Q: I want to grow oriental hybrid lilies by my front entry, but most of them aren’t hardy in this region (zone 3a). Is it practical to plant them in the spring and lift them in the fall? — Ron Maro, Sartell, Minn.
A: A doorway is an ideal spot for showcasing lilies’ exquisite beauty and enjoying their fragrance. But moving them in and out of that location is another story: Unlike most bulbous plants, which tolerate or even prefer going dry during winter dormancy, lilies are prone to hazardous desiccation when taken out of the soil. Your best bet is to grow them in containers. Given a well-drained houseplant soil mix enriched with slow-release fertilizer, lilies will thrive in confinement. For a generous display, don’t skimp on bulbs: Plant three to five of them in a pot that’s at least 15 inches in diameter and taller than it is wide. The bulbs need not go in as deep as they would in a garden bed — 4 to 5 inches of soil over their tops is ample. To keep your lilies in scale with the pots, select compact varieties such as vigorous raspberry red and white Lilium ‘Stargazer’ or pristine L. ‘White Mountain’; these rarely grow taller than 2 or 3 feet. By filling out the pot with cascading annuals like trailing lobelia, feathery silver Lotus berthelotii, and purple wandering Jew, you can soften the gawkiness of lily stems, besides adding color and texture when the lilies are not in bloom. Come autumn, you should slow down on watering, and after the first light freeze, move your containers to an unheated basement, garage, or porch, where the air temperature ranges between 20 and 45º F. Keep the soil moist but not wet; don’t worry if it freezes, so long as the temperature doesn’t drop into the teens or below. If your lilies still fail to make it through the winter, start treating them as annuals. Popular varieties can be bought for only a couple of dollars each from mail-order bulb companies, so the cost of beautifying your entry each spring will not be extravagant.