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Planting Bulbs

The Martha Stewart Show, March 2010

Colorful bulbs are a garden staple, and lilies just may be the bulb superstar. Attracting attention for their voluptuous, dramatic appearance and intoxicating scent, lilies thrive in containers and should be planted in spring to ensure vibrant blooms come summer.

The Pot
In a pot, you can plant bulbs about 4 inches apart, more closely than you would in the ground. When planting lily bulbs, always choose the biggest possible pot to provide a stable growing environment; smaller containers will dry out and blow over. Place plenty of rocks at the bottom of your container so that it drains well.

The Soil
Get to know your plant: If your lilies need an acidic soil, use ericaceous compost. If your lily is a stem-rooting type, plant it deep so that fresh feeding roots can grow from the lower part of the stem. Always put a layer of compost in the bottom of your container, and remember that most lily bulbs need to be planted at least 6 inches deep.

After planting, cover the bulbs with more compost and press down gently. Finish with a layer of gravel or grit, which both looks good as well as deters slugs and snails.

The Caretaking
Be generous with food and water while your lilies are growing. Gardening expert and author Anna Pavord recommends liquid feed made with nitrogen, potassium, and phosphate, though be careful not to use too much nitrogen, as it will make the leafy growth a bit soft and more prone to disease. Tomato food is also great for lilies. At the end of the season, when there are no more flowers, let your lilies die naturally; nutrients from the stem will drift down into the bulb. 

Bulb Glossary
These beautiful bulbs are ideal for spring planting.

Zantedeschia Aethiopica (Calla Lilies)

With elegant foliage, this long-lasting architectural bulb requires rich, damp ground but adds strong form to any garden.

Gloriosa Superba (Rothschildiana)

Unless you can guarantee that the temperature will stay above 50 degrees, this particular plant should be grown in a greenhouse using pots that are at least 8 inches across.

Anemone Coronaria (Mr. Fokker)

This jewel-colored variety, particularly lovely in cut arrangements, thrives in sun and produces flowers over a long season.

Gladiolus Violetta

The gladiolus violetta is a great florist's flower, but can be troublesome in gardens. If interested in planting yourself, try the Gladiolus Papilio (pictured) instead; it's a hooded, mysterious flower whose smoky mauve color is irresistible.

Nerine Bowdenii

Best when planted at the base of a warm wall, this bulb produces long-lasting flowers and needs to be planted a bit shallow.

Asiatic and Pink Perfection Lilies

One of the simplest lilies for beginners, these "trumpet" lilies are vigorous plants that clump up well. Once potted, they can simply stay there.

Oriental Lily (Lilium Casa Blanca)

Known for its sweet scent, this lily pumps up its perfume at night to attract moths for pollination.

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