Alstroemeria: You've often seen them in grocery store bouquets. The lovely tropical pinks, orange, bright yellow or cream white mix beautifully with roses and baby's breath. Much smaller than Oriental lilies, these lilies have strong stems and last for weeks in a vase. Peruvian lilies are accented with freckles or streaks of dark pigment on the three inner "petals" (tepals, technically.) These lilies are more rare in a garden, though. Alstroemeria (Peruvian lilies, Lily of the Incas, princess lilies) are not among the most common specimens, but their care is comparable to that of dahlias or daylilies. A visit to a large nursery, or the giant marketplace of the internet, will get you started with Peruvian liles.
Mid-spring is prime planting time...
for Alstroemeria in most parts of the US. These plants grow from bunches of thick roots that look something like those of dayliles. They may be marketed as perennials for the border, or "bowls" ready for the porch or for container planting. Alstroemeria are also sold as "summer flowering bulbs." The roots can be stored just damp and shipped while dormant, like other lilies. Alstroemeria varieties range in stature. There are tall ones, with stems so prized for cutting, that reach two feet or so. Others are shorter bushier cultivars that fill a basket beautifully. Either type can grow in either placement. The color range of these lilies runs from white and cream, into yellow and orange, and finally pink and purple. As you shop for Alstroemeria by color, keep the plant height in mind as well. Edelweiss Nursery has the most extensive selection that I've found.
Left: Alstroemeria 'Sara' ; thanks critterologist!
Peruvian lilies may be less than common because they do ask for some care in planting. These beauties are native to the mountains and plains of South America. They originated in zones where they grow in rich, organic, well drained soils. They like sun but not too much heat or cold. They like constant moisture but not swampy conditions. Add that up and you may feel that these flowers are too picky for you. However, once established, Peruvian lilies are said to expand well and bloom almost nonstop during the warm months.
Be just a little picky when planting
Hot zone gardeners (8 to 10) will give their Peruvian lilies some shade, especially avoiding hot, afternoon sun sites. Colder zone growers (5 to 7) can give their lilies more sun, and might choose the warmer parts of their gardens to help with winter hardiness. Plant Peruvian lilies deeply in a well drained location. Set the tuberous, fleshy roots at about eight inches deep. In all zones, give Peruvian lilies an organic, rich soil. Remember to keep them watered. Do not let them dry out and get hot. Mulch will be appreciated in every situation for Alstroemeria. Use the mulch to keep the soil cooler and moist in summer, warmer in winter.
Some Alstroemeria are fairly cold hardy. Check the recommendation on any variety you buy to be sure. As further precaution, you may dig Alstroemeria and let it go dormant. Remember they were planted very deeply. Handle the roots gently, as they are easy to break. Taylor's Guide to Bulbs recommends storing the tubers in damp peat and a cool location above freezing. Refrigerator temeprature (32 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit) is best. Potted Peruvians can be hauled in, pot and all. Keep the soil barely moist in storage, and keep the pot cool.
A tip for using Altroemeria in a vase: Instead of cutting off the stem, pull the entire stem from the plant, so it separates at the base. This will encourage more bloom. (Tip from Yolanda VanVeen, formerly VanVeen Bulbs.)
Ellis, Barbara W. Taylor's Guide to Bulbs. Houghten Mifflin Co., New York, 2001.
"How to Care for an Alstroemeria," Yolanda VanVeen http://www.ehow.com/video_5361296_care-alstroemeria.html accessed 4-22-2-12
Dave's Garden PlantScout results for Alstroemeria- click the link below and see list of cultivars and linked sources