How to propagate lilies?

Asiatic Lily Propagation: How To Propagate An Asiatic Lily Plant

A truly astounding plant, Asiatic lilies are a flowers lovers prize garden denizen. Propagating Asiatic lily is commercially done by bulb, but if you have patience, you can save money and grow them from division, seed or even leaves. This fascinating plant is very versatile in its reproduction and grows asexually or sexually. That leaves a lot of options for the intrepid gardener. Try reproducing Asiatic lilies in any one of these ways for a fun, interesting project that will yield more of the magical blooms.

How to Propagate Asiatic Lily Plants

Asiatic lily is probably one of the most recognized of the lilies. Its impactful flowers and tall, elegant stems pack a real punch in the perennial flower garden. Asiatic lily propagation from seed is time consuming and may take 2 to 6 years to develop flowers. A quicker method to increase your stock of these plants is by division. A vegetative method using leaves is also possible but takes some serious patience.

Seed Propagating Asiatic Lilies

Lilies come in different germination levels, but Asiatic forms are fairly easy to sprout. Pick pods in September and allow them to dry thoroughly. When pods are dry, crack them open and separate the seeds, discarding the chaff.

Sow seed in potting soil that has been pre-moistened, 1 inch apart (2.5 cm.) with a fine dust of ½ inch (1.27 cm.) of soil over them. Pat the soil onto the seed gently.

Within 4 to 6 weeks, seeds should sprout. Keep them lightly moist and give young plants 14 hours of light per day. Every 14 days, feed with liquid fertilizer diluted by half.

When seedlings become dormant, repot them into slightly larger containers to grow on.

Asiatic Lily Propagation from Division

Reproducing Asiatic lilies by division is the fastest and easiest method of propagation. Wait until the lilies are dormant and dig up the cluster. Dig several inches around the base of the plant. Remove the excess dirt and pull apart the small bulbs. Make sure each has a nice amount of root attached.

Plant the divisions immediately or place them in plastic bags with moistened peat moss in the refrigerator until spring. Plant new bulbs 12 inches (30 cm.) apart again half as deep as the bulb is in diameter.

If there are no offsets or small bulbs to remove from the main bulb, you can use bulb scales. Remove a few scales from the main bulb and place them in a bag with moist peat at room temperature. Within a few weeks, the scales will produce bulblets that can be planted as soon as they form roots.

Propagating Asiatic Lily from Leaves

Using foliage for Asiatic lily propagation is an unusual method, but it does work in time. Gently pull downward on the outer leaves of the plant when they are still green but after the plant has bloomed.

Dip the ends of the leaves in rooting hormone and insert them into 2 inches (5 cm.) of moistened sand. Three leaves per 2-inch container (5 cm.) is sufficient to leave room for bulbs to form. Cover the containers with plastic bags and place them in a warm area of the home.

In about a month, small swellings occur with a root or two on the treated end of the leaf. These are now ready to plant and grow. Flowering will occur in two years or less. The cost to do this is negligible, but the savings are huge and you now have more of these stunning plants.

How to take cuttings

Be kind to your cuttings

All cuttings need to go directly to an environment with 100% humidity after being cut. If the cuttings dry out, they will not do well. Keep them dark, cool and moist. If you are working in large areas, use wet cheesecloth or burlap to wrap the cuttings as you go along. Should we allow the cuts to dry out a little before sticking them in medium?
No – while herbaceous cuttings are less likely to rot, they also root faster than woody plants because they contain less lignin in their stems. Don’t give them time to dry out. Process them soon as possible to keep the auxins flowing down the stem since they need to work at the bottom. A word of caution here – if you, the grower, use a rooting chamber that sprays a mist onto the cutting stems but does not include top humidity control, it might be advisable to cut the cutting stems at an angle to allow for water penetration, since these propagation units depend on this to regulate the supply of water to a cutting.

