Grow guide - lilies

Lilies - Grow Guide

Find out all you need to know about growing lilies for great summer scent and colour.

Lilies need no introduction. They’re loved for their scented blooms and often giant, trumpet-shaped flowers. Planted as bulbs, they are perfect for containers and flower borders.

There is a huge variation in the flower colour and shape of lilies. Some have reflected petals, and others have trumpets. 

Lilies make the perfect addition to the garden, with varieties for different soil types and aspects. They are fully hardy and easy to maintain. They are also a highly regarded cut flower.  

J F M A M J J A S O N D
Plant
Plant
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Flowers
Flowers
Yes
Yes
Yes
CutBack
CutBack
Yes
Yes

Planting position

Lilies enjoy a position of full sun. Lilies like their roots in the cool and flowers in the sun. Soil should ideally be rich and fairly moist, yet free-draining. Most lilies prefer an alkaline or neutral soil. There are a couple of types that prefer an acid soil such as Lilium speciosum.

Martagon, lancifolium and pardalinum lilies are happy when grown in a position of dappled shade and will often self-seed and make a wonderful colony under deciduous trees. They are all ideal for naturalising.

When growing lilies in containers, choose deep pots that offer good drainage. A multi-purpose compost is fine. For top results choose John Innes No 3 and add some slow-release fertilizer. 

Planting technique

Lilies can be planted from late autumn until early April. They’re bought as bulbs – choose large, firm bulbs - although you will can also find potted plants at the garden centre in summer.

Potted lilies must have at least 12cm of soil above the bulb. Bulbs will benefit from extra winter protection if planted deeper. As a general guide plant bulbs 15cm apart and three times the depth of the height of the bulb. 

Propagation

After three or four years, lilies will clump up and need dividing. The best time to do this is in autumn. Lift clumps with a garden fork and peel off bulbs. Plants them directly into the garden or into pots. 

Troubleshooting

A common pest that troubles lily growers is the red lily beetle. These striking red beetles, that are 8mm long, can be spotted anytime from March to October. They’re very clever! When you approach a plant they drop to the floor, landing on their backs so they are hard to see. They eat the foliage and leave behind a black excrement.

To solve the problem, try to pick them off and squash them. If an infestation is very bad you may have to turn to a suitable insecticide. 

Care

Taller lilies will need supporting with a plant support. As plants start to flower feed them with tomato feed every fortnight. This will encourage great flowers and help bulbs to perform well in the following year. Once flowers have faded deadhead. If flowers are left on, plants will start to produce seed which can take valuable energy away from the bulbs. However, when growing martagon lilies let them self-seed.

Never cut flowering stems right back to soil level. Just remove the top third. Leave the stems in place until they have gone brown as they will provide energy for the bulb. This rule also applies when growing for cutting.

Pot-grown lilies should be moved after flowering to a shaded spot. 

Spade

Lilies and cats

All parts of the lily can be fatal to cats - do not grow them if you are worried about this.

Martagon lily
Martagon lily

Lily varieties to try

  • Lilium martagon – scented, pink, speckled turkscap lily flowers in June or July. Hardy and perfect for naturalising amongst shrubs. Reaches 1m
  • Lilium regale – fully hardy, popular lily. Giant white, flushed with pink, scented trumpet flowers in July. Reaches 1.5m
  • Lilium speciosum var. rubrum 'Uchida' – a late flowering lily (August-September) with a soft scent. Flowers are pink edged with white. Height 1m
  • Lilium ‘China Girl’ – a hardy oriental type with pale-pink scented flowers in July and August. Great for cutting. Reaches 60cm
  • Lilium pardalinum – reflected orange blooms in June or July. Can be grown in semi-shade. Height 120cm

Related content

Sweet peas - Grow Guide

Begonias - Grow Guide

How to plant winter bedding in a pot

How to make a metal garden obelisk

Related offers

Offer

Save £10 on cyclamen

Save £10 when you buy six autumn-flowering, hardy Cyclamen hederifolium for just £19.99 at Blooming Direct. You'll get three pink and three white established, potted plants.

Order now

Offer

Four free* hostas

Perk up shady corners with these four fabulous hostas. Claim your collection, worth over £27, for free, *just pay £5.65 for postage. Plus, add any other items from the offer listing to your order and pay no extra postage.

Order now

HALF PRICE

Subscriber only content

Half-price lilies

Get this collection of five fragrant lilies for £9.99, or save 50 per cent when you buy 20 for just £19.98 - exclusively for magazine subscribers.

Unlock now