How to Plant, Grow and Care For Lilies

Thinking of adding some lilies to your garden this season, but aren't sure where to start? Lilies are a garden favorite. With their beautiful blooms, and fragrant scents, it's not hard to understand why. In this article, certified master gardener Liz Jaros takes you through all you need to know about growing lilies in your garden, including their maintenance and care needs.

Lily growing in garden with red tipped flower petals

A joy to the senses when they flower in mid to late summer, lilies are prized for their showy, colorful blooms, vertical stature, and complex scents. Pass a cluster of these exotic beauties on a walk through the park and they’re sure to grab your attention. Plant a group of these beautiful flowers in your own yard, and the neighbors will be prying you for gardening tips.

But the truth is, despite having unique, oversized personalities, lilies are actually quite easy to grow. Explore the differences between the plant group’s nine horticultural categories before making your selections, and you’ll be ahead of the game.

Get to know a bit about the lily’s history, growing requirements, usage, and maintenance, and you’ll be off to a great start.

Lily Plant Overview

An orange lily growing with bright orange petals and green foliage in the background.
Plant Type Bulb, perennial
Family Liliaceae
Genus Lilium
Native Area Asia, Europe
Hardiness Zone 3-9
Season Mid-late summer
Exposure Full sun to part shade
Plant Spacing 8-12 inches
Planting Depth 4-6 inches
Height 2-6 feet
Watering Requirements Even, Regular
Pests Beetles, thrips, aphids
Diseases Rot, Botrytis, Mosaic
Maintenance Low
Soil Type Well-drained, pH 6-6.5
Plant With Russian sage, cranesbill
Attracts Hummingbirds, butterflies, bees
Bloom Time Early summer all the way through fall

Cultivation

Close-up of a yellow blooming lily on a green blurred background. The flower is large, tubular in shape, consists of six large oblong petals of bright yellow color with brown-burgundy freckles closer to the center. Long yellow stamens with red anthers protrude from the center of the flower.
The genus Lilium has many types of perennials in almost all colors.

The Lilium genus includes roughly 100 species of flowering perennials ranging in height from 2 to 6 feet. Its signature blooms come in just about every color imaginable,  including red, yellow, pink, orange, and white, and feature six narrow, reflexive petals. Flowers can be bowl, trumpet, or bell-shaped and range in size from 3 to 10 inches.

Lily stems are singular and feature narrow, strappy leaves arranged in a whorled pattern from bottom to top. Most species are hardy in zones 3 to 9, but some lily varieties are more sensitive to extreme hot and/or cold temperatures.

A true lily grows from a scaly yellow or white bulb and can survive cold winters in the ground. Bulbs do not require complete dormancy in order to thrive and will bloom reliably for many years to come.

Lily flowers are often confused with the daylily or the amaryllis, which have similar profiles but are actually members of another genus. Foliage on those groups will be larger and longer with habits that are fountain-like rather than spoke-like.

Classification

With so many variations in character and bloom time, the genus can be overwhelming to even the most seasoned gardener.

To help illuminate some key distinctions and aid in proper identification, the North American Lily Society recognizes nine horticultural divisions. A quick look at each group will help you sort through your options and make informed selections for your own gardens.

Asiatic Hybrids

Asian lily on a dark background. The flower is large, 6-petalled, open with protruding long pale green stamens. The petals are white with abundant dark burgundy strokes in the center of the petals.
This is an early flowering variety with the widest color range of flowers.
  • Origin: Eastern and Central Asia
  • Hardiness Zone: 3-8
  • Height: 1-5 feet
  • Bloom Time: Mid-summer
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade

Stems are 3-4 feet tall, and blooms are 4-5 inches wide on lilies in this category. The earliest to bloom and the most cold tolerant, Asiatic lilies come in the broadest array of colors and typically face upward.

Flowers are mostly unscented, which is a plus if you’re mixing an Asiatic lily in with other stronger-smelling lilies. Smaller varieties can be grown in containers. All cultivars in this group make long-lasting cut flowers.