Rooting medium

The media for rooting should be similar to the medium that will be used for growing the cuttings in later: use an inorganic medium for inorganic systems, and an organic medium for organic systems. You must match the properties. Plants develop new roots with characteristics suited to the particular medium and the subsequent job they must do. If you are growing in soil or in a soilless mix, it makes little sense to induce roots on a cutting by using a water-based rooting system. Otherwise, the plant will have to devote time and energy to converting those roots to roots that will work in the new environment, where water is scarcer than minerals. If you intend to grow your cuttings in clay pebbles, then root them in water, rock wool, or floral blocks. This will insure root compatibility from the start. Avoid sticking the cuttings in too deep – while tomatoes can handle being transplanted deep, most plants cannot. For plants that root at the node – bury the node, for plants that don’t root at the node – leave the node above the medium.

Finally, make sure you water the cuttings when you’ve finished. This ensures a seal develops on the stem and settles the cutting into place.

Perfect growing conditions for cuttings

Now what’s the next step? Let’s see, we fed the stock plant, took the cuttings, transferred the cuttings into a suitable medium… now we need get them under 100% humidity. This can be achieved with a dome or a mist system. Some plants are not particular and can withstand drier conditions (e.g. cacti or succulents), others will benefit from this approach. Humidity reduces the water use and supplies water to the growing plant.

Humidity is essential to keep the leaf turgid, the systems functioning, and the processes processing. Keeping the lights at a lower intensity will enhance rooting while decreasing leaf function to survival levels. It will slow transpiration while the necessary components are used at the root sites to build a new root structure. Keep the atmosphere around the cutting warm (not hot), keep the humidity relatively high (>90%), and keep the root zone temperature warm (at about 25°C).

Maintain this humidity until you can see callus tissue or root initials (the first signs of root development) then you can allow the cuttings to grow at below 90% humidity but above 80% humidity in order to encourage root growth. When you can see roots in the surrounding medium, it is time to reduce to 80% humidity and stop spraying water on the leaves in order to limit risk of disease.

When the roots reach the outside of the root cube or pot, transplant them.

When to transplant cuttings?

The timing here is important. If you wait until the roots have grown into a root ball, the roots will be old, ‘pot-tight’, and likely to grow on with less branching. Don’t wait until the roots have grown too much. Do not apply stimulants (hormones) until the cuttings are transplanted. If you are rooting your cuttings into a medium, then use stimulants as soon as you notice the roots (some stimulants can be supplied through the leaf earlier). A word of caution: never transplant freshly rooted cuttings into a container that is too large, use an intermediate size. For instance, do not transplant a 1 inch cube with a rooted cutting into a 20 litre container, use an intermediate size such as a 4 inch for root formation. The plant won’t suffer and there is less risk of it being over-watered.

A critical point to make at this juncture: roots require 100% humidity to avoid damage. The longer the root tips are exposed to air, the greater the damage that is done. Minimise their exposure time to the air. Do not harvest hundreds of plugs in the morning then wait until the afternoon to plant them. Only harvest, or remove from the starter trays exposing the roots, enough material that you can deal with in 15 minutes. Once planted in the medium, always water your transplants in, with or without feed, depending on the medium and always adjusted to the bare minimum needed.

Transplanting cuttings: best practice

A cutting that is being transplanted the first time should not be forced to swim in a huge pot that contains an ocean of media. It is not wise to place a 4-inch cutting directly into a 20 litre container, as it is not efficient use of space and it is difficult to keep the climate under control in such a large container.

Transplant it into a smaller container first and allow it to gain root volume, then transfer it into a larger container. The same rules apply for roots, once the roots are loose and growing as far as the outside of the root ball in good numbers, move the plant up to a larger container. This will make it easier to keep water levels constant, avoid over-watering, ensure adequate nutrient availability, and make harvesting easier.

The timing and amount of fertiliser to apply will depend on the medium you are using. If you add fertiliser to a medium such as soil or peat, then a large proportion of it will adhere to the particles either directly or through bind sites. If there is not enough plant material to use these nutrients, they will remain in the medium and can ultimately lead to high salt levels later on.

