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How to grow lilies

How to grow lilies
Here is everything you need to know about growing these fabulous fuss-free flowers
Image: Lily 'Forever Hardy Mix' by Van Meuwen

Lilies add an exotic touch to your garden and many varieties have a powerful, sweet fragrance that’s fantastic on summer evenings. What’s more, they’re very easy to grow and suit borders or containers. Here are our top tips for growing a dazzling display of lilies in your own garden or patio.

Which lily?

Easter lilies
Easter lilies have a wonderful fragrance
Image: Dmitry Naumov

There are many different varieties of lily, but the best known are the Asiatic and Oriental hybrids. Asiatic lilies tend to flower earlier than Oriental lilies and do not normally have any scent. Oriental lilies generally have a very sweet and powerful fragrance.

There are many hybridisations of these types of lilies, from dwarf ground-cover varieties – such as those in our 'Border Lily Collection' – to towering 6ft tree lilies, such as our Pretty Woman Lily. Dwarf lilies are fantastic for window boxes, containers and ground cover, whilst tree lilies add height to borders and patio displays.

Where to plant lilies

yellow lilies
Lilies grow best in sun or light shade
Image: Kisialiou Yury

Hybrid lilies are hardy and will return year after year, so choose a spot in your garden where they won’t be disturbed. Lilies grow best in a sunny position or in light shade; they will not thrive in deep shade.

Asiatic hