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How to Grow Lilies

Updated on June 20, 2008
Marye Audet profile image

Marye Audet-White is an internationally known food writer, food editor for Texas Living, cookbook author, and food blogger.

The Lily

There are over 200 plants that belong to the Lily family. Some of the most popular lilies are not lilies at all! These are broken down into the following:

  • Lilium, true lily

  • Tulipa, tulips

  • Hyacinthus, hyacinth

  • Hemerocallis, daylily

  • Fritillaria, checkered lilies

  • Convallaria, lily-of-the-valley

  • Hosta, plantain lilies

  • Erythronium, trout lilies

Calla lilies, among others, are not a lily at all.

Choosing and Planting Lily Bulbs

The lily is found mostly in the Northern Hemisphere. It is a plant that grows from a bulb. These flowering plants produce some of the most beautiful blooms of all flowers, and are sought after for bouquets, live plantings, and arrangements. The plants themselves are hardy and do well in many different types of soils and locations. With few exceptions, most people can succeed at growing lilies.

In the hottest areas lilies like to have light shade. It is best to keep the bulb cool while allowing the leaves full access to sun in most other areas. Planting the bulbs deeply, with at least twice the soil over them as the bulb is high will accomplish this nicely. A four inch high bulb would, therefore, have eight inches of good, rich soil over top. Bulbs planted in containers do very well if they are fertilized with fish oil emulsion.

Lily beds should be prepared with a good percentage of well rotted compost mixed in to the soil to nurture the plant and keep the soil light. Good planning is imperative because once a lily is planted it should be left to itself. It should not be lifted in the fall, nor should it be split up until it becomes apparent that overcrowding is causing a loss of vigor in the plants. At that point the bulbs should be lifted in the fall and the bulbs separated according to size. The large bulbs should be re-planted. The smaller bulbs can be planted in small containers of rich potting mix and allowed to grow for a season or two before planting in the garden.

The bulbs will tend to vary in size depending on the species. Some species have small bulbs while hybrids especially may have bulbs that are nine inches or more around. Look for healthy bulbs. This isn't so dependant on size as it is on the look and texture of the bulb. Healthy lily bulbs will be plump with firm scales. There should be no cuts or bruised areas. Thick fleshy roots should be attached.

Bulbs should be planted in cool weather, either the fall or the spring. If planting is being done in the fall then the bulbs should be in the ground a full three weeks before the first frost of the season. If planting in the spring, plant as soon as the ground can be worked.

The lily bulbs will do best if covered with a thick layer of mulch or straw during the cold winter. This will also protect the young shoots from late frost as they emerge in the spring.

Caring for Spider lilies

Propagating Lilies

Most lilies can be propagated in one of three ways:

  • Seeds

  • Bulblets

  • Scales

There are others that reproduce by means of bubils on the base of the leaves. Check the specific information about your particular variety of lily before you reproduce it.

To grow lilies from seed, sow the seed in a planting box of peat moss or coir. Coir is better for the environment because it is sustainable. You can also sow in vermiculite. Keep moist and move the seedlings to a large flat when they are big enough to handle easily.

Tiger lilies and some others produce bubils on the axil of the leaf, near the stem. These are actually just small bulbs and can be sown and grown in the same manner as the seed.

When large bulbs from overcrowded beds are lifted a few of the scales that make up the bulb can be peeled off and placed in a plastic bag of moist vermiculite. Seal the bag and store at about 70F. In a few weeks baby plants will be growing at the base of each scale. When they are the size of a pea remove them and store in a very cool place, such as the refrigerator, to keep them dormant until it is time to plant in the spring. These may take up to four growing seasons to flower, so you must be patient.

Tips for Healthy Lilies

  • Use only healthy bulbs

  • Keep moist

  • Plant in well drained soil

  • Use fish emulsion fertilizer

  • Use a good layer of mulch

  • Cut only the flower and stem beacuse leaves make food for the plant.

  • When the Easter lily is finished flowering cut off the spent blooms and plant the lily in the garden. Be sure to wait until there is no danger of frost.

Lilies are a beautiful addition to a border or a cutting garden. With some good compost, healthy bulbs, and patience you will be rewarded with years of prolific, fragrant blooms.


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    • stylezink profile image

      stylezink 9 years ago from Atlanta, GA.

      Good information! Lilies are my favorite flower and I have tried grow lilies once and was unsuccessful, I'm going to use some of your advice the next go round which may be sooner than later now, thanks!

    • talford profile image

      talford 9 years ago from U.S.A.

      I like your article.

      I must say I like the way you have captured good ads also. I have not quite learned all the ropes yet, but I'm getting more knowledge every day.


    • jacobworld profile image

      Jakub Wawrzyniak 9 years ago from Ireland

      My father likes your articles lol