Lilies are prized for their fragrant blooms and often giant, trumpet-shaped flowers. Planted as bulbs, they’re perfect for containers and flower borders.
There are two main types of lily to grow: Oriental and Asiatic. 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 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:
- 10 lilies to grow
- How to grow lilies from bulbils
- How to plant lily bulbs in a pot
- How to deadhead lilies
- Tree lily pot display
- Dealing with lily beetle
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.
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:
How to plant lilies
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 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.
Lilies and cats
All parts of the lily can be fatal to cats – don’t grow them if you’re worried about this.
Great lily varieties to grow
- Lilium martagon (pictured above) – 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