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Lilies: How to Grow and Care with Success

Lilies, Lily, Lily Flower, Lily Flowers, Lily care, Planting Lilies, Growing Lilies, Lilies care, Martagon Lilies, Asiatic Lilies, Trumpet Lilies, Oriental Lilies,

What are Lilies?

Lilies, botanically known as Lilium, are flowering plants that belong to the family Liliaceae. They are native to the temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, including Europe, North America, and Asia. There are over 100 lily species and many thousands of cultivars.

These elegant flowers are popular in gardens and floral arrangements due to their striking beauty and sweet fragrance.

Growth habit: Lilies grow from bulbs and have tall, erect stems that can reach heights of up to 6 feet (1.8 meters). The leaves are long and narrow.

Flowers: The flowers of lilies are trumpet-shaped and have six petals arranged in two layers. They can range in size from small, delicate blooms to large, showy flowers up to 10 inches (25 cm) in diameter. Lily is known for its fragrant blooms, which can fill a room with its sweet scent.

Blooming season: The lily blooming season varies depending on the species and cultivar. Some lilies bloom in the spring, while others bloom in the summer or fall.

Uses: Lilies are popular in gardens and are often used in borders, mass plantings, and containers. They are also used as cut flowers in floral arrangements, weddings, and other special occasions. Some species, such as Lilium longiflorum, are also used in the production of perfumes and cosmetics.

Hardiness: Lilies are hardy in USDA zones 3-9, depending on the species and cultivar.

Symbol: Lilies have been used for centuries in religious and cultural ceremonies as a symbol of purity, innocence, and hope. Giving someone a lily bouquet can be a meaningful way to express emotions and sentiments.

Edible: The bulbs of some lily species, such as the tiger lily, are edible and can be used in cooking.

Toxic: Lilies are toxic to cats and can cause kidney failure if ingested.

Guide Information

Hardiness 3 - 9
Plant Type Bulbs, Perennials
Genus Lilium
Exposure Full Sun, Partial Sun
Season of Interest Spring (Mid, Late)
Summer (Early, Mid, Late)
Maintenance Low
Water Needs Average
Soil Drainage Moist but Well-Drained
Characteristics Cut Flowers, Fragrant, Showy
Attracts Bees, Butterflies, Hummingbirds
Landscaping Ideas Beds And Borders, Patio And Containers
Garden Styles City and Courtyard, Cutting Garden, Informal and Cottage
Lilium ‘Black Spider’ (Asiatic Lily)
Lilium ‘Dizzy’ (Oriental Lily)
Lilium ‘Fairy Morning’ (Martagon Lily)

True Lilies versus the others

True lilies belong to the Lilium genus and are characterized by their large, showy flowers, typically with six petals and six stamens. They grow from bulbs and are perennial plants.

On the other hand, there are other types of plants that are commonly called lilies but do not belong to the Lilium genus. For example, Daylilies belong to the Hemerocallis genus, and Calla Lilies belong to the Zantedeschia genus. These plants may have lily-like flowers, but they are not true lilies.

Why should I Grow Lily Flowers?

There are several reasons to grow lily flowers:

Beauty: Lilies are known for their stunning and showy flowers that come in a range of colors, including white, pink, yellow, orange, and red. Their unique shape and size make them a great addition to any garden or floral arrangement.

Fragrance: Many lily plants have a sweet and pleasant fragrance that can fill a room or garden with their scent. Some varieties, such as the Oriental lily, are particularly known for their strong and intoxicating fragrance.

Low maintenance: Lilies are relatively easy to grow and require minimal maintenance.

Long blooming season: Depending on the variety, lilies can have a long blooming season, providing a beautiful display of flowers throughout the summer.

Versatility: Lilies can be grown in a variety of settings, from garden beds to containers. They are also popular as cut flowers for floral arrangements and bouquets.

Lilium ‘Arabian Knight’ (Martagon Lily)
Lilium ‘Regale’ (Trumpet Lily)
Lilium ‘Star Gazer’ (Oriental Lily)

Main Types of Lilies

There are many lily types, but some of the most popular ones include:

Asiatic lilies: Easy to grow, they come in a wide range of colors and feature straight stems, high bud counts, and generally brightly spotted blossoms. They bloom in early to mid-summer. Most are unscented.

