How to Grow Lilies

Lilies are an easy to grow summer flowering plant with large, showy, and often fragrant flowers, which make a fantastic statement in the border. Lilies are perennial and will return each year in suitable growing conditions. 

Confusingly there are a lot of different types of Lilies,  The most cultivated and common for the garden are:

  1. L. Regale first image top left,
  2. Oriental  lilies shown in the second image,
  3. Ilustrated right the Martagon, Turkscap lily, where the petals recurve creating a very attractive flower shape.  

Lilies are grown for their showy flowers, many of which are scented, and often strongly scented. Lily regale (1st image left)  has very fragrant flowers, and as you can see in the image each flower stem supporting  several flowers. Lilies make great companion plants and look good grown in mixed borders. The 2nd centre image shows Lilies in a border with Phlox, Achillea and Monarda, the friendly bee balm. 

Where and When to plant Lilies

Lilies are generally easy to grow and thrive best in a sunny spot, or in dappled shade, with well-drained soil and are also suitable to grow in the border or in pots. Lilies in containers are useful to fill gaps in the borders, and on a patio, where their lovely scent can be enjoyed.

Lily are bulbs best planted in the autumn, to a depth two and a half /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 will  grow in any soil, but if your soil is heavy, Lilies will benefit from added 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 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 to extreme such as wet soil, which will cause the bulb to rot over winter, and dry poor soil which will result in a poor how of flowers. All Lilies like a rich soil and will benefit from feeding. 

One point to note is that the RSPCA has stated that all parts of the Lily can be poisonous to cats. Also worth noting is that lilies can be short-lived, which is true of a number of garden plants. After 2/3 seasons the blooms become less and it is often best to replace them. Taller varieties may benefit from staking. Regular feeding will improve flowering and longevity in the growing season. Use a feed high in Potash which will be marketed as promoting flower growth. 

If growing lilies in containers, to ensure you can plant them at the requisite depth of 10cms, the container needs to be at least 30cms to provide a good cool root run which will not easily dry out. If growing in containers, it is best to repot annually, or at least every two years. Container grown lilies will require regular feeding. If your soil is very heavy clay, it may be better to grow lilies in containers. 

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.

Plants that look good with lilies

Lilies are a versatile garden plant which look good with many plants which the above centre image shows well.  Equally Lilies make a great statement planting on their own, (image left) also look excellent with Nepeta  which would create clouds of blue around the base where Lilies can be bare; alongside Cotinus 'Royal Purple' providing contrast between the dark red- purple foliage of the shrub and the white light lily.

The 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 29.09.2021