How to Grow Lovely Lilies

Learn how to grow successful lilies, a fragrant bulb that stays green all summer long and comes in many varieties.

One of June’s star flower performers is the lily, an old-fashioned favorite prized for its big, showy, trumpet-shaped flowers that are as beautiful in the garden as they are cut in a vase. These classics bloom in a wide range of colors, from bright reds, oranges, and yellows to pure white and pastel pinks and bi-colors. Not only do they look great, but if you’re looking for something fragrant, this is it as most lilies are among the sweetest-smelling flowers.

Lilies are technically bulbs, except they flower in summer and stay green all season as opposed to spring-flowering bulbs like tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths that bloom early in the season and then go brown and dormant in summer. And while they bloom in summer year after year and do well in Zones 5 through 8, some lilies are winter-hardy in Zone 4, especially with a few inches of wood-chip mulch in winter.

When it comes to planting, lilies can be planted in spring or early fall from bare bulbs, or they can be bought as up-and-growing plants. Garden centers often sell potted lilies alongside other perennial flowers.

Lots of choices

  • Asiatic lilies – with their upward-facing trumpet-flowers – are the first to bloom, peaking primarily in June in most of the U.S. They’re among the most compact lilies at about three feet tall, but they’re also the least fragrant type.
  • Next up are trumpet types and tiger lilies, which are mildly to moderately fragrant and early-summer bloomers – in a range of colors.
  • Turk’s cap lilies with their backward-curving petals also bloom in early summer, and gardeners in Zones 7 to 9 have the added option of growing white-blooming Easter lilies for the June-July time frame.
  • A third round of bloom comes from the taller, strongly fragrant, downward-facing Oriental lilies and hybrid Orienpets (a cross of Oriental and trumpet types). These lilies bloom in July and August.
Asiatic Lilies

Asiatic Hybrid Lily Flowers - Lilium "Electric". Ellenmck / iStock / Getty Images Plus

All of the above pair nicely with roses or dwarf evergreens, can tag-team perfectly when interplanted with spring-flowering bulbs, or can be mixed into a perennial garden.


Lily parenting

Most important to lily success is avoiding clay soil or low-lying areas. Wet soil will rot lily roots. Pick a spot with loose, well-drained soil, or better yet, loosen the soil to a foot deep and work two to three inches of compost, rotted leaves, and/or peat moss into it to create raised beds. Some other important things to remember when it comes to raising and caring for your lilies are:

  • Lilies appreciate lots of sun – at least six hours a day. Most will bloom reasonably well, though, with just morning sun or under the dappled light of small trees.
  • Plant bulbs six to eight inches deep and eight to 12 inches apart. Lilies look best when planted in clusters of at least five bulbs each.
  • Scatter lily beds with a balanced, granular flower fertilizer each spring, and cover the soil surface with an inch or two of wood, straw, or pine-needle mulch.
  • At the end of the season when frost kills the top growth, cut everything to the ground.
  • Your lily clumps should slowly expand over the years. If they become too crowded, dig and divide the clumps in early fall and replant the extras in a new bed. Or give them away to lily-less friends.
  • Flowers can be cut for bouquets just as they’re approaching peak bloom. Snip the pollen off the anther tips if you’re concerned about pollen dropping to stain tables.
  • The main in-season challenge is keeping deer and rabbits from eating the foliage. Repellents or fencing help solve those.
Pink Lilies

George Weigel

Zoonar RF / Zoonar / Getty Images Plus

Zoonar RF / Zoonar / Getty Images Plus

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