in their second year of garden growth. These were also pinched off so the bulb could grow. I am very hopeful that this may be the future of propagating orienpets naturally here for us. I find the orienpets very slow to establish here, in general. Leslie Woodriff one of the first varieties planted, has just begun to increase on its own, one bulb sending up 2 stems this spring. It has been in the ground since the year 2000 and has not been disturbed at all since then. Each year the bud count has increased however, so we know the bulb is getting bigger! Easter Morn I was unable to evaluate this year (regarding propagation on its own), as the many leaves sent up at the base of the established clump died off due to botrytis early in the season. All were firm and appeared healthy in the Fall, so I'm certain they will return for another attempt this coming spring.
The last noteworthy comment I have to make for the 2004 season has to do with the bulb depth. During my bulb harvest, I was positively amazed to find mother bulbs in one bed had pulled themselves to a depth approaching 16 inches or more below ground level - I had to get out the track spade to dig! These were originally planted at a depth of 4 to 6 inches for asiatics and LA's, 8 to 12 inches for orienpets. This is a raised bed, approximately 8 to 12 inches of a sandy soil mix was used on top of existing sandy, rocky soil. This is also the bed we used to trial the product MYKE on, when first planted in spring 2002.
I'm a little baffled by the possible reasons why they would have pulled themselves down so far. I am fully aware that lily bulbs will do this - but what MAKES them do this? After pondering the idea for some time over the winter, I have come to the conclusion that they must have pulled themselves down in order to cool themselves and in search of moisture, because of the years of drought since they were first planted. I'm not so sure this is a good explanation though, as this bed was irrigated throughout the summer of 2002, and heavily mulched with bark to conserve the moisture in the same year. There was some harvesting from this bed in Fall 2003 (it was perfectly moist and not dry at all), and the bulbs were not noticeably any deeper than the year prior, so why now? We certainly did not experience drought this summer! In fact, with all the moisture I found I had to delay digging in many areas because the ground under the mulch was so saturated. Did they go downward through the summer, or did they spend their previous winter going down? I don't think they did so through the winter as I did some digging here in early spring and didn't find them unusually deep at that time. When I did find the bulbs way down deep this past season, I was positively gleeful at their size and condition, being huge and healthy!
Fred Fellner had warned me in mid July that all varieties where botrytis had hit early, would experience little or no bulb growth over summer, and this was confirmed during my fall harvest. The areas where botrytis was not so evident, and in new beds planted in fall 2003, bulb size was large, no doubt due to the high moisture levels this season and high drainage capacity of our soil. I was told by another experienced lily grower that she found once lilies had been hit badly by botrytis they seemed to be affected and/or infected with it consistently from that point on. Others that I have repeated this to have disagreed, saying if they seem susceptible in years following an outbreak, it is only because good cleanup was not carried out effectively. I guess I'll find out firsthand this coming summer, and I'll be sure to post the results I found here on the site once again. Until then, good growing to you and yours!