Easter lilies: They are one of the most popular lily types grown in the United States. They are characterized by their large, fragrant, trumpet-shaped white flowers that bloom in late spring to early summer.

Martagon lilies: These are some of the earliest bloomers and feature decorative pendant flowers with backward-curling petals, similar to Turk’s caps. They can grow up to 6 feet (1.8 meters) in height and bloom in early to mid-summer.

Orienpet lilies: They are hybrids resulting from the crossing of Oriental and Trumpet lilies. They are known for their large, fragrant blooms that can be up to 10 inches (25 cm) in diameter. Orienpet lilies typically grow to be 4-8 feet (1.2-2.4 meters) tall and bloom in mid to late summer, making them a popular choice for gardeners looking for a late-season show.

Oriental lilies: They are characterized by their immense flowers, intense fragrance, and rich colors.  They can grow up to 6 feet (1.8 meters) tall and produce blooms in shades of white, pink, red, and burgundy, often with spots or stripes. They bloom in mid to late summer and are a popular choice for cut flowers and adding color and fragrance to the garden.

Trumpet lilies: They release a heavy fragrance, and their huge waxy trumpet flowers are up to 6-10 in. long (15-25 cm). Tall and magnificent, they produce up to 12-15 blooms per stalk. They bloom in mid-summer.

Tiger lilies: Tiger lilies are a type of Asiatic lily with distinct orange flowers that are covered in dark spots, resembling the pattern of a tiger. They typically grow up to 2-5 feet (0.6 to 1.5 meters) in height and bloom in mid to late summer. They are commonly used in borders, cottage gardens, and wildflower gardens.

Each type of lily has its own unique characteristics and requirements, but all of them are beautiful and add a touch of elegance to any garden.

Lilium ‘Salmon Twinkle’ (Asiatic Lily)
Lilium ‘Silk Road’ aka ‘Friso’ (Orienpet Lily)
Lilium candidum (Madonna Lily)

Where to Plant Lilies

  • Light: Lilies perform best in full sun or part shade. They need 6-8 hours of sun per day and like having ‘cold feet’. Therefore, it is advisable to shade the lower part of the plant, which will also protect the roots from drying out.
  • Soil: They require a well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter, and they do best in neutral to slightly acidic soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0. Some lily flowers are lime-tolerant or prefer alkaline soils (e.g., Madonna lily). Avoid areas with heavy clay soil, which can cause bulb rot.
  • Wind: It is best to plant lilies in a location that is protected from strong winds, as their tall stems can easily break.
  • Water: Good moisture is required, and dry soils should be avoided. It is important to choose a planting site that is not prone to standing water or flooding, as this can lead to root rot.
  • Placement: Lily plants are versatile and can be planted in borders, containers, or as accents in rock gardens. They also make stunning cut flowers, so planting them in an accessible location for cutting is a good idea.

When to Plant Lilies

  • Lilies can be planted in the spring or the fall, depending on the type of lily and your climate. Spring planting is generally recommended for most types of lilies, as it allows the bulbs to establish a strong root system before going dormant in the winter.
  • It’s best to plant lilies when the soil temperature has warmed to at least 60°F (15.5°C) and after any danger of frost has passed.
  • In areas with mild winters, fall planting can also be successful, allowing the lilies to bloom earlier in the spring. Plant bulbs about 6 weeks before the ground freezes, allowing the bulbs to establish roots before winter

How to Plant Lilies

Planting lilies is a relatively easy process that can be completed in a few steps. Lilies are available in various types, such as Asiatic, Oriental, Trumpet, and Martagon lilies. Each type may have specific requirements, but the general process of planting lilies remains the same. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you plant lilies:

