Dry Bulbs from “Box Stores”

Lily Bulbs with Stem Growth


I was in a national “box store” a few days ago getting supplies for our venue site and checked out the lily bulbs. Nice display and the bulbs were certainly affordable. I wish I would have had my camera.

Box Store Packaging

Here’s the problem…most of them were dried out, half grown (even the few orientals they had) with stems and leaves, and small (10cm to 12 cm). When you buy lily bulbs or any other bulbs, there can be some growth but not that much! The bulbs should be larger, too! Here is what happens: The bulbs are shipped in plastic bags with sawdust or wood chips (that’s perfectly ok), displayed under florescent lights, and the store is usually kept at or above 70 degrees to keep everyone warm, especially customers . This creates a greenhouse effect and they begin to grow, not stopping until they bloom! You might say “is that so bad, at least you know they are alive.” Yes it is:

Packaged Environment

1.) When you purchase a bulb from the environment I just described, the bulbs are usually dry and will die soon after planting. There is not enough sugar in the plant to sustain itself. 2.) The stem will not grow and perform normally. After growing inside, they need to be “hardened off” before planting outside. After receiving some rain or irrigation, the stem will become weak, droop to the ground, and die. You might say to yourself, “Ok, I’ll give them some water and place them in the fridge for awhile”. That sometimes works but not normally. When the bulbs receive water in a dried out state (especially with saw dust in the bag), the scales take up too much water at once and they will rot. The rotting may not show immediately, but it will happen.

Easiest to Grow/Time of Bloom

Easiest to Grow

Typically Asiatic, Tiger lilies are the earliest to grow and bloom indoor or outdoor. On the other hand, Oriental varieties have a tendency to be somewhat difficult to grow and bloom indoors (with a few exceptions).

Asiatic and most Tiger lilies are the hardiest, easier to grow than all other lilies. If forcing indoors,they should be “hardened off” before planting outdoors or planted in the fall or winter (September to February). Above all, they should be the same size or larger than a golf ball (12 to 14 centimeters or larger).

Healthy Lily Bulb: Lilyflowerstore

Time of Bloom

Orientals, Orienpets, Trumpets, and some Tiger lilies are normally the latest to bloom and can be planted Fall in to Spring (September to May). They also should be “hardened off” before planting outdoors with plenty of water and sugar within the bulb. With the exception of Tiger and Oriental Lilies, this group is somewhat temperamental. Therefore, purchasing these bulbs that are healthy and one & a half times larger than a golf ball (14 to 16 centimeters or larger) is best and will provide the plant with plenty of water and sugar in the scales to produce and stay healthy for many years to come.

Size Matters

Ever wonder what happens to the original bulb each year after the first real strong blooming season? Most of the time, the outer scales become “used up”. They will remain as part of the bulb but will eventually deteriorate and rot. Consequently, the inner scales will replace the outer scales. Therefore, if the lily bulb is too small when planted, say 10cm to 12cm, you may not see the lily bulb bloom for several more seasons. In other words, there is not enough support from a small bulb to produce good sized and quantity blooms.

Scale Support

The outer scales serve as support to the inner scales in the form of providing water and nutrients for the stem, leaves, and blooms.  They are also the scales that become infected with diseases first. Although the inner scales also provide nutrients for the whole plant too, they are the main producer of the plant’s growth and blooms.

Life of the Bulb

After a few seasons (sometimes the first year), the outer scales become used up. After that, they stop supporting the rest of the bulb. If the bulb is too small or the outer scales are diseased, as a result it has no life support. However, you might see the lily bulb develop stems, leaves, and blooms the first year and nothing the following season. Subsequently, this happens because the outer scales are either infected with a disease and die (which in one season eventually spread to the rest of the lily bulb), or they are too small to give support to the inner scales. The lily bulb cannot sustain itself and passes into the great flowering land.

Asiatics and Tigers

The lily bulbs in these classes are typically the most hardiest and bloom early, usually from May to the first of July. Therefore, they will start to grow and emerge from the ground sometime in late February to the middle of March. They are, in most cases, resistant to diseases.

Cause and Effect:

If purchased and planted with too much growth (showing leaves and stems) without properly being “hardened off”, the stem breaks or will fall to the ground (appearing to wilt) and will not bloom again until the following season. The bulb’s scales will also fall apart when slightly touched. In most cases the bulb will survive, unless it was too dry when planted causing it to absorb too much water, then rot develops and the bulb dies.

Exposed Lily Flowering Bulb


Don’t Give Up

If the “mother” bulb is healthy, it may develop new bulb-lits over the next few years from the outer and inner scales (if they are healthy). The bulb can still have enough nutrients that it may start producing again. This happens frequently so don’t give up on them.

Bulb Size

Purchase bulbs that are healthy and large. If the bulb is not large enough, containing the proper amount of nutrients when you plant it, you may not see it produce after the first year or it could be a few more years if any new bulblits develop in size to sustain themselves into a new flowering lily bulb.

Meanwhile, back at the farm…

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john birch
john birch
June 28, 2016 1:46 pm

How informative! Kenn, this is so cool ! Maybe you can help me on another issue: I currently have a fistula on my loebillia and haven’t a clue what to do. Thought about terminating but wanted to get your opinion.

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