Martagon Hybrids (Turk’s Cap Lilies)

Close-up of a blooming Martagon Hybrids lily against a green blurred background. The flowers are small, hanging down, reminiscent of a turban. The flower consists of 6 outward-curved bright yellow petals with burgundy freckles that expose protruding stamens from the center of the flower.
Martagon lilies are shade-tolerant plants that produce small hanging flowers with outward-curved petals.
  • Origin: Asia, Europe
  • Hardiness Zone: 3-9
  • Height: 3-6 feet
  • Bloom Time: Mid-summer
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade

One of the most shade-tolerant groups, Martagon lilies feature numerous small flowers that droop downward and resemble a turban or ‘Turk’s Cap.’ Yellow, orange, red, pink, lavender, and white are the most common colors on this early blooming variety. Petals frequently have speckled surfaces.

Martagon lilies can be a little persnickety in their first couple of years but will thrive in subsequent seasons. Blooms are mildly fragrant and look natural near the forest’s edge or in dappled shade. Do not plant in areas that will receive hot afternoon sun.

Candidum LIlies (Madonna Lilies)

Close-up of blooming Candidum lilies in a sunny garden against a blurred background. Large white flowers clustered on a tall green stem. The flowers are tubular, composed of 6 petals and prominent stamens with orange anthers from the centers.
Candidum lilies have tubular flowers with an intense fragrance.
  • Origin: Balkans, Middle East
  • Hardiness Zone: 6-9
  • Height: 4-6 feet
  • Bloom Time: Early summer
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade

Members of this group are heirloom lilies derived from species that date back to 4,000 years. The nickname ‘Madonna Lily’ reflects the Christian association between lilies and purity. 

Candidum lilies make up the least populous horticultural group. Flowers are trumpet-shaped and plentiful, with each stem producing up to 20 flowers that are 2-3 inches long. Lilies in this class have an intense fragrance and prefer soil that’s on the dry side. Stems are thick and extra strong.

American Hybrid Lilies

Close-up of a blooming American Hybrid Lilies against a slit blurred background. A black beautiful butterfly sits on a hanging flower. The flower is small, with petals curved outward, exposing long stamens. The petals are creamy yellow at the base and bright orange towards the edges. Lots of brown freckles on the petals. The leaves are dark green, ribbon-shaped, long, flat with pointed ends.
American Hybrid Lilies produce large flowers with a cream base and orange petals.
  • Origin: North America
  • Hardiness Zone: 4-9
  • Height: 5-7 feet
  • Bloom Time: Early-mid-summer
  • Sun Exposure: Part shade

Derived from wild lilies that are native to North America, members of this group will spread by clumping and should be considered for natural areas where you’d like your lilies to colonize.

American Hybrid lilies bloom early in warmer zones and slightly later in cooler zones. Flowers are extra large, typically featuring white to cream-colored petals with yellow to orange bases, and they curl back strongly to reveal long, colorful anthers.

Longiflorum Hybrids (Easter Lilies)

Close-up of blooming Longiflorum Hybrids (Easter Lilies) lilies in a garden against a blue sky. The 5 large, tubular, pure white flowers are clustered at the top of a dark green stem covered with long, narrow, ribbon-like leaves. Flowers have 6 white petals and greenish throats.
Easter lilies bloom with tubular pure white flowers.
  • Origin: Japan, Taiwan
  • Hardiness Zone: 4-8
  • Height: 2-3 feet
  • Bloom Time: Mid-late summer
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun

Flowers in this group are typically pure white and oversized at 6 to 7 inches wide. Blooms are trumpet-shaped and face outward, but not downward, like a pendant. Easter lilies are popular gifts and are most commonly featured in containers, but they can be grown directly in the soil as well.

While Easter lilies are not likely to perennialize in zones lower than 4, they are one of the few bulb plants that can be forced into early bloom for late winter enjoyment in the house and then transplanted into the garden when the weather warms.

Trumpet and Aurelian Hybrids

White tubular lilies with yellow and purple hues (tube hybrids) are blooming in the garden. The flowers are large, tubular, with petals that are white on the inside and purple and yellow on the outside of the flower. The flowers have yellow throats and prominent yellow stamens.
Lilies of this class are characterized by tall, large, waxy flowers that need full sun.
  • Origin: Asia, Europe
  • Hardiness Zone: 5-8
  • Height: 3-7 feet
  • Bloom Time: Late summer
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun

Lilies in the Trumpet and Aurelian class are tall and imposing, with extra large, waxy blooms flaring out like brass horns. With willowy stems and some varieties maxing out at heights of 7 feet, many of these guys will require staking to prevent breakage.

Unlike some of their lily peers, members of this group need full sun and will not do well unless they get at least 6 hours. When properly deadheaded, some will produce a second flush of buds for a particularly long bloom time.