So, feed new cuttings and plants lightly and increase the amount of fertiliser you give to your young plants in proportion to the rate of root growth. Foliar feeds can be applied to leaf surfaces but in light amounts. Beware that nitrogen and some other elements have a tendency to leach out of leaves under a mist system. Usually, a light amount of foliar feeding* is recommended where roots form in less then five days. The root system is considered to be the best way to feed the plant and this holds true throughout the plant’s life.

If a plant requires foliar applications there is usually a problem elsewhere in the plant that should be addressed. Taking cuttings is straightforward when done correctly and when the grower is familiar with the plant species. Some plants don’t propagate well at all. Some take weeks to grow new roots, some start growing new roots while still on the stock plant. You need to know what is possible with the plant you have chosen so you know what to expect. Remember, cutting any living plant has consequences, for both the cutting and for the stock plant. Follow these steps carefully, take care of the stock plant and cuttings and you will succeed!

*CANNA RHIZOTONIC is a popular product for use in foliar feeding. Sprayed on leaves of your cuttings it will speed up the rooting process, increase resistance against diseases, and it will improve the quality of the crop.

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Flowering bulbs make a wonderful addition to the garden, filling it with color and fragrance from early spring all the way through to mid-autumn.

They take up very little space, work equally well in beds, borders, or containers, and are among the best plants for naturalizing in meadows and woodlands. And by choosing a selection that flowers at different times, you’ll always have something coming into bloom as the previous performers fade away.

The main problem is that some of them can be quite pricey. Not to the extreme of bulb mania back in the 1600s, but some of the more exotic varieties can still put a good dent in your wallet!

And that’s where learning how to propagate them comes into play. It’s a simple skill to learn, supplies are minimal, and multiplying these glamorous gems can be quite easily achieved by the home gardener.

Just remember to put a descriptive tag on the stem while a given plant is blooming – it will look considerably different several months later when it’s time to propagate, and a description will help to identify it.

Multiplication for Masses of Blooms

Many bulbs will naturally self-propagate through the formation of offsets, bulbils, or seeds.

Others need some human interaction to reproduce successfully, with the most common techniques being chipping, scaling, and scooping.

This requires a bit of attention and patience from the gardener, but the many new plants that will be produced as a result are well worth the effort.

And because some new plantings can take anywhere from two to seven years to bloom, this is a practice that should become one of your regular autumn tasks. If you divide a few each year, you’ll have a never-ending supply of bloom-ready bulbs on hand to plant out when they’re wanted.

Here’s the information we’re covering in this article:

The Best Bulb Propagation Methods and Tips

  • The Various Types
    • True Bulbs
    • Corms
    • Rhizomes
    • Tubers and Tuberous Roots
  • Propagation by Seed
  • Division
    • Offsets
    • Bulbils
    • Scaling
    • Chipping
    • Scooping

Let’s get to it!

The Various Types

A bulb is defined as a plant that contains everything needed for its entire lifecycle within an underground root structure that’s used to store nutrients.

Typically, these are perennials with periods of growth, flowering, seed setting, and dormancy as the topside growth dies completely back.

They’re usually categorized into the following categories: true bulbs, corms, rhizomes, tubers, and tuberous roots. Let’s take a look at each!

True Bulbs

A “true” bulb has a basal plate on the bottom that roots grow from, plump scales that look like flat garlic cloves, a shoot that forms the flower and leaves, and lateral buds that develop into offsets or bulblets.

Note the basal plates on the bottom.

Ones that have a tunic, or a paper-like covering, are known as tunicate bulbs. The tunic protects it from drying out.

Examples of true tunicates are alliums, daffodils, hyacinths, muscari, and tulips.

Those without a tunic are called imbricate bulbs. Imbricates need to be keep moist before planting to prevent the scales from drying out. Fritillaria and lilies are a few common types of imbricates.

