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Growing Lilies: How & Where to Grow

Lilies are vibrant and exotic perennial flowers that have intensely fragrant, bold, and beautiful blooms. The versatility and variety of this bulbous plant also lend to their charm.

Growing lilies can be done in containers on patios gardens and porches, along borders, or as a mainstay along the rear of flower beds. Lilies come in a vast array of shapes, heights, colors, patterned petals, and flower forms. They also attract beneficial pollinators like bees and butterflies, moths, and hummingbirds.

What’s not to love about growing lilies? Follow our essential tips on growing lilies: how & where to grow so that you can successfully grow them readily in your own backyard.

Oriental lilies in an English garden

Ideal Soil Composition & pH for Growing Lilies

Lily plants grow best in soil that is loose, loamy, fertile, and most of all, well-draining.  Select a spot in your garden where water whisks away quickly, as soggy soil will inevitably rot bulbs out.

Aim for slightly acidic soil with a pH of between 5.5 and 7.0 when planting lily bulbs, depending on the variety.  If you are uncertain of your soil quality, visit your local extension office with a soil sample. They will test your soil and let you know your soil pH, soil type, and offer suggestions for soil amendments.

Lilies are perennial plants, so it is best to amend soil yearly by layering with well-decomposed compost and other organic soil amendments to keep the soil at its best.

Lilly Bulbs Light & Temperature Needs

Plant lily bulbs in an area of the garden that receives full sun. To bloom to their fullest potential, plants should receive at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight per day. Growing lilies in adequate sunlight will also help them maintain a solid upright position in the garden bed rather than reach out in different directions seeking out the sun’s rays.

Lily in a flower garden.

When to Plant Lilies

  • Lily bulbs should be planted in the ground during the fall months, at least three to four weeks before cold temperatures and hard frost sets in.
  • Add a layer of mulch to the garden bed after planting as an added blanket of protection against the cold.
  • If planting lilies in containers, you can plant them at any time during late spring and early summer.
  • Purchase lily bulbs around the time that you wish to plant them. In nature, bulbs were never supposed to be exposed to light for very long, so they can break down over time if you wait too long to plant them.

How to Plant Lilies

When considering growing lilies, it’s important to note planting needs. Height is a significant consideration. Different varieties of lilies can vary in how tall they will grow.  Place shorter types in the front of the garden bed and graduate the heights so that the tallest lilies line the garden’s rear for traditional gardens or centered if an oasis type. This is vital because of their sunlight requirements and because lily heights vary greatly from two feet to up to six feet.

Follow these steps for planting lilies:

  • Dig holes for your bulbs. Follow the guidelines on your bulb package for planting depth for your lily variety. A general rule of thumb is to plant lily bulbs at a depth of 2-3 times the height of your bulb.
  • Work in well-decomposed compost and bulb fertilizer into the soil.
  • Place the bulb roots side down and pointed side up in the hole.
  • Fill the hole in with loose soil and firm in gently.
  • Space subsequent bulbs 2-3 times the bulb size away from each other. Plants look best when planted in groups in the garden bed.
  • Water in well.
Hummingbird flying next to lily

Where to Grow Lilies

Lilies can add vibrancy and intrigue to just about any planting space, provided that they receive adequate sunlight and well-draining conditions. Planting lilies on a slope or hillside can help with drainage—plant lilies in pots and containers, in raised beds, in-ground, or a mix of all locations.

Lilies are dynamic and rewarding additions to any garden. They will not reach their full height potential in their first year after planting. Over the next few years, they will attain their true height potential.

Lilies may require staking due to their tall stature. When staking plants, be sure to push your stake into the soil, a couple of inches away from the plant stem, to avoid damaging the bulb of the lily.

The Best Way to Water Lilies

Watering lily plants is key to successful growth. Keep them well watered throughout the growing season so that soil remains moist but not soggy. Once plants bloom, you can stop watering them, allowing the foliage to dry out and yellow.

Watering your fall flower bulbs can help protect bulbs from freezing temperatures. Water expands the plant cells within the bulbs and helps to protect the plant from internal freezing. Water also helps the soil around the bulbs remain more insulated.

In the winter, bulbs will be hydrated by melting snow.  If you live in a region that does not have a blanket of snow on the ground in the wintertime, water lily garden areas regularly.

Nutrients Needed for Growing Lilies

Fertilize lily plants every two weeks with an organic fertilizer that is high in potassium for optimal growth. Feeding should be done throughout the growing season and up until five to six weeks post-bloom. This will nourish the plant and subsequently the bulb, bolstering it for next season’s blooms.

How to Prune Lilies

Once blooms are spent, they can be deadheaded by cutting lilies back just below the remaining seed heads. This will keep your plants looking tidy.  When plants have finished their growing season, come fall time, allow the lily plant’s foliage to yellow and dry out completely before clearing any vegetation out of the garden bed. This is because the bulb takes in all of the energy from the plant to store it for future growth.

Gardener holding wooden box tray containing sprouting lily flower bulbs.

How to Cut Lilly Flowers

Lilies make lovely additions to cut flower arrangements, adding fragrance and beauty to indoor spaces as well. When cutting lilies, it is vital for the health of the plant that you leave at least half of the plant intact. The foliage that is left behind will eventually feed the bulb with energy for next year’s growth. The more foliage that you leave behind, the better for next year’s flowering.

Dividing Lilly Bulbs

Lily bulbs should be divided every three to five years. To separate them, dig the bulb clump out of soil carefully and split them up with a spade.  Add some compost into the hole before replanting. Plant divided bulbs or exchange with gardening friends and neighbors to expand your varieties!

Recommended Lilly Varieties to Grow

Planting an array of varieties with different bloom times will give you perpetual rolling lily flowers in your garden bed.  Lily plants may be shaped like trumpets or bowls and have upward or downward-facing blooms, but all lily (spp. Lilium) plants grow from bulbs.

Try some of these gorgeous varieties of lily plants and enjoy them in the garden for many years to come:

  • ‘Heartstrings’ – Produces dark pink petals with yellow speckled centers. Height 4 ft.
  • Madonna Lily‘ – Produces tons of vibrant white trumpet-like blooms. Height 3-4 ft.
  • Nankeen‘ – Produces large and lovely orange lily flowers. Height 4 ft.
  • African Queen‘ – Produces larger-than-life peach-colored blooms. Height 6 ft.
  • Dizzy‘ – Produces tons of varying pink striped hues and is highly fragrant. Height 4 ft.

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pink lilies in garden
White lilies growing in garden

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