Propagating Lilies From Scales

Have you ever tried to grow lilies from scales? If you haven’t, you have missed one of the most interesting gardening experiences.

Many new hybrid garden lilies produce little or no seed, so you will find propagating them from scales (the segments of the bulb which look like sections of an artichoke) is an easy way to increase your stock.

Propagating Lilies from ScalesPin

Why I Became Interested In Propagating Lilies From Scales

I became interested when I visited a neighborhood greenhouse where the men were busy potting up lily bulbs to force for Easter blooming.

One case of bulbs from Japan contained the favorite Lilium speciosum rubrum, the bulbs packed in white sand.

A number of the lily scales had become detached from the bulbs, and clinging to many of them were tiny bulblets. Some scales had as many as three.

I asked one of the men about the bulblets and learned that they were common in bulbs that had been in cold storage, especially those shipped from Japan.

He dumped the box of sand onto the potting bench and told me to help myself. I gathered almost a pint of scales, some without bulblets, others with two, and a few with as many as three.

We had grown many lilies from seed but knew very little about the methods employed in producing them from scales.

We practiced the following method of scaling on these varieties, all of the hardy lily types:

  • Regal
  • Croft
  • Creole
  • Lilium formosanum, all whites
  • Golden-tinted Lilium henryi
  • Ruby-colored Lilium speciosum, of the larger-flowered group
  • Blood red Lilium tenuifolium
  • The beautiful apricot yellow Golden Gleam

Planting Propagated Lilies From Scales

For planting, I obtained a wooden box, 14″ x 16″ x 6″ inches, such as those in which California grapes are packed and shipped.

This is not too durable, but it makes an inexpensive container that will last long enough to serve its purpose.

The first procedure is to dust the scales. Not familiar with this, our first attempt to increase the number of lilies in our garden was most discouraging.

We have learned how to cope with diseases that attack the scales and small bulblets thanks to experimental work with fungicide dust.

We now dust the scales with either captan as soon as they have been removed from the bulb.

Small lots are dusted in paper bags. About 1 tablespoonful of the dust is used for a pint of scales.

Any excess is saved and used on the next batch of scales.

Propagating Medium

First, we tried growing the scales in the sand, and then we tried peat moss.

We found peat moss a suitable propagating medium, but it dried out too quickly in our warm basement.

Now we are using vermiculite and find it most satisfactory.

We begin by laying 2” inches of vermiculite in the bottom of the box. Over that, we spread a layer of lily scales, spaced so that they do not touch each other.

Then we cover the scales with 2” inches of vermiculite. If you have many scales, even of different varieties, you will still have room for another lot.

We have found that a 14″ x 16″ x 6″ inches box will hold as many as 200 scales.

You can stack a number of these boxes so that each does duty as the cover of the one below, with a wooden lid placed on the top box.

When you have filled the box, water thoroughly. One watering should be enough.

Scales taken from bulbs right after the lilies have finished blooming seems best for propagating.

Scales taken from bulbs in November and December and given a place in a warm basement will produce bulblets ready for the garden rows in March in Virginia.

According to your usual planting date, the bulblets will have grown large enough to go into outdoor garden rows by March or April.

Here are some tips to consider:

  • Make furrows deep enough to cover the bulblets. At least 2” inches deep is about right.
  • Give them a light side dressing of a well-balanced (4-12-4) fertilizer.

Occasionally a scale bulblet will flower outdoors within 12 months. This can easily be accomplished with scales taken from Lilium formosanum.

Different Characteristics Of Scaled Lily Varieties

Many scaled varieties will give you flowering bulbs in the second year.

Any bulb’s first few outside scales usually produce larger and better bulblets.

Some lily bulbs, of course, produce small scales, while others will produce thin and delicate ones.

In addition, others, like the regal lily and Lilium henryi, produce large, sturdy, and dependable ones.

Scales from many hybrid lily bulbs, coupled with a little patience, will produce several bulblets and, later, satisfying addition to your lily collection.