Corms

Similar in function to the true type, a corm is an enlarged stem base that’s been adapted to act as a storage structure. When cut in half, the corm doesn’t have any visible storage rings as do the true bulbs.

Gladiolus corms with bulbils.

It also features a basal plate, papery tunic, and a pointed growing tip.

Plants that use corms for energy storage include autumn crocus, spring crocus, and gladiolus.

Rhizomes

Rhizomes are different from the above in that they don’t have basal plates or tunics, and spread out horizontally under the soil surface rather than growing down.

Iris rhizomes.

Lily of the valley and iris are common garden rhizomes.

Tubers and Tuberous Roots

Tubers are included in this category but they have a different structure, without a basal plate or a protective tunic. These includes anemones, caladiums, and potatoes.

Dahlia tubers.

And tuberous roots, like dahlias, differ again. They have the same cycles and growth patterns as bulbs, with the structure of proper roots.

Propagation by Seed

One of the easiest propagation methods, seeds are collected from spent flower heads once they’ve dried out and opened for seed dispersal. However, reproduction from seed does not guarantee the new plant will be identical to the parent, particularly with hybridized cultivars.

Pick dried flower heads and shake seeds onto a plate, then separate out the chaff. Toss the seeds in a light breeze to allow the chaff to float away, or gently blow away debris.

Sow seeds on the surface of a light, loamy potting soil mix. Cover the seeds with a thin layer of sifted compost and top with a layer of fine sand.

Place flats or pots in a cold frame, unheated greenhouse, or in a sheltered spot out of danger from heavy rains. Ensure the soil is kept moist but not wet.

Depending on the plant, some seeds will germinate promptly, sending up a grass-like shoots, while others like to form roots first and then send up new leaves in the spring, after they’ve enjoyed a cold spell.

Lovely snowdrops.

Seedlings can be potted up in their second year, but you’ll have to be patient – some bulbs started from seed, such as tulips, can take as long as seven years before you’ll see blooms!

Certain types will naturally self seed in the garden, but you’ll need to allow the seed heads to develop on the stem. Bulbous iris, crocus, and snowdrops will all self seed, but you need to be careful not to weed out their tender young shoots, which resemble blades of grass.

Division

Propagation is also possible via an array of different methods. Depending on the types that you have growing in the garden, their age, and other factors, one or more of the following techniques can be used.

Read on to discover our tips and tricks for division via offsets, bulbils, scaling, chipping, and scooping.

Offsets

Many varieties will reproduce with offsets, or baby bulbs, that grow alongside the mother. Offsets will be exactly the same as mother, making this method highly reliable for both hybridized cultivars and heirloom species.

In the fall, after the foliage has died back, gently lift bulbs and detach the offsets, snapping or pulling them away from the parent.

Pot up smaller ones in a rich soil amended with well-rotted compost, and place in a cold frame or sheltered spot in the garden, providing protection from winter cold if needed.

Ensure the soil is moist, but not wet, and wait patiently until they’re large enough to plant in the garden.

Smaller offsets may take 2-4 years before you’ll see a flower, but larger ones can be direct planted into the ground, with blooms likely the following growing season. When planting offsets, mix them in with mature bulbs to ensure a good display of blooms.

Offsets and mature bulbs.

Offset production can be encouraged by planting a stock (parent) bulb shallowly, or by notching the basal plate at the time of planting.

To notch the basal plate, simply cut out a couple of small sections with a sharp, clean knife, then dip the bulb in a fungicide before planting, such as this one from Southern Ag, available via Amazon.

Southern Ag Thiomyl Ornamental Systemic Fungicide, 2 Oz.

Crocus, daffodils, gladiolus, and some lilies naturally produce offsets.

Bulbils

Bulbils form in the leaf axils of some lilies, including tiger and wild types. These are miniature bulbs that develop on the stem above ground, as opposed to bulblets which develop below ground on certain plant varieties.