Oriental Lilies

Close-up of flowering Oriental Lilies surrounded by large, oval, dark green, vertically veined leaves. The flower is large, bright pink with white edges and dark pink freckles on the petals.
Oriental Lilies have magnificent large bright flowers with a strong sweet aroma.
  • Origin: Eastern Asia
  • Hardiness Zone: 4-9
  • Height: 3-5 feet
  • Bloom Time: Late summer
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade

Blooming late in the season when other lily varieties are just about finished, Oriental lilies are similar to Asiatic in form but have a lighter, sweeter scent. They are also a bit more delicate and may require more of your attention.

Known for their strong fragrance, Oriental lily flowers can be up to 8 inches wide and are commonly included in floral arrangements. Flowers in this class require a bit more acidity than most other lilies, so do a pH test before planting directly in your soil.

Interdivisional Lilies

Close-up of a blooming Interdivisional Lilies flower against a green blurred background. The flower is large, tubular, has bright yellow petals with dark red strokes in the middle of each petal. Dark red freckles on the petals.
Interdivisional Lilies include lily hybrids from other groups.
  • Origin: Varies
  • Hardiness Zone: 3-9
  • Height: 3-6 feet
  • Bloom Time: Mid-summer
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade

This is a catch-all category that includes lilies hybridized from the previous seven groups. Interdivisional lilies are the result of horticultural selection and experimentation with the best characteristics from two or more other divisions. Flowers range broadly in height, scent, and bloom size.

Species Lilies

Close-up of a red lily of the Species Lilies group. The flower is large, tubular, bright red with a yellow center and long protruding red stamens.
These lilies are found on mountaintops and in swamps.
  • Origin: Varies
  • Hardiness Zone: 3-10
  • Height: Varies
  • Bloom Time: Varies
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade

Members of this group are the wild ancestors from which lilies in all other categories are descended. They can be found on mountaintops and in bogs, along highways, and in jungles.

They spread easily by seed in their natural environments but don’t take particularly well to being cultivated in the ornamental garden. Heights, bloom times, and flower characteristics vary wildly within this group.

Propagation

Once lilies are established in your garden, chances are pretty good you’re going to want some more. The good news is lilies will naturally reproduce new offsets below ground, which means you’re going to get more whether you like it or not.

They also produce bulbils on their leaf axils that can be nurtured into mature plants, bulb scales that can be nudged into reproduction, and seeds that can be harvested for direct sowing. Let’s look at the five primary ways to propagate lilies.

Leave Them Alone

Close-up of blooming lilies in a flower bed in the garden along with rose bushes. Lilies have tall stems with ribbon-like dark green leaves and large tubular flowers. The flowers are large, peach and yellow. The rose plant blooms with hot pink and soft pink double flowers.
Lilies can produce offset bulbs causing the lilies to self-divide and propagate.

If left to their own devices, lilies will produce offset bulbs from which new lilies will grow. After initially planting a single lily, you’ll likely see 2 to 3 new lilies pop up in subsequent seasons. This is the plant’s self-division process at work.

Divide Bulblets

Close-up of 4 lily bulbs in female hands dressed in black gardening gloves. The bulbs are large, purple in color, rounded in shape with an uneven scaly structure, long white roots and white-pink shoots.
If your lilies are getting crowded, dig up the bulbs and separate them into several new plants.

A few more years down the road, you might notice that stems are more plentiful but significantly shorter and with diminished bloom production. This means they’re getting crowded, and it’s time to dig them up and separate them into several new plants. These are the steps:

Bulblet Division Steps

  1. Begin in fall after blooming is complete.
  2. Use a pitchfork or a careful shovel.
  3. Lift the entire lily clump from the ground and lay it down on a tarp.
  4. Remove as much dirt as possible.
  5. Look for new bulbs (bulblets) growing off the original.
  6. They will be narrower and not as robust.
  7. Using your hand or a sharp knife, twist the bulblet.
  8. Break it off from the mother bulb.
  9. It should contain a bit of root tissue and possibly a stem.
  10. Replant immediately in a new location.

Harvest Bulbils

Close-up of a gardener's hand holding small black lily bulbils against a blurred background of a blooming orange lily in a garden. The bulbils are small, round, and black.
Another way to propagate lilies is to plant their bulbils.

