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Ask the Master Gardener: Lilies add beauty and fragrance to any garden

Many gardeners in the Brainerd area plant Oriental lily bulbs in the spring and treat them as annuals and/or enjoy them as cut flowers.

Oriental Lily "Stargazer." Photo by Jennifer Knutson

Dear Master Gardener: I purchased some Oriental lily bulbs, then a friend told me they aren’t hardy in Brainerd. Did I waste my money?

Answer: Oriental lilies are not reliably hardy in the Brainerd area (zone 3b) because they are zone 4 plants. With that said, I have two Oriental lily cultivars that have been coming back for years. Many gardeners in zone 3 plant Oriental lily bulbs in the spring and treat them as annuals and/or enjoy them as cut flowers. The flowers are typically large and showy and are one of the most popular cut flowers in the world. Over the years I have planted many cultivars of Oriental lilies and the majority of them did not come back the next year. But in my opinion, they are always worth the cost of the bulbs because they add tremendous beauty and fragrance to the late summer garden. The two cultivars that have returned year after year in my Brainerd lakes area garden are Stargazer and Casablanca. Stargazer has large up-facing, fragrant flowers and is the most widely grown lily of all time. Casablanca has very large, out-facing, pure white, fragrant flowers. Plant your Oriental lily bulbs as soon as the frost goes out and the soil is workable. In the meantime, keep them in a cool place and don’t let them dry out.

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Oriental Lily "Casablanca." Photo by Jennifer Knutson

Related: Ask the Master Gardener: Primulas provide a blast of spring color both indoors and outdoors
Dear Master Gardener: I would like to get more color in my landscape by adding shrubs with a burgundy color. What do you recommend?


Answer: One of the hardiest and easiest to grow shrubs with burgundy colored foliage is the ninebark (Physocarpus). Ninebark, a North American native, is tough, very hardy, relatively disease and insect free, and reportedly deer resistant (but we all know that no live plant is truly deer proof!) Here are five fabulous cultivars to consider:

  • Coppertina has attractive, copper-colored spring foliage that turns a rich burgundy-red in summer. It is noted for its attractive peeling bark and bright red seed capsules in the fall. It reaches 7 feet tall and 5 feet wide at maturity and has soft pink flowers on arching branches.

  • Summer Wine reaches 5 feet by 5 feet at maturity and has lovely white flowers tinged with pink that contrast beautifully with the burgundy foliage.

  • Center Glow’s spring foliage is golden yellow then matures into red-burgundy as the season progresses. At maturity it gets 7 feet tall and 4 feet wide. It has white flowers with a pink tinge.

  • Diabolo has distinctive purple foliage that may turn purplish-green by mid-summer. The foliage can become green in high heat or partial shade. Its mature height and width are 8 feet by 6 feet. It has a profusion of creamy-white flowers in summer.

  • Little Devil is a dwarf ninebark that reaches 4 feet by 4 feet at maturity. David Zlesak, a horticulture professor at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls and well-known rose breeder, developed this compact shrub. It has an upright, spreading habit with fine-textured, small purple leaves. Its clusters of small purplish-white flowers bloom in June. It has been shown to be mildew resistant.

Related: Ask the Master Gardener: Get a head start by planting calla lilies in pots
Dear Master Gardener: Do you recommend a Japanese tree lilac for this area?

Answer: Yes! The Japanese tree lilac (Syringa reticulata) is an upright, spreading, usually multi-stemmed small tree. It develops a rounded form as the branches become more horizontal with age. Japanese tree lilacs bloom in early summer with large clusters of small, cream-colored flowers that have a honey-like scent. The tree attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. Although the tree tolerates light shade, you will get the best bloom in full sun. Snowdance and Ivory Silk are hardy to zone 3.

Just as lovely and hardy as the Japanese tree lilac is the Chinese tree lilac (Syringa pekinensis). This species is an upright, spreading tree lilac that is usually multi-stemmed, with very interesting bark. Copper Curls and Summer Charm both produce cream-colored, single flowers that have a mild honey scent; however, Summer Charm’s flower clusters are larger. These trees bloom very late in the season. Copper Curls reaches a mature height and width of 25 feet by 20 feet. Summer Charm reaches 30 feet by 20 feet.

Related: Ask the Master Gardener: Air plants growing in popularity among houseplant enthusiasts
Dear Master Gardener: What does damping-off mean?

Answer: The term damping-off describes the rapid death and collapse of young seedlings and affects many vegetables and flowers. Young leaves, roots, and stems of newly emerged seedlings are highly susceptible to infection. Damping-off is caused by a fungus or mold, which thrives in cool, wet conditions. Symptoms of this disease can be seen when emerged seedlings begin to rot or brown on the stem or at or below the soil line, causing the seedlings to topple over and die. To avoid damping-off, use sterilized pots or trays with good drainage and use new, clean potting mix.

Dear Master Gardener: When is the best time to plant turnips?

Answer: Many gardeners enjoy growing turnips because they are easy to grow and cold hardy. Plant them around April 15 for a spring crop and again Aug. 1 for a fall crop. The quality of turnips can be poor when they grow in hot weather or if they grow too large. Harvest and eat them while they are still young and tender, about two to three inches wide. They can be eaten raw, cooked, or pickled.


Related: Ask the Master Gardner: 3 options for those in search of striking, exotic house plants

You may get your garden questions answered by calling the new Master Gardener Help Line at 218-824-1068 and leaving a message. A Master Gardener will return your call. Or, emailing me at and I will answer you in the column if space allows.
University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardeners are trained and certified volunteers for the University of Minnesota Extension. Information given in this column is based on university research.

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Oriental Lily "Casablanca." Photo by Jennifer Knutson

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Oriental Lily "Casablanca." Photo by Jennifer Knutson

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