Tiger lily with bulbils.

Detach bulbils when plump and ripe, then press into a pan or tray of rich, gritty soil amended with plenty of compost. Cover with 1/2 inch of soil and keep moist.

Keep the pan in a sheltered, frost-free location over the winter, and plant out in large clumps the following autumn.

Scaling

For true bulbs formed of multiple scales, like lilies and fritillaria, scaling is a good method for their propagation. This can be done before planting the parent bulb, or when lifting bulbs in autumn after their growing season is complete.

Oriental lily scales.

As close to the base as possible, snap off 4-8 scales from a firm, plump bulb then dust the parent and scales with a fungicide such as garden sulfur.

Press the base end firmly into a tray of sand so that each scale is standing upright. Cover with a plastic bag, fill with air, and seal. Store in a warm, dark location (around 65-70°F) for six weeks.

Alternately, make a mixture of 50:50 peat moss and perlite or vermiculite, and add water just to barely moisten. Place 2-4 inches of the mix in a plastic bag and lay down your scales. Shake the bag to cover the scales, then reposition them so they’re not touching.

Fill the bag with air, then seal it. Store in a warm, dark location (around 65-70°F) for six weeks.

When bulblets have formed, discard any scales that have gone soft and plant the remaining bulblets with the scales in pots. Place in a cold frame or a sheltered, frost-free spot in the garden to overwinter, keeping the soil just moist.

If winter temperatures in your region don’t fall below 40°F, place the scales in their plastic bag in the refrigerator for 6-12 weeks instead.

A two-year-old plant in the nursery.

Plant out in a nursery bed in the spring, spacing 4 inches apart, and in 2-3 years they’ll be producing blooms and ready for planting in the garden.

Chipping

Chipping works well on plants including as alliums, amaryllis, daffodils, fritillaria, irises, and hyacinths.

Use bulbs that are clean and dormant, removing any of the papery tunic and trimming any roots with sharp garden snips.

Remove the top 1/3-1/2 of the growing tip and discard.

Invert so that the basal plate (the spot where the roots grow from) is on top, and with a sharp, sterile knife, cut the bulb in half. Continue to cut each section in half, ensuring each section has a piece of the basal plate attached, until you have 8-16 chips.

Soak the chips in a systemic fungicide solution for 15-30 minutes, then drain on a rack for 12 hours – but don’t toss the fungicide solution.

Fill a pot with moisture-retaining peat moss, perlite, or vermiculite, then moisten with the fungicide solution, ensuring the planting medium is thoroughly moist but not wet.

Press the chips into the perlite, basal plate down, then place the pot in a plastic bag. Fill the bag with air, then seal and label it with the date.

Store in a dark, warm (65-70°F) location for approximately 12 weeks. Check periodically, ensuring the perlite remains moist, and removing any rotting chips if you notice them.

While in storage, the layers of each chip will spread apart. Bulblets will form between the layers, just above the basal plate.

Once formed, plant the bulblets into individual pots and place in a sheltered spot in the garden, ensuring the soil stays just moist.

Provide protection against winter cold in a sheltered spot or cold frame, and plant into the garden the following autumn.

Scooping

Scooping is a method used primarily for hyacinths, and it must be done in the winter while they are dormant.

Using a clean paring knife or a sharpened teaspoon, scoop out the center of the basal plate to a depth of up to 1/2 inch, taking care to leave the outer rim intact.

Sprinkle the scooped end with fungicide powder, shaking off any excess.

Add coarse sand to a tray and water to moisten, then press the bulbs into the sand upside down, with the scooped basal plate on top.

Place the tray in a warm (around 65-70°F), dark location, watering the sand periodically to keep it just moist.

In approximately 12 weeks, bulblets will from in the scooped out section. When large enough to handle, gently detach them from the parent bulb, and pot up in individual containers in a mixture of sifted compost and fine sand, planting as you would for seeds.