Lilies can also be reproduced by removing and planting their bulbils – mini bulbs that form from tissue along the stem. Here’s how it’s done:

Harvesting Steps

  1. After flowering is complete, look for small, mini-bulbs.
  2. Find the buds at leaf axil points (where the leaf meets the stem).
  3. They will be dark brown when they’re ready.
  4. Using your fingers, pluck bulbils off the stem.
  5. Plant bulbils shallowly in a container.
  6. You can also plant in a 2-3 inch trough.
  7. Plant them with root hairs pointing downward.
  8. Water gently until sprouts have emerged.
  9. Follow standard lily care/maintenance instructions from this point on.

Grow from scales

Close-up of scales from a lily bulb in a transparent round container on a black background. Scales of various shapes are pinkish in color with white germinated roots on top.
Separate loose and flaky scales from the mother bulb and wait until root hairs form there.

New lilies can also be produced by coaxing bulb scales into producing more bulbils. Here’s how you do it:

How to Coax Bulb Scales

  1. Begin in fall after blooming is complete.
  2. Use a pitchfork or a careful shovel.
  3. Lift the entire lily clump from the ground and lay it down on a tarp.
  4. Examine the mother bulb for scales that are loose and flaky.
  5. Twist or peel off a few scales, taking care not to damage the main bulb.
  6. Place each scale in a plastic ziplock bag.
  7. Fill it loosely with peat moss, newspaper, or vermiculite.
  8. Spritz with water occasionally to keep the growing medium damp but not wet.
  9. Check after a few weeks for the formation of new bulbils.
  10. When they have some root hairs, they are ready to be transplanted.
  11. Plant bulbils shallowly in a container or in a 2-3 inch trough.
  12. Ensure root hairs point downward.
  13. Water gently until sprouts have emerged.
  14. Follow standard lily care/maintenance instructions from this point on.

Grow From Seed

Close-up of a woman's palm with lily seeds. Seeds are black, withered, oval, flat.
Lilies grown from seed can take a year or more to bloom.

Lilies can be grown successfully from seed, but keep in mind that there are great variations in how long it will take for them to be productive. Some lilies will flower within a year or two, but others will take up to seven years before blooms are produced.

With that said, it is certainly an economical option for gardeners with patience and optimism. Here are the steps:

Seed Growing Steps

  1. Look for seed pods near the top of stems.
  2. Find them where lily flowers have faded or fallen off.
  3. Pluck pods off in fall when they are browning and slightly open.
  4. Crack them open completely and remove seeds.
  5. For best results, sow them immediately. Do not refrigerate.
  6. Sow seeds directly outside in a row or in a container.
  7. Seeds can also be sown inside and later transplanted.
  8. Shoots will grow slowly and erratically.
  9. Transplant most viable plants to desired location in the 2nd or 3rd season.
  10. Follow standard lily care/maintenance instructions from this point on.

Planting

Close-up of a gardener's hands in green gardening gloves planting a white lily bulb in the soil. In one hand, the gardener holds a green plastic garden shovel, and in the other hand, he holds a rounded white bulb stuck into the loose soil. Two more white bulbs with white roots lie on the ground next to the planted bulb.
Plant lily bulbs at a depth of about three times the height of the bulb.

Lilies are relatively easy to grow if you follow some basic guidelines. Like most bulbs, the best time to plant is in fall, when the season is winding down, but there is still time to establish roots. Since hardiness varies greatly among lily species, however, you’ll want to make sure you’re planting a variety that can handle your zone’s average winter temperatures.

Most lilies are hardy between 3 and 9, but some will only perennialize in zones 6-10. If you’re living in the upper Midwest and want to grow a Trumpet or Aurelian hybrid, you may want to plant in early spring and accept that your lily will likely only last for one season. It may also be that you ran out of gas last fall and still want to work some colorful lilies into the landscape. And that’s fine too. It’s not too late.

Whether planting in fall or spring, begin by loosening the soil about 12-15 inches down. This will give your lilies’ roots some room to ramble and spread. Generally speaking, lily bulbs should be planted at a depth that’s roughly three times as deep as the bulb is tall. So if your bulb is 2 inches tall, plant it around 6 inches deep.

Lilies look best when planted in groups or bundles rather than rows, especially if you plan to cut some of them for indoor arrangements. And while they can grow just fine as a single specimen, they typically look more natural when surrounded or fronted by other less leggy garden friends.

Give them plenty of space in between to account for expansion in future seasons and to discourage the occurrence of powdery mildew and/or other airflow issues. A distance of 8-12 inches between plants is the standard recommendation. A little more can’t hurt.

