Growing Lilies

MANY gardeners are pleasantly surprised when they discover the enormous variety of this lovely genus. Besides the classic type of madonna lily and other trumpet lilies, there are lilies with cup-shaped, upright flowers of orange, yellow or red; others, called turks caps, with small, sharply reflexed petals like a cyclamen, which can be mauve, yellow, white, scarlet, lilac-pink or crimson-purple; and some with great bowl-shaped, fragrant flowers. Some lilies are small enough for the rock garden, while others soar to 8 to 10 ft. Many are gloriously scented.

Lilies have been grown from ancient times, and have always been favourite garden plants, although for hundreds of years only a few kinds were known. The twentieth century has brought a great development of this lovely flower. Not only have scores of beautiful species been introduced into our gardens, but hybridization has been taken up enthusiastically by professional and amateur growers alike, and it is possible to have lilies of all shapes and sizes, and nearly every colour except blue, flowering between late May and October.

Modern hybrid lilies are vigorous and resistant to disease, increase quickly, of-ten come reasonably true from seed, and are first-class garden plants. They provide a splendid range of colours and shapes midway between the main types of lily.

Because some rare, expensive species are not easy to grow, lilies have gained an undeserved reputation for being difficult. The great majority of lilies offered for sale are no more difficult than any other favourite garden plants once their needs are understood; but lilies that are suited to the particular garden should be chosen.


A lily bulb consists of a basal disk or very flattened stem from which roots grow below, and overlapping scales above.

These scales are really thickened leaves, modified to store food in the form of starch during the plant’s resting period. The lily bulb has no brown outer skin to protect it against excess damp or drying, or against pests, and is, therefore, much more like the resting crown of a herbaceous perennial than an orthodox bulb such as a tulip.

Lily bulbs must never be dried off. On the other hand, good drainage is tremendously important. Even the so-called ‘bog lilies’ will die if they are kept in soggy conditions.

Try to grow lilies on a gently sloping piece of land. If water habitually lies for a long time in the garden after rain, make a raised bed, so that the bulbs are never soaking in still water.


Ordinary well-worked, well-drained garden soil suits most lilies. Some, such as Lilium henryi, prefer a little lime in the soil, and there are others, the regal lilies, for instance, which will tolerate it. Most, however, prefer a neutral soil, or one that is slightly acid, and a few lovely and popular kinds cannot grow where there is lime. If the garden has alkaline soil, grow these lime-haters in pots or tubs of lime-free soil and save rain water for them.


Many lilies produce roots from the stem above the bulb as well as the basal roots below it. These annual stem roots are important and need to be covered with well-aerated soil, well enriched with humus. It is a good general rule to plant lilies two and a half times their own depth in the soil. As the stem-rooting kinds need to have at least 4 in. of soil above the top of the bulb, plant them 5 to 9 in. deep according to size, but lilies which root only from the base need not be planted so deeply, though they take longer to establish themselves. It is better to plant too shallowly if in doubt, since the roots have the power to pull the bulb down to its proper depth.

If the lilies’ stem roots are seen to be sprouting above ground, draw soil up round the plants. It helps to mark where the bulb is and to keep slugs at bay if each lily bulb is encased in a nest of coarse sand.


The best planting time is in early autumn, but many nurserymen send out the bulbs from the end of November onward. If the weather is bad and unsuitable for planting, pot up the bulbs until the spring and then plant them out.

Some of the Japanese lilies are not available until January or February, and are best grown in pots until the autumn.


Lilies make superb pot plants, and are useful for tubs as well. Plant the stem-rooting kinds well down in the pot, l or 2 in. above the drainage material (broken crocks covered with a loose pad of sphagnum moss or fibrous material to keep the soil from clogging them).

Use John Innes potting compost, or a compost of three parts good fibrous loam, one part coarse sand and one part leaf mould or sedge peat.


Plant base-rooting lilies in 6- or 7-in. pots in early autumn for flowering the following summer, and stem-rooting lilies in the spring to flower the same year.


Some lilies such as L. auratum, L. longiflorum and L. speciosum may be gently forced, but like other pot-grown bulbs, they should be kept cool and allowed to grow at their own pace until a proper root system has been established. Grow lilies outside until frost threatens, then transfer them to an unheated greenhouse or frame. Do not bring them into the house until the flowers are about to open.

Keep pots of Japanese lilies (L. auralum, L. speciosum, L. japonkum and L. rubellum) in the greenhouse throughout the winter.

06. September 2013 by admin
Categories: Gardening History, Plant Biology, Top Tips | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Growing Lilies


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