|Why scale lily bulbs?
There are many reasons that motivate lily enthusiasts to propagate lily bulbs by scaling of larger bulbs to produce
numerous additional bulbs genetically identical to the original parent bulb. Here are a few possible motivations:
- Provide insurance against the loss of a single expensive bulb just purchased. Bulbs costing twenty dollars or
more can be scaled just as successfully as three dollar bulbs. Orienpets are as simple to scale as Asiatics; Trumpets
or Orientals, even Martagons, can be successfully scaled using the same basic technique.
- To grow multiples of a select expensive bulb, buy one, pull a few scales, and grow additional specimens for your
own use within a year or two.
- Develop a quantity of bulbs of a favorite lily already growing in the garden. Dig the mother bulb in the Fall, pull a
few scales, and replant the mother bulb. Plant the offspring in a multiple grouping which effectively highlights the
variety you have scaled and multiplied.
- Grow additional examples of your favorite lily to trade with other lily enthusiasts or to give to your gardening
friends as gifts.
- Routinely scale newly acquired bulbs before planting in the Spring or Fall to expand your own collection. At first
bloom some lilies will become new special favorites; you are already on your way to having additional scale-
developed bulbs for a more dramatic display in your future garden.
- Fill in your own reason for wanting more of a good lily or lilies.
Timing For Scaling
Lilies are never completely dormant except, perhaps, when frozen solid in the depth of Winter. Thus, the capacity for
growth and regeneration is great at any time of active growth.
Fall is an ideal time for scaling new bulbs prior to planting or from an existing lily bed before preparing the bed for
Spring is also a good time for scaling, as awakening bulbs (and scales) are primed for accelerated growth with the advent
of warmth and moisture of a new season.
What Technique Is Used For Scaling?
- Carefully tear scales singly from the parent bulb, as close as possible to the attachment point at the basal plate.
The longer the tear is, the greater the surface area for development of bulblets. In addition, the tissue closest to the
basal plate exhibits the greatest rate of growth.
Two to six scales can be torn from a mature mother bulb without affecting the future health of the bulb in any way. A
whole bulb may be sacrificed by removing many decreasingly smaller scales down to the bulb core. Use your judgment to
decide how many scales and future bulbs you will need.
Each scale may produce from one or two up to a dozen bulblets.
- Lightly dust the scales with a fungicide such as CAPTAN, 50% wettable powder. Without the use of a fungicide,
the race between bulblet formation and fungal deterioration of the scale will often be won by the FUNGUS. Using
the fungicide results in a high degree of success (80-90%). Use caution in applying fungicide and other powerful
garden chemicals; avoid direct contact by wearing latex gloves.
- Place scales in a Ziplock sandwich bag; each bag can hold two to twenty scales. Use a separate bag for each
variety and mark the bag with the varietal name and date of scaling.
- Add one quarter to one half bag of milled sphagnum moss or sterile soil-less potting mix. Each medium has its
advantages. The sphagnum provides a fungi-preventative acidic environment, while the potting mix provides
balanced nutrients to the developing bulblets.
- To add moisture to the bag, spray lightly, then mix moisture throughout the soil medium. The medium should be
slightly damp, but never soggy or wet. An ideal level of moisture will be demonstrated by a light foggy condensation
on the inner bag walls.
- Seal and place the bag in a warm (70 degree F) spot and plan to continue this warm treatment for several
months, checking every two weeks for adequate moisture and to monitor bulblet development.
- Fresh scales will first callus over, followed by bulblets appearing as soon as 2-3 weeks after initial planting.
Slower developing varieties may need several months to first develop bulblets. This warm phase will run from late
Fall until January or February for Fall-started scales.
- After 2-3 months in a warm environment, new bulblets will have developed to near maximum potential and a
cold phase, an artificial winter should occur.
- During the warm Phase with bright light, roots and single leaves may grow on the emerging bulblets. A key
indicator that the warm phase growth has finished is the deterioration of these first leaves. If this occurs, the cold
phase should begin immediately.
- Place the bag in the refrigerator (vegetable crisper) for several months at 33-38 degrees F. It is critical that the
bulbs be nearly dry during this cold treatment, as rotting will occur if bulbs are too wet. If scaling was done in the
Fall after a warm phase ending in December/January, the cold phase should continue until natural Spring in April
- In Spring plant scales and bulblets in a 4 1/2 to 5 inch pot or a wooden flat and grow outside until Fall in a bright ,
but not hot location. Note: There is no need to place bulblets upright when planting, as each will find its proper
orientation in due time. Take care not to allow the pot or flat to get excessively dry or wet. Complete drainage is
essential to lilies at all stages of development.
- After one season of outdoor growth in pot or flat, the "community pot" may be Fall planted in a garden row or
clustered around the original mother bulb. Prior to this point in the process, direct planting into the garden cannot
be recommended due to the small size of bulblets and limited initial growth. Small plants may easily be lost among
the weeds in an open garden.
Normal seasonal growth will result in mature blooming-sized bulbs within a year or two. At maturity replant bulbs as
specimens or multiples in a display garden.