Planting in Containers

Yellow flowers growing in container on porch. They sit in full sun, and there are dozens of bright yellow blooms.
These popular flowers can also be successfully planted in containers.

Lilies can also be planted successfully in pots. The same rules apply. Just make sure you’re choosing a variety that does not get so tall that it topples your container or looks out of proportion. Stems will also be more prone to breakage in an exposed pot, so look for varieties that are short(ish) and sturdy.

Make sure your bulb’s pointed end is facing up. Bulb bases will be flatter and likely have some visible root hairs. The pointed end is the location from which stems will sprout. Top fill your holes loosely, water evenly, and forget about them until mid-summer.

How to Grow

While growing lilies does not require a high level of horticultural precision, they do have some general likes and dislikes. Pay attention to the following preferences, and you’ll be giving them the best start possible.

Light

Close-up of a blooming yellow lily in full sun in a green garden. The flowers are large, tubular, bright yellow with burgundy freckles and protruding long stamens with red anthers.
Lilies prefer to grow in full sun, but some varieties can tolerate some shade.

Most lilies require full sun, so make sure they receive at least 6 hours a day. Hours do not need to be consecutive, but they must total 6. Lilies also prefer morning sun to hot afternoon sun, so an ideal location would have southeast exposure rather than southwest. Or at least offer some shade later in the day.

Some varieties will tolerate a bit more shade than others without getting leggy and weak, but others might not flower at all without full sun.

Species lilies, which are wild and woodland plants, enjoy considerably less sun and will do well under a dappled tree canopy. It’s wise to check your nursery tag and do a little research before siting a particular variety of lily.

Soil

Close-up of lily sprouts emerging from loose soil in spring in a garden. The sprouts have many clustered oval, pointed, dark green leaves.
Plant lilies in beds with well-drained soil and a pH should be somewhere between 6 and 6.5.

Lilies demand well-drained soil since bulbs are susceptible to rot and mold. A bed that holds standing water or has a clay-heavy makeup should be eliminated from consideration.

Soil content should be crumbly and have plenty of organic material worked into it. If you don’t have well-drained beds, consider a raised bed or an alternate location for your lilies.

Soil should be slightly acidic for most lily varieties. A soil test should reveal a pH value of somewhere between 6 and 6.5, ideally.

The exception to this rule is Martagon lilies, which prefer a neutral to slightly alkaline soil content. Again, research your specific variety for its unique preferences before planting.

Water

Close-up of watering orange lilies in a garden on a blurred background. Lilies have small hanging bright orange flowers with petals curved outward, and protruding long stamens.
Lilies need frequent watering during the flowering period.

Lilies require consistent watering from early spring through bloom time, but again, do not overwater them. Soil should never be completely dry, but it should not ever puddle. This is where good gardening judgment comes into play.

After blooming, watering should be minimal unless there is a period of extreme drought. Bulbs are particularly vulnerable to rot and fungus during the energy storage phase of growth, so care must be taken to keep them dry but not parched for the rest of the season.

Climate

Close-up of blooming Orange Electric lilies in a sunny garden. The flowers are large, tubular, with 6 long, ivory oval petals with orange strokes in the center of each petal, forming a starburst with brown freckles.
Lilies grow well in zones 3-9.

Lilies are partial to climates that have warm summers and cold winters. Most varieties will not do well in regions with extreme humidity. The genus does not require complete dormancy, but temperatures should dip below 65 degrees during a good chunk of winter to keep them from prematurely sprouting.

Most lilies are hardy from zone 4 to zone 8, with some species extending down into zone 3 and others reaching up into zones 9 and 10.

Asiatic and Martagon hybrids are good options for colder parts of the world, while Candidum and Trumpet/Aurelian hybrids are good choices for warmer zones.

Temperature

Close-up of bright orange Asiatic lilies blooming in a flower bed in a garden. The flowers are large, tubular, 6-petalled, with dark orange hues in the center of each petal and with small brown speckles towards the centers of the flowers.
Almost all lilies perfectly tolerate negative temperatures and tolerate heat up to 90 degrees.

Most lilies tolerate below-zero temperatures just fine and can tolerate heat up to about 90 degrees. In warmer regions, gardeners typically plant lily bulbs a few inches deeper than normal to provide a cooler environment for roots and bulbs.

