Lilies have grown in immense popularity over the years. They are tall, stalky plants with clusters of brightly colored flowers; some varieties are even fragrant. They provide excellent pollination to bees and offer a beautiful addition to cut bouquets.
Lilies must be planted in the fall with full sun and good drainage and need to be cut back in the fall for winter. They can grow up to 6 feet and come in various colors. A major problem with lilies is overwatering and poor drainage, resulting in fungus and disease.
With tall stalks and beautifully scented flowers, the lily is definitely a show-stopper. From adding height and color to your garden to looking great in a vase, lilies can make any garden look amazing. Cultivating your own lilies can be easy and painless with a few considerations before sticking the bulbs in the ground.
What Time of Year Do Lilies Grow Best In?
The best time to plant your lily bulbs (example on Amazon) is in the fall. While you can plant them in early spring, the period over winter will allow the roots to establish and take off during spring. It gives the plant a head start to flourish with beautiful blooms in the spring and summer.
If you wish to plant them in spring, make sure you do so after the last frost and when the ground is moist but not muddy. You don’t want to drown the roots while they are still fragile and trying to establish themselves.
March and April are favorable months for lily planting in the spring, but if you are further north, May and June are popular. With spring and fall planting, the idea is to sow the bulbs in the cool soil for the best germination.
Where to Plant Your Lilies
Lilies require full sun but can tolerate partial shade. Just be aware that their long stalks might curve towards the sun and no longer stand up straight. If you are in hardiness zone 9 or above, it is best to plant lilies in areas that get some shade from those intense rays.
Lilies should be planted in well-draining soil that isn’t wet, or else it will rot the bulb. Heavy clay soils will most definitely kill the bulb for its poor drainage ability, and the chance of survival from year to year will be significantly diminished.
Puddles and mud will also spell a disaster for lilies since they don’t like ‘wet feet,’ a term used to refer to roots that stay wet too long. Wet soil also breeds fungus and invites disease. To help combat natural drainage, you can plant them on a slope so the water drains away from the plant.
An excellent tip to maintaining moisture without water logging your lily is to provide organic matter so the roots can remain hydrated without rot, which is especially important in sandy soils. Improving soil quality can also help.
To do this, space the lilies 8 to 10 inches apart or 15 inches for the large varieties. Then, mix in sphagnum peat moss or coconut coir equal to a third of the soil volume dug out. Adding perlite can also help improve drainage and help with aeration, both things that aid in preventing bulb rot and disease.
Mixes of peat, perlite, and limestone with a few other minerals help the soil but don’t make it too alkaline, while pine needles and leaf mulches can help with acidity. Each lily requires a different pH level, found on the bulb or plant tags when purchased.
Since lilies tend to get larger each year, they do well in raised beds or along walkways and borders to help contain them since they will spread to any space available. Most lilies should be planted in the ground, although some variations can do well in pots.
There is great debate on how deep you should plant the bulbs. Some say roughly three times the length of the bulb, while others say anywhere from 4 to 9 inches deep. So the best way to plant the bulb is to read the instructions with that particular variety.
To plant them, spread the roots at the bottom of the bulb and stand it upright on the soil. Plant no more than 5 or 6 in a cluster to provide proper aeration, then cover it with soil and water them thoroughly.
Choosing Your Type of Lily
Choosing the type of lily you want to plant doesn’t end with just the color. With wide varieties in color, shape, height, and growing requirements, it can be daunting to select the perfect kind. However, the most popular types of lilies are as follows.
Often seen in cut flower bouquets and arrangements for their showy blooms and fragrance, oriental lilies are one of the most popular types people have.
The Oriental Lily grows 36-48” tall and blooms mid-summer in pink, white, gold, or salmon. They have thick pollen on their stamens and often mark skin or clothes if brushed against, although it does wash off with just soap and water.
These lilies are popular in cut flower bouquets and arrangements but do not have a scent. They grow about 18-36” tall and bloom early in summer. They come in red, orange, yellow, white, pink, purple, and any combination of those colors.
These tall plants reach 3 to 4 feet with orange, red, pink, or yellow flowers often spotted like a tiger.
These lilies are hybrids crossed between Oriental Lilies and Trumpet Lilies. They are fragrant and have large beautiful flowers like the Oriental Lilies, though they have longer petals and reach 6 to 8 feet. Typically, their coloring matches the Trumpet Lily, though they can come in many options.
Known as the Easter Lily, they are shaped like long trumpets. The fragrant flower typically grows 5 feet tall but can be known to reach up to 6 feet under the right conditions.
Caring For Your Lilies
Once lilies are planted, they are pretty easy to care for. They grow in a tall, single, unbranching stalk that has multiple flowers on the end in clusters. Since some varieties can grow so large, like the Trumpet Lily, staking is sometimes required to keep them upright, or they might slant to the side.
Many people grow lilies in the middle of shrubs so the other plants alongside the lily can hold them up straight.
Lilies tend to benefit from early spring showers and a generous amount of water. Yet once that first bloom takes place, it is best to hold off on watering until the soil is dry. Too wet conditions lead to rot.
To fertilize the lily, you want to include well-rotted manure, compost, or light-balanced fertilizer (on Amazon). Only fertilize your lilies in the spring to help with that first bloom, as over-fertilizing can lead to burning the roots.
Removing spent flowers after bloom can be beneficial to helping the plant conserve its energy for bulb and root growth rather than maintaining a finished flower. To prune a lily, simply cut the flower off at its base.
Preventing Pests and Disease
Many lilies can be infected with viral diseases that come from bulbs when purchased in trades or swaps and are already infected with the disease. You’ll know your lily has a viral disease if it’s yellowing or dropping leaves, and it’s best to dig up the bulb and destroy the entire plant.
Doing so is essential because insects that feed or live in the lilies can spread the disease as they move.
Aphids are a pest that can become a problem in late spring as buds form. The key is to monitor the lily closely and spray the aphids off with a jet of water while holding the bud so it doesn’t break off.
Red Lily Leaf Beetles or Scarlet Lily Beetles are becoming an increasing problem in northeastern areas. This pest survives the winter in the soil and then attacks the foliage and flowers of your lilies as the warmer weather comes.
Hand-picking is your best bet at discouraging it from feasting on your plants and laying a light-colored cloth underneath the plant to see where some may have fallen and prevent them from getting away.
End of Season Maintenance
At the end of the growing season, the lily stalks tend to turn brown, and cutting those back will be very tempting. Yet we want to leave them alone until fall when the complete stalk has dried up.
This allows the plant to focus its energy on root and bulb development and helps with next year’s growth and blooms. Once fall comes around, you want to cut the stalk off at the ground and mark the spot to remember where it will come next spring.
Winter mulching can also be beneficial for the lily. In the fall, put a layer of mulch over the lily to protect the soil and bulbs from the cold. If you are in a colder climate, add a thicker layer, and if in a warmer area, a thinner layer. Then, come spring, wait until the lily extends out of the mulch before removing it or risk breaking the sapling.