How to grow lilies
All you need to know about growing lilies for great summer scent and colour.
Lilies are prized for their fragrant blooms and often giant, trumpet-shaped flowers. Lily bulbs are planted in containers and flower borders, and lily plants make the perfect summer flowers to add colour and cheer to the garden.
There are two main types of lily to grow: Oriental lily and Asiatic lily. Oriental lilies typically have large, fragrant pink flowers. They thrive in acid soils and so should be grown in containers of ericaceous compost. Asiatic lilies have a greater variety of colours including yellow, orange, red and almost-black, but they're not scented and tend to be smaller than Oriental types. However they thrive in alkaline soil and are extremely hardy, so are easier to grow – simply plant the bulbs in the garden or in pots of peat-free multi-purpose compost.
How to grow lilies
Grow oriental lilies in acidic soil or ericaceous compost, and other types, including Asiatic and Turk's cap lilies in neutral to alkaline soil or multi-purpose compost. All types need a sheltered sunny spot to thrive, and a deep pot if growing in containers. Plant lily bulbs from October to April. Stake taller varieties and protect all types from lily beetle. Allow the foliage to die down naturally after flowering.
More on growing lilies:
Where to plant lilies
Lilies do best in a position of full sun, ideally with their roots in rich and fairly moist, yet free-draining soil or compost. Grow oriental lilies in acidic soil or ericaceous compost, and Asiatic lilies in neutral to alkaline soil or multi-purpose compost.
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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.
Watch Monty Don's video guide to growing lilies in a pot:
When to plant lily bulbs
Lilies can be planted from late autumn until early April. They’re bought as bulbs – choose large, firm bulbs - although you 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 lily bulbs 15cm apart and three times the depth of the height of the bulb.
How to care for lilies
Support tall-growing lilies 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. Deadhead spent blooms to prevent the bulb wasting energy on seed production. The only exception to this is if you're growing martagon lilies, which happily 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.
Move pot-grown lilies to a shaded spot after flowering.
In this Golden Rules video guide, lily expert Sarah Hyde explains three golden rules of caring for lilies:
How to propagate lilies
After three or four years, lilies will clump up and need dividing. This is the best time to propagate them. In autumn, simply lift clumps with a garden fork and peel the bulbs apart. Plant them into smaller clumps directly into the garden or pots.
Growing lilies: problem solving
A common pest that troubles lily growers is the red lily beetle. These striking red beetles, growing to 8mm long, can be spotted anytime from March to October. When you approach a plant they drop to the floor, landing on their backs so they're hard to see. They eat lily foliage and leave behind a black excrement – which can be used to identify an infestation even if you don't see the beetle.
The best protection against lily beetles is vigilance. Check for eggs and larvae on the undersides of leaves, and remove them as soon as you spot them. If an infestation is very bad you may have to turn to a suitable insecticide, but you should try to avoid spraying lilies in flower, as sprays could present a danger to pollinating insects.
Alan Titchmarsh offers his tips for getting rid of lily beetles, in this video:
Lilies and cats
All parts of the lily can be fatal to cats - don't grow them if you're worried about this.
Growing lilies: buying advice
- As with all bulbs, make sure you buy healthy specimens, with no signs of softness or mould
- Check the height and spread of your lilies, and the soil type required to them, before buying
- Lilies are available from garden centres and nurseries, but you'll find more choice at specialist growers
Where to buy lilies
10 lilies to grow
'Dazzler' is a dwarf lily, with each plant producing up to 10 fragrant, deep-pink blooms above glossy-green foliage. It makes an excellent cut flower.
Lilium ‘Orange Marmalade’
Lilium ‘Orange Marmalade’ bears delicate orange, star-shaped flowers, on tall upright stems reaching just over 1m in height. It will flower in early to mid-summer.
Lilium ‘Nymph’ is an oriental variety. It grows to a staggering height of up to 200cm, and bears large, strongly scented, pale lemon yellow flowers with a pink stripe along each petal.
Lilium 'Casa Blanca'
Lilium 'Casa Blanca' is a classic Oriental lily with fragrant, pure white flowers and dark red stamens. Flowers grow on tall stems up to 130cm, from mid- to late summer.
Lilium martagon ‘Arabian Night’
Lilium martagon ‘Arabian Night’ puts on a dazzling display of fragrant mahogany-red and orange flowers in early summer. It can reach a height of up to 1.5m.
Lilium 'Tigrinum splendens'
Also known as tiger lily, Lilium 'Tigrinum splendens' has tiger-like, bell-shaped, spotted orange flowers on stems up to 140cm tall. It's a hardy variety with flowers appearing from August to September.
'Firebolt' is an oriental lily with extremely dark burgundy flowers – the darkest oriental lily available – with a strong fragrance, from July to August. Growing to 85cm, it's excellent for cut flower arrangements.
Lilium 'The Edge'
'The Edge' has white-pink flowers with a darker pink-violet picotee edge. Flowers grow on strong stems up to 90cm tall, from mid-July, and are perfect for cutting.
Lilium 'Stracciatella Event'
Lilium 'Stracciatella Event' is an Asiatic lily bearing white flowers with strong, dark purple markings. Flowering in June on stems up to 120cm tall, it's perfect for growing in pots and ornamental borders, and makes an excellent cut flower.
A tall oriental lily, growing to 90cm in its first year and taller in following years. Blooms are huge and bright pink.