  • Prepare the soil: To promote healthy growth, amend the soil with organic matter, such as compost or well-rotted manure, to improve drainage and nutrient content. Loosen the soil to a depth of 12-15 inches (30-37 cm). Deep planting is important as it will help stabilize your lily and potentially eliminate the need for staking. Mix in a 2-4 in. layer of compost (5-10 cm).
  • Dig planting holes: Dig holes that are 2-3 times the height of the bulb. The general rule is to plant the bulb three times deeper than the bulb’s height. For example, if the bulb is 2 inches tall, plant it 6 inches (15 cm) deep. Space the holes about 8-18 inches (2–45 cm) apart to provide adequate room for growth.
  • Place the bulbs: Set the lily bulbs in the holes with the pointy end facing up. If you’re planting multiple bulbs, be sure to stagger the holes in a zigzag pattern to provide better air circulation and reduce the risk of disease.
  • Cover the bulbs: Fill the holes with soil, gently pressing the soil around the bulbs. Be careful not to damage the bulbs during this process.
  • Water the bulbs: Thoroughly water the newly planted bulbs to help settle the soil and establish roots. Keep the soil moist but not soggy during the growing season.
Lilium ‘Altari’ (Orienpet Lily)
Lilium ‘Black Dragon’ (Trumpet Lily)
Lilium ‘Brindisi’ (Longiflorum-Asiatic Lily)

Landscaping with Lilies

Landscaping with lilies can add a touch of elegance and color to your garden. When planning your landscape with lilies, consider the following tips to make the most of their beauty:

Choose the right varieties: Select lily types that suit your garden’s climate and design. Each type has its own unique features and preferences regarding sun exposure, soil type, and temperature.

Use height to your advantage: Lilies can grow anywhere from 2 to 6 feet (0.6-1.8 meters) tall, depending on the variety. Plant taller lilies at the back of a border or mixed bed to create a visually appealing backdrop. Use shorter varieties in the front or middle of the bed to add depth and interest.

Mix colors and textures: Lilies are available in many colors, from white, yellow, and orange to pink, red, and deep burgundy. Combine different colors and textures to create an eye-catching display. Intersperse lilies with other flowering plants, grasses, or shrubs to create a diverse, multi-layered landscape.

Plant in groups: Plant lily bulbs in clusters or drifts to create a more substantial visual impact. Planting in groups of at least three to five bulbs will help create a fuller, more cohesive display.

Succession planting: Stagger the planting of different lily varieties with varying bloom times to extend the flowering season. Early-blooming Asiatic lilies can be followed by mid-season Trumpet lilies, and later-blooming Oriental lilies to provide continuous color throughout the summer.

Container gardening: If space is limited, or you want to add lilies to a patio or balcony, consider planting them in containers. Use a well-draining potting mix and ensure the container has drainage holes. This approach allows you to move the containers to different areas of your outdoor space as needed.

Incorporate fragrance: Many lily varieties, particularly Oriental and Trumpet lilies, are known for their delightful fragrance. Plant fragrant lilies near seating areas, walkways, or windows to enjoy their scent up close.

Create focal points: Use lilies as focal points in your landscape by planting them around water features, garden ornaments, or seating areas. The vibrant colors and unique shapes of lily flowers will draw attention and create visual interest.

Attract pollinators: Lilies are known for attracting butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds. Incorporating lilies into your garden can help support local pollinator populations and contribute to a thriving ecosystem.

Cut flower garden: Lilies make excellent cut flowers, so consider creating a dedicated cutting garden area. Plant a variety of lilies and other flowers suitable for cutting to enjoy fresh bouquets throughout the season.

With careful planning and attention to detail, you can create a stunning landscape using lilies. Their versatility, color range, and beauty make them a popular choice for gardeners and landscape designers alike.

Lilium ‘Candy Club’ (Orienpet Lily)
Lilium ‘Casa Blanca’ (Oriental Lily)
Lilium ‘Claude Shride’ (Martagon Lily)

Lily Care

Taking proper care of your Lilium plants (lilies) will ensure healthy growth and a beautiful display in your garden. Here are some essential care tips for lilies:

  • Watering: Lilies prefer consistent moisture but avoid overwatering, as soggy soil can lead to bulb rot. Water the plants deeply once or twice a week, depending on the climate and rainfall. Be sure to water at the base of the plant to reduce the risk of fungal diseases.
  • Fertilizing: During the growing season, apply a balanced, slow-release fertilizer to encourage healthy growth and flower production. Avoid high-nitrogen fertilizers, which can lead to excessive foliage growth at the expense of blooms. Apply fertilizer in early spring when new growth emerges and again after flowering.
  • Mulching: Apply a 2-3 inch (5-7 cm) layer of organic mulch, such as shredded leaves or bark, around the base of the plants to help conserve moisture, regulate soil temperature, and suppress weeds. Be careful not to mound mulch directly against the stem, as it can lead to rot.
  • Deadheading: Remove spent blooms to promote more flowering and prevent the plant from focusing energy on seed production. Cut the stem back to just above a leaf node or a healthy leaf.
  • Staking: Taller lily varieties may require staking to provide support and prevent the stems from bending or breaking under the weight of the blooms. Insert a stake near the plant’s base and gently tie the stem to the stake with soft twine or plant ties.
  • Overwintering: In colder climates (USDA zones 3-6), protect lily bulbs by applying a layer of mulch, straw, or leaves around the base of the plant after the first hard frost. This will help insulate the bulbs during winter. Remove the mulch in spring when new growth emerges.

By following these care tips, you can ensure that your lilies remain healthy, vibrant, and beautiful throughout the growing season. Keep in mind that different lily varieties may have specific care requirements, so be sure to check the care instructions for the particular variety you’ve chosen.

Lilies as Cut Flowers

  • Choose lilies with buds that are just about to open
  • Trim the stem making a diagonal cut with a sharp knife.
  • Snip off the stamens to avoid staining your hands or clothes with the pollen
  • Make sure no foliage will be underwater when placed in a vase.
  • A good lily arrangement will last 2 or more weeks. Change the water every few days and add cut-flower food to the water.
Lilium ‘Flashpoint’ (Orienpet Lily)
Lilium ‘Flavia’ (Orienpet Lily)
Lilium ‘Lady Alice’

Lily Propagation

Lilies, can be propagated through several methods, including scaling, bulb division, and seed germination. Each method has its advantages and challenges. Here is a brief overview of these propagation techniques:

Scaling: Scaling is a popular method for lily propagation, as it often yields quicker results compared to growing from seed. Scaling involves removing small scales (segments) from the parent bulb and encouraging them to produce new bulbs.

  • Carefully dig up the parent lily bulb after the foliage has died back.
  • Remove several healthy scales from the outer layer of the bulb, being cautious not to damage the base.
  • Dip the scales in a fungicide solution to reduce the risk of disease.
  • Prepare a mixture of equal parts peat moss and perlite or vermiculite. Moisten the mix slightly.
  • Place the scales in a plastic bag with the moistened growing medium, ensuring they are in contact with the mix.
  • Seal the bag, and store it in a warm, dark place (around 70°F or 21°C) for about 6-8 weeks. Check periodically for signs of new bulblets.
  • Once the bulblets have formed, plant them in pots filled with well-draining potting soil, or transplant them directly into the garden, taking care to provide appropriate growing conditions.

Bulb division: Some lilies, especially Asiatic hybrids, produce small offsets or bulblets around the parent bulb. These can be separated and grown into new plants.

  • Carefully dig up the parent bulb when the foliage has died back or is dormant.
  • Gently separate the offsets from the parent bulb, ensuring that each offset has a portion of the root system attached.
  • Replant the offsets in well-draining soil, following the planting guidelines for lily bulbs.
  • Water the offsets well and provide appropriate care as they establish and grow.

Seed germination: Growing lilies from seed can be a long process, with some varieties taking up to 2-7 years to flower. However, it allows for greater genetic diversity and the potential to produce new cultivars.

  • Collect seeds from ripe seed pods, typically after the petals have dropped and the pod turns brown.
  • For immediate germination, sow the seeds in a well-draining seed-starting mix, and keep the soil consistently moist but not soggy. Provide bright, indirect light and maintain a temperature of around 60-70°F (15-21°C). Germination times can vary greatly depending on the variety.
  • Alternatively, you can stratify the seeds by placing them in a moistened growing medium (such as a mix of peat moss and perlite) in a sealed plastic bag. Store the bag in the refrigerator for about 4-6 weeks, and then sow the seeds in a seed-starting mix as described above.
  • Once seedlings have developed a few sets of true leaves, transplant them into individual pots or into the garden, providing appropriate care for lily plants.

Discover These Helpful Guides for Further Reading

Best Lilies For Pots and Containers
Great Companion Plants for Lilies
Lilies for Long Summer Blooms

Pests and Diseases

Lilies are prone to several pests and diseases that can affect their growth, appearance, and overall health. By identifying and addressing these issues promptly, you can help ensure the long-term health of your lilies. Here are some common pests and diseases affecting Lily plants:

Aphids: Small, soft-bodied insects that feed on plant sap, often causing distorted growth and the transmission of viruses. Use insecticidal soap, neem oil, or a systemic insecticide to control aphid infestations.

