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Lilies will give you your moneys worth

Lilies are a full meal deal. The plant is completely self-contained and ready to party.

All you do is plant the bulb and it does the rest. The flowers already are inside the bulbs just waiting for the security of soil around them before launching into great displays of color this time of year.

So it's time to sit back and watch the lilies celebrate. You don't really have a choice, because when this flower enters a garden room, no other exists. You can smell them coming a mile away. Then the great big splashes of color open wide and instantly command visual attention.

You can pay a premium price for a single lily bulb. Catalogs sell some of the most coveted varieties for $30 to $100 each. Whether you pay top dollar or just a pittance, it's easy to get your money's worth with lilies.

Once you've got one lily bulb, it's a no-brainer to make more. It's nearly effortless and can be done at any time of year (although common sense dictates that we wait until after the big show before digging up the buried treasures).

The bulb is very much like an artichoke. You'll see all sorts of 'scales' layered one on top of the other concentrically around the base of the bulb. Those scales are your ticket to make a 'twofer' (two lilies for the price of one). Snap off the damaged scales around the outside and throw them away. Then break off healthy scales as close to the bottom as possible. You might want to use a knife because you'll have better success with scales that have a bit of the base still attached. Rinse the scales with water and let them dry overnight, then place them in a Ziploc bag with some moist peat moss.

Shove the bag into a cupboard and forget about it. In about eight weeks, you'll see tiny bulbs growing and rooting on the scale. When the bulbil (the tiny bulb) is just a little smaller than a pea, pot it up and put it in a cold frame until you are ready to plant.

Don't let them get bone dry. Mother Nature will chill them safely outside until you plant your new stash in full sun somewhere in the garden. I recommend you plant them between the end of February and early May. The new sprouts will bloom in the second or third season.

Preventing problems

If your lilies aren't looking so lovely right now, you may have a case of botrytis. You'll notice a bull's-eye splotch on the leaves becoming increasingly worse with summer's high humidity.

You've got a couple of tricks in your arsenal for botrytis. Use a fungicide rose spray every seven days, try not to plant the lilies too close together and then make sure they get good air circulation so the leaves dry off thoroughly before dark. No need for panic. The fungus doesn't kill the lily, and it won't spread to other plants, so you might just opt to look the other way.

You can always tell when guests have been secretly stealing sniffs of your lilies. It's written all over their faces. The heavy pollen dangling from the lily stamens sticks to skin and clothing and leaves a telltale yellow mark even when brushed off.

Luckily, it washes off the face, but it stains clothing once it reaches the dryer. Try blowing the pollen off quickly, or use a stain stick before laundering. Otherwise, it'll be a permanent design on your outfit.

Oh, and one more piece of advice about using lilies in floral arrangements: Prevent the pollen problem by removing the clumps with the aid of a paper towel. The flowers seem to last longer and are definitely cleaner.

This week's to-do list

• Every drop counts. Water, water, water. Early in the morning is best during hot spells.

• If you can't water your hanging baskets twice a day during hot weather or if you need to leave them completely, place the plants in a kiddie pool half-filled with water (in the shade). Plants will draw the moisture up from their roots.

• It's time to plant snap beans, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, leaf lettuce, mustard greens, spinach and radishes for fall harvest.

'Your Northwest Garden With Anne Jaeger' airs at 7 p.m. Saturdays on KGW (8). Contact Jaeger via her Web site at www.gardengal.tv.