What is an Asiatic Lily?

Mary McMahon

An Asiatic lily is a lily in the genus Lilium. Plants in this genus are sometimes referred to as “true lilies,” reflecting the fact that they are botanically classified as lilies, rather than just being called “lilies” by people who are not knowledgeable about horticulture. True lilies are bulbs, and they have fleshy stems, blade-like leaves, and trumpet shaped flowers. The Asiatic lily is among the easiest to grow.

Butterflies are attracted to the Asiatic Lily.
Butterflies are attracted to the Asiatic Lily.

Asiatic lilies are hybridized lilies which are famous for their vigor. Given an area which gets sun for at least half the day and some well drained soil, these lilies will flourish with minimal effort on the part of the gardener. They typically return in very thick clumps each year, requiring thinning every three to four years to break up the bulbs and spread them out so that they will not crowd each other in the soil.

Caring for Asiatic lilies includes mulching in the fall and leaving the mulch on until after the last frost has passed, and trimming away dead foliage as the plants die off in the fall. These plants also benefit from being fertilized in the spring to stimulate growth. Asiatic lilies make splendid cut flowers, and they are also very appealing to butterflies, making them a great addition to a butterfly garden. They tend to do best when planted in large beds and clumps, so that they have an opportunity to sprawl, and some cultivars may need to be staked as they grow to support the blooms.

Gardeners can grow Asiatic lilies successfully in USDA zones three to 11. Bulbs can be planted either in the early fall or mid-spring, and the plants will produce flowers in June and July. A range of colors are available, including orange, white, red, and yellow, and some blooms are variegated, with colors like red and white or orange and yellow. The Asiatic lily can also be grown in large containers, for gardeners who do not have a lot of room to work with.

Many garden suppliers sell Asiatic lily bulbs, especially around the time of year when they should be planted. The bulbs do not go fully dormant, so they should be planted as soon as possible. Seedlings can also be planted, in lieu of bulbs. People who happen to notice a particularly fine cultivar growing can politely ask if some of the bulbs will be available when the plants are divided; many gardeners are happy to share their Asiatic lily bulbs, especially if they can exchange them for bulbs from a rare cultivar or another plant of interest.

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Discussion Comments


FYI, when it's hot out make sure to have water out for the squirrels. If not, they will pick the buds before they bloom out, my mother found out the hard way!


Bulbs will start growing in April and flower in early June. Flowers only last a couple of weeks outdoors. The taller varieties (24") should be planted in wind protected positions and frequently watered.


Plant lilies in sheltered places protected from wind (this is what causes blooms to drop off). If in tubs, place in a sheltered area, preferably up against a wall. DO not over-water, but they are thirsty plants.


I also have planted asiatic lilies and within two weeks of planting all of the blooms fell off and I have only stems left. I was told they would bloom from spring to earlier fall. Not happy. Any suggestions?


I have planted asiatic lilies and within two weeks of planting all of the blooms fell off and I have only stems left. Not sure what to do at this point. Any suggestions?


Can Asiatic lilies be grown as houseplants?


I have planted asiatic lilies in my back yard and were doing fine, now the blooms are falling off or I just have the top stem of the flower. Could snails be eating them?


I bought a couple of asiatic lillies that were already getting blooms. Since it is only April, and I planted them outside in my flower bed, will they do OK still?


If you want to use Asiatic lilies for cut flowers is there a special way you should cut them?

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