How to Grow Lilies

Lilies are a summer flowering bulb with large, showy, and often fragrant flowers. Lilies are perennial and will return each year in suitable growing conditions. 

Confusingly there are a lot of different types of Lilies.   The most commonly cultivated and offer for sale are: 

  1. Oriental lilies are shown in the second image. These are usually fragrant and prefer acid soil or ericaceous compost. This group includes varieties such as L. Casablanca, Stargazer, Muscadet, all have many stemmed large, attractively scented blooms.
  2. Asiatic Lilies Illustrated right the Martagon, Turkscap lily, where the petals recurve creating a very attractive flower shape.  This group of lilies prefer neutral soil and are not scented, but have striking flowers.


Many types of lilies often require staking and to be grown in a sunny spot on free draining soil.

There are many other hybrids, trumpet and Orienpet varieties. The regale lily illustrated top left and one of the most commonly grown of all lilies, belongs to neither group.

How to plant and care for Lilies

Lilies do best in a sunny spot, or in dappled shade planted in with well-drained soil. 

Plant Lily bulbs in the autumn from September to November, to a depth three times the bulb size around 10 /15cms deep. If you miss the Autumn planting, lilies can also be planted in the spring up around the end of March/early April. For best effect, plant lilies in groups of 3 or 5. Lilies do not do as well on heavy soil, especially if you are leaving them in the ground all winter. To prevent the bulb from rotting over winter, add grit to improve drainage. As with all bulbs, the flat end with embryo roots goes downwards and the pointy end at the top.

Some lilies prefer acid soil, and some alkaline the plant label should help. Broadly, of the most popular varieties, L. Regale prefers neutral or acid, Oriental Lilies are not fussy and Turkscap will tolerate most with a preference to neutral to alkaline.  

All lilies are intolerant of wet soil, which will cause the bulb to rot over winter, and thin dry soil which will result in a poor show of flowers. All Lilies like a rich soil and will benefit from feeding. During the summer feed fortnightly with a high potassium feed such as a tomato feed.

After flowering dead head the flowers but leave the foilage in situ to die back naturally and feed the bulb for next year. 

Warning: the RSPCA has stated that all parts of the Lily can be poisonous to cats. 

Growing Lilies in containers

Lilies are a popular choice for growing in containers, especially the scented varieties. Plant 3 bulbs in a large container in the autumn, or spring. Ensure the compost is suitable for the lily type ( see above). Feed regularly all summer with high potassium feed.

After flowering, the container can be moved and left to overwinter in a suitable spot in the garden, with sun. Wet or waterlogged soil will threaten the viability of the bulb. If very wet winter conditions are threatened, either temporarily turn the container onto its side or bring under the eaves into the house rain shadow. Repot ever few years.

Some Lilies are easier to grow than others, fortunately the very popular and showy Lilium regale, 1st image top left, will grow in most soils as long as it is not waterlogged. Also easy to grow are Lilium lancifolium, the tiger lily.

The Dreaded Lily beetle

Lily Beetle

The main pest is red lily beetle, which is illustrated and it is a problem when growing lilies, and it will also attack Fritillaria. It is not a native and first arrived in the UK 1939. Lily beetles are bright red, which makes them easy to see but difficult to catch. They are about 8mm long and are best controlled by hand. There are pesticides such as bug clear, but the non pesticide way is to pick them off. Unchecked, they will eat the plant, so it is necessary either to spray with a bug killer or remove by a swift crushing by fingers, a bit unpleasant, but effective.

To crush the Lily beetle you have to be quick. The lily beetle has a party trick to evade predators. It seems to sense your presence and as soon as it does, it will quickly jump and drop almost to the ground,  hiding amongst the plant foliage. The best way is to be quick, spot it, crush it.

Updated 21.12.2023

Asiatic lily

Dark Maroon Lily Asiatic

This is a lovely Dark Maroon  Asiatic Lily

Stargazer lily

Striped stargazer lily with Crocosmia

A Striped stargazer lily  planted with Crocosmia

White lily

Lily with wild orchid

Nice combination of Lily with wild orchid