How Do I Grow Lily Bulbs?

Marty Paule

Lilies make up a large family of flowering plants that can be grown relatively easily from bulbs. Available in a wide range of colors and sizes, your planned location and climate should be the main considerations in deciding which varieties of lily bulbs to buy. It's best to avoid "bargain-bin" bulbs sold for very low prices in stores that don't specialize in plants. Lilies require little care, but generally thrive best in well-drained soil. Slugs can do serious damage to lilies and they need to be controlled.

Woman with a flower
Woman with a flower

There are hundreds of varieties within the lily family that fall into nine divisions, with members of the Asiatic, Oriental, Trumpet, and Turk's cap divisions being the most popular. They range in height from 12 inches (30 cm) to over 8 feet (244 cm) tall. The best lily bulbs will have roots attached, and since they're never truly dormant, will thrive when planted right away. Some of the shorter varieties grow well in containers. If you're unsure whether a specific variety is hardy enough for your location, determine what its USDA Hardiness Zone is.

Most lily varieties prefer full or partial sun and grow most vigorously in slightly acidic, well-drained soil that contains plenty of compost and other organic matter. Lily bulbs vary in size considerably depending on the variety and are usually planted in the fall with blooms developing in late spring to early summer. Smaller lily bulbs are usually planted about 1.25 inches (3 cm) deep and about 9 inches (23 cm) apart. Larger varieties can require placing the lily bulbs at depths of up to 8 inches (20 cm) and up to 20 inches (51 cm) apart. Once the plant has developed, mulching will help protect against winter frosts and keep the roots cool in the heat of summer.

A complete fertilizer applied in spring or early summer will help produce hardier plants with more blooms. When cutting lilies for display indoors, wait to cut them until the blooms begin displaying their color, but before the bud begins to open. Leave two-thirds of the stem on the plant to help feed the bulb for next season. Once the blooming period is over, the dead flowers and seed pods should be removed. The old stalks and leaves should be left, however, as they too will feed the bulb. Slugs relish lilies and must be controlled with a slug bait and poison before they wreak havoc among your lily bulbs.

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