Lily beetles (Lilioceris lilii): These bright red beetles and their larvae feed on lily leaves, flowers, and buds, causing significant damage. Handpick beetles and larvae from plants or use insecticides labeled for lily beetles to control infestations.

Slugs and Snails: These pests feed on lily foliage, leaving irregular holes in the leaves. Control methods include handpicking, slug traps, diatomaceous earth, or using copper barriers around the plants.

Gray mold: A fungal disease that causes brown spots on leaves, stems, and flowers, often leading to rot. To control, remove and dispose of infected plant material, maintain good air circulation, and apply a fungicide labeled for botrytis blight.

Fusarium bulb rot: A fungal disease that affects the bulb, causing rot and stunted growth. Prevent fusarium by planting disease-free bulbs, avoiding overwatering, and using well-draining soil. Infected bulbs should be removed and destroyed.

Lily mosaic virus (LMV): A viral disease that causes mottling, streaking, or distortion of leaves and flowers. Control aphids to prevent the spread of the virus and remove and destroy infected plants. There is no cure for LMV.

Basal rot (Rhizoctonia solani): A soil-borne fungal disease that causes yellowing, wilting, and rot at the base of the stem. Improve soil drainage, avoid overwatering, and use a fungicide to treat affected plants.

Root and stem rot (Pythium and Phytophthora spp.): Fungal diseases that cause rotting of roots and lower stems, leading to plant collapse. Improve soil drainage, avoid overwatering, and use a fungicide labeled for these pathogens.

To minimize the risk of pests and diseases, always practice good garden hygiene. Remove and dispose of infected plant material, maintain adequate spacing for air circulation, and avoid overwatering. Regularly inspect your plants and address any issues promptly to ensure the health and beauty of your lilies.

Frequently Asked Questions

What do lilies symbolize?

Lilies have held symbolic significance in various cultures and throughout history. While the meaning of lilies can differ depending on the color and type, some common symbolic associations include purity, innocence, rebirth, and motherhood.

What season do lilies flower?

Lilies typically flower from late spring to early fall, depending on the specific variety and local climate.

Do lilies prefer sun or shade?

per day to grow and bloom properly. However, some lily varieties can tolerate partial shade, particularly in hotter climates where afternoon shade can protect them from intense heat. In regions with very hot summers, providing lilies with morning sun and afternoon shade can help prevent the flowers from fading or scorching. If you’re planting lilies in a partially shaded area, be aware that they might grow taller and lean towards the sunlight, so they may require staking for support.

What do lilies smell like?

The scent of lilies can vary greatly depending on the specific variety. Some lilies are known for their strong, sweet, and intoxicating fragrance, while others have little to no scent at all.

Oriental lilies, such as ‘Stargazer’ and ‘Casa Blanca,’ are particularly renowned for their rich, sweet, and heady fragrance. Trumpet lilies also tend to have a strong, sweet scent that can fill a garden or room.

On the other hand, Asiatic lilies generally have little to no fragrance. This makes them a suitable option for people who are sensitive to strong floral scents or for planting in areas where a strong fragrance might be overwhelming.

Garden Examples

A Lovely Duo for your Late Summer Garden: Japanese Anemones and Oriental Lilies
A Pretty Duo with Clematis and Lilies
A Striking Summer Border with Tiger Lilies and Lobelia
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While every effort has been made to describe these plants accurately, please keep in mind that height, bloom time, and color may differ in various climates. The description of these plants has been written based on numerous outside resources.

Guide Information

Hardiness 3 - 9
Plant Type Bulbs, Perennials
Genus Lilium
Exposure Full Sun, Partial Sun
Season of Interest Spring (Mid, Late)
Summer (Early, Mid, Late)
Maintenance Low
Water Needs Average
Soil Drainage Moist but Well-Drained
Characteristics Cut Flowers, Fragrant, Showy
Attracts Bees, Butterflies, Hummingbirds
Landscaping Ideas Beds And Borders, Patio And Containers
Garden Styles City and Courtyard, Cutting Garden, Informal and Cottage
Compare All Lilium (Lily)
Compare Now
Explore Great Plant Combination Ideas
Lilium (Lily)
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Lilium (Lily)

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