Prolific Garden Beauty

While some bulbs might be considered a bit pricey, they’re well worth the cost for their outstanding beauty, delightful fragrance, and years of prolific multiplication in the garden.

And for those species that are reluctant or slow to multiply on their own, you now have several methods to propagate them successfully at home.

Remember to use a fungicide on any cut surfaces to prevent rot, and protect new plants from winter cold until they’re ready to be planted in the garden.

If you enjoy the gorgeous addition that these flowers make to the garden, be sure to read our other articles on how to grow them – like this one on hyacinths.

Don’t forget to tell us about all of your propagation adventures in the comments below!

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Photos by Lorna Kring © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product photo via Southern Ag.

About Lorna Kring

A writer, artist, and entrepreneur, Lorna is also a long-time gardener who got hooked on organic and natural gardening methods at an early age. These days, her vegetable garden is smaller to make room for decorative landscapes filled with color, fragrance, art, and hidden treasures. Cultivating and designing the ideal garden spot is one of her favorite activities – especially for gathering with family and friends for good times and good food (straight from the garden, of course)!

Lilies find several ways to reproduce, some a bit odd

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Question: My grandson has some flowers in his yard that look like lilies but have a ball of tiny lily plants growing on a long flowering stem. What is this strange thing?

Answer: Lilies and their relatives, including garlic, are masters at asexual or vegetative reproduction, depending on the species. Here are some of the ways they can reproduce themselves without sex:

  • Bulbs. Lilies are generally perennial. Their bulbs, over time, get larger. Once they reach a certain size, the bulbs divide into more than one part. Horticulturists call these additional new bulbs offsets. If you’ve ever dug up and replanted crocus or tulips, you have probably seen offsets. When you see two stems growing real close together, it is a good indication that the bulb has split.
  • Scales. Each bulb on a lily is made up of scales, all attached at the base where the roots come out. You can take scales off the bulbs and grow them out, the larger the better.
  • Stem bulbils. A few types of lilies produce small, dark orbs on the stem leaf axils. These are bulbils. These easily fall to the ground to start new plants. Or, you can collect them and plant them to start new lilies. Horticulturists give them a month’s chilling, then plant them out under grow lights to start new plants. It usually takes at least a couple of years for a tiny bulbil to develop a large enough bulb to flower.
  • Bulbils on top of a flowering stem. Strangely, from the picture you sent me, it looks like your grandson’s lily has formed bulbils on the end of a flowering stem, rather than along the stem. In fact, sometimes the plants start growing while still on the mother plant, as in your picture. The bulbils have formed at the base of each individual tiny flower at the top of the stem.

Consider top-setting garlic, not a lily but a close relative. Each spring, the garlic sends up a long stem and what looks like a flower bulb. But if you open it up, it is really just a ball of bulblets, which, if left to grow, will fall to the ground. Garlic, long domesticated, has given up flowering (sex) as a reproductive strategy altogether. It only sets top setting bulbils and bulb scales, known as ‘cloves’ in garlic.

Most lilies can reproduce sexually as well; that is they have pistils and stamens, ovules, pollen and set seed. Each seed carries genetics that are different from the parents, due to cross pollination.

Lilies range from tulips to our native Camas and Columbia lily on to the gaudy Asians and Oriental types. If you want to learn more about lilies, Wikipedia has a surprisingly nice entry on this plant family.

I grow most of my lilies, including tulips, in large pots on my back deck, as the rodents decimate those in my garden beds.

Even my confined potted lilies manage to use their ingenious asexual reproductive strategies. Every few years, I empty each pot of lilies after they flower, then gather all the bulbs and scales and pick out the best and biggest. Then I immediately repot them in rich new soil with a boost of bone meal for next year. I give many of the extra bulbs away to friends.

I store my container-grown lilies in a protected place in the winter so they won’t freeze or rot in the rain. In the early spring, I mulch each container with layer of compost and some bone meal to give them a nutritional boost for the year.

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