Both bulbs and established, nursery-grown lilies can be planted in the landscape any time the ground is workable.

Location

Orange lilies growing under a white fence in a summer garden. The flowers are large, grouped in threes on tall thin stems with ribbon-like long leaves at the base. The flowers are tubular, orange-yellow with prominent long stamens.
Choose places to plant lilies near buildings or fences to protect them from strong winds.

Since lilies are tall and singular in nature, they should not be planted in open areas where strong winds might be a problem. Choose locations near buildings or fences that will provide some protection, and your lilies will be much happier.

Again, shoot for beds with at least 6 hours of sun (for all but Species group lilies), and shoot for morning versus afternoon rays if possible. If lilies will have western exposure, try to give them some shade late in the day.

Fertilization

Close-up of blooming lilies in a blooming garden against a blurred background of yellow lilies. The flowers are large, tubular, white-orange, with 6 white petals with a purple tint on the outside and an orange-red glow inside. Long greenish stamens with dark red anthers protrude from the centers of the flowers. The leaves are oval, ribbon-shaped, dark green with vertical veins.
If you are going to fertilize your lilies, use a high-potassium fertilizer to encourage strong roots and flowering.

Lilies grown in quality soil do not require supplemental feeding but may benefit from an early application of a fertilizer that’s high in potassium.

Choose an NPK ratio of 5-10-5 to encourage strong roots and blooms without stimulating aggressive foliage and stem growth. Repeat once a month if necessary until blooming is complete, following manufacturer’s directions for application. 

If an organic feeding regimen is preferred, fish or bone meal granules can be worked into the soil in early spring at a ratio of 5 pounds per 100 square feet.

Maintenance

Although lilies are relatively low-maintenance perennials, there are a few routine garden tasks you can perform to increase their longevity and encourage their brilliance.

Mulch

Top view, close-up of blooming lilies against the background of mulch in the garden. The flowers are large, bright pink with white spots in the middle of each petal closer to the center of the flower. The leaves are dark green, thin, flat, with pointed ends.
Lilies prefer cold roots, so the soil at the base of the plant is best covered with mulch.

Since lilies like cool roots below ground and sunny stalks above ground, it’s important to keep them mulched with 2-3 inches of organic material.

Mixed hardwood, pine straw, hay, or even piled leaves will help keep bulbs from overheating in summer and freezing through in winter.

Stakes

Close-up of a field of blooming white lilies against a backdrop of pink lilies in full sun. Plants are tall, have large white tubular flowers with prominent green stamens with red anthers. Plants have additional supports in the form of wooden sticks.
Some lilies need additional support, such as stakes or canes.

Lily varieties with mature heights of over 3 feet will benefit from staking or hooping to keep them upright. Insert stakes or canes about 6 inches from the plant’s base when shoots are young and immature, and attach them loosely with ties or twine. A peony hoop can also be used to encircle lilies as they grow and keep things vertical.

Deadheading

Gardener deadheading lilies in the garden. Women's hands cut off a faded lily with secateurs in the garden. The woman is wearing a blue and red long dress. The plant has strong green stems and oval, oblong, dark green leaves with tapered ends and parallel veins.
It is recommended to remove wilted lily flowers so that the roots direct all the nutrients to the bulbs.

Although lilies will only bloom once, spent flowers should be removed promptly to discourage the roots from wasting energy on seed creation.

This will direct all nutrients to the bulbs, where next year’s blooms will evolve after this year’s flower cycle is complete.

Cutback

Close-up of large secateurs cutting brown stems and leaves of lilies in the autumn garden. The stems are thick, purple-brown. The leaves are brown-gold, dry, long.
When the leaves and stems of your lilies are completely brown, you can cut them down to ground level.

Lilies will continue to photosynthesize and store energy right up until the bitter end, so it’s important to leave stems and leaves in place.

When they have turned completely brown, typically after the first hard frost, you can cut them down to ground level and compost (if foliage is healthy).

Division

Close-up of excavated Crinum lily plants in the gardener's hands in a sunny garden. The plants have large rounded bulbs with long white-yellow long roots and thick green stems covered with long, flat, ribbon-like leaves.
If you notice decreased bloom intensity of your lilies, you need to dig them up and divide them to form new plants.

Since lilies reproduce asexually from their base with new bulblets, they will crowd themselves out every three or four years. You’ll start to notice decreased bloom intensity or stem height and maybe a dead zone in the center of a clump.

When this happens, dig up the whole plant and break the bulblets off to form new plants. Replant the existing lily and find a sunny spot for some new ones!

Popular Varieties

With thousands of lily cultivars and hybrids to choose from, the selection process can feel a bit overwhelming. If you get to know the nine horticultural divisions commonly used to differentiate them, it might help narrow your choices down a bit.

After that, take a spin through your local nursery. The lilies they feature will most likely be tried and true varieties that are novice-friendly. Here are a few to consider:

Easter Lily

Close-up of blooming lilies Lilium longiflorum 'White American' in the garden. The flowers are large, tubular, white with slightly curved ends of the petals outwards. Long stamens with golden anthers protrude from the centers of the flowers. The leaves are dark green, elongated, thin, with narrowed ends.
‘White American’ produces large tubular flowers with creamy white petals and golden yellow anthers.
Scientific Name: Lilium longiflorum ‘White American’

This familiar plant has 5-inch, trumpet-shaped flowers that droop and arch outward like a flared horn. Petals are creamy white with a papery texture and reflex slightly to reveal golden yellow anthers.

Foliage and stems are dark and max out at 2-4 feet, requiring staking for support. As an added bonus, Easter Lily can be planted in the yard after flowers have faded.

It will not bloom again this summer, but next year it should return. Flowers in this class are only suitable for perennial growth in zones 5-8

Stargazer lily

Close-up of a blooming lily orientalis ‘Stargazer’ in a summer garden. The flowers are large, bright pink, with medium veins of dark pink color, covered with freckles. A greenish-white star shape forms in the center of the flower and long stamens with golden anthers protrude.
‘Stargazer’ produces gorgeous hot pink flowers with deep pink freckles and star-shaped centers.
Scientific Name: Lilium orientalis ‘Stargazer’

You may have heard of this one also, as it’s fairly popular in contemporary landscapes. Stargazer is a popular pink lily cultivar, that commonly features oversized pink blooms that face up toward the sky. This cultivar can also bloom in yellow or white.

Petals are darker near the midribs and often freckled with dark spots near the margins. They arch back to reveal star-shaped centers and rust-colored anthers. Stargazer reaches heights of 3-4 feet and features a strong, spicy scent.

Tiger Lily

Close-up of a blooming lily lancifolium ‘Splendens’ against a blurred green background. The flower is small, hanging, consists of bright orange petals, twisted back, covered with black-brown spots. Long, orange stamens with brown-red anthers protrude from the center of the flower.
‘Splendens’ produces bright orange flowers with black-brown spots.
Scientific Name: Lilium lancifolium ‘Splendens’

This common lily has bright orange flower petals with black-brown spots that read like an animal print. They curl backward on 5-inch, unscented blooms that droop downward. Blossoms are plentiful and long-lasting, with each 3-4 foot plant producing 20-25 each season.

Cultivars from the Tiger Lily family are often confused with the Orange Ditch Lily, which is actually a member of the daylily family (Hemerocallis). 

But ditch lilies have foliage that grows from the base, flowers that face upward and only bloom for one day, and no spots. They spread through tuberous roots and are considered invasive in some regions.

Casa Blanca Lily

Close-up of blooming 'Casa Blanca' lilies in a summer garden with a green garden in the background. The flowers are large white, cup-shaped, petals with slightly wavy edges. Oblong, greenish stamens with red anthers protrude from the centers of the flowers. The leaves are oval, dark green, matte with parallel veins.
‘Casa Blanca’ blooms with elegant white cup-shaped flowers with a great aroma.
Scientific Name: Lilium ‘Casa Blanca

This Oriental class lily is much beloved all over the world for obvious reasons. On 3-4 foot stems with dark green foliage, elegant white, bowl-shaped flowers emit an intoxicating fragrance. Petals curl back slightly to reveal extra long, rust-colored anthers.

A popular choice for white or ‘moon’ gardens, Casa Blanca also makes a great cut flower and lasts long in a vase. Stems may require staking.

Pests & Diseases

As always, prevention is the best medicine for insect and disease problems in the lily world. With proper planting and maintenance, lilies are rather resilient and do not suffer from a whole lot of ailments. There are a few pests and diseases to watch out for, however. Here’s a quick look at the most common:

Botrytis

Close-up of a lily plant affected by the fungal disease Botrytis in a sunny garden. The plant has a tall yellow stem with long thin and narrow brown-yellow leaves.
Botrytis is a fungal disease that occurs mainly in regions with high humidity.

A fungal disease that’s typically the result of poor draining soil, damaged bulbs, or excessive nitrogen use, botrytis is often a problem for lily growers in regions with high levels of humidity.

Look for gray mold spores on leaves and flowers as well as weak, discolored, or wilting stems. Buds may fail to open, and tissue may have a fuzzy texture.

To prevent botrytis from afflicting your lilies, direct irrigation at their bases rather than their foliage or blooms, and water in the morning rather than night. Keep beds tidy, as botrytis can be spread from the petals or leaves of other plants in your garden.

Unfortunately, once a plant is affected by this fungus, it will not recover and should be disposed of promptly.

Basal Rot

A close-up of a lily plant affected by the fungal disease Basal Rot against a backdrop of healthy green plants in a garden. The plant has a tall pale yellow stem with long pale yellow leaves with brown tips and brown spots on the leaf surfaces.
Basal Rot is a root rot that attacks the bulb of the plant and is characterized by dull, yellow, and wilted leaves.

Another fungal condition, basal rot, attacks the bulb plate first. This means the attack is happening underground, and you’re not likely to notice until it’s too late.

Dull-colored, yellow, or wilting foliage are often the first signs of this disease. Stunted growth, bud failure, and sudden death are also indications of basal rot. When excavated, bulbs will be dark and soft. Roots may have brown tips and be slimy in texture.

To prevent basal rot, water conservatively to prevent fungal conditions, and mulch beds to keep soil temperatures from getting too hot. Keep tools clean, as fungus spreads easily from species to species.

Promptly remove affected plants and their surrounding soil, as lilies will not recover from this disease.

Viruses

Close-up of a blooming lily, lily mosaic virus damaged or TBV in a sunny garden. The flower is large, cup-shaped, consists of 6 petals with slightly curved edges and protruding long bright red stamens. The petals are deep orange with irregular stripes and spots of red.
Various spots and stripes on both flowers and foliage indicate the presence of viral activity.

Lilies are vulnerable to a handful of viruses that are typically spread by piercing-sucking insects like thrips and aphids. Look for twisted, stunted growth or reduced bud production, as well as streaking, mottling, or splotching on leaves and blooms to indicate the presence of viral activity.

Always purchase or acquire new lilies from a reputable source, as viruses can be present even at the seed or bulb stage of growth. Manage pest populations to reduce spread, and sanitize tools between plants.

Lily Leaf Beetle

Close-up of a Lily Leaf Beetle on a green leaf. The beetle is bright red in color with a black head, antennae, legs, and undersurface. The leaves are large, bright green in color, slightly damaged by the beetle along the edges.
The Lily Leaf Beetle is the largest pest that feeds on leaves leaving behind plucked holes and defoliated leaves.

Aside from piercing and sucking insects that will often spread disease, the lily’s biggest pest is the lily leaf beetle. Native to Asia but accidently brought to North America, this insect has become an increasing problem for lily gardeners in the last 20 years or so.

Signs of damage include stripped or defoliated leaves, typically happening very quickly. Adult female beetles have rounded red tops and black bottoms and lay up to 450 eggs, which are tiny and orange/brown in color. The larvae immediately begin chewing through lily leaves and can do a lot of damage in just a few weeks.

Controlling the lily leaf beetle is challenging. With daily patrols and aggressive hand-picking, some populations can be managed manually, but it must be done with urgency. Some luck can also be had with neem oil and/or spinosad products.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are lilies toxic to cats?

Yes, all parts of the lily contain a poison that can cause kidney failure.

Which lilies smell the best?

Oriental lilies have the strongest and most pleasant scent.

Can indoor lilies be transplanted outside?

Yes! Just wait until the end of the season.

Final Thoughts

Now that you know a bit more about this unique flower, consider working some lilies into your landscape next season. Gardeners in cooler regions will want to avoid Trumpet, Aurelian, and Candidum divisions, as these will not perennialize in parts of the world that receive extreme winter temperatures.

Decide if you want a showstopper or a supporting player in the garden, as some varieties are more exotic than others. Consider working lilies into the back or middle of a mixed perennial bed, as their long legs will not offer flowers and will benefit from some protection.

And finally, choose colors that will complement your existing summer palette. Lilies can range in hue from pale pastels to spicy reds and everything in between. Working them into an established garden can be tricky and should be done with care. But it’ll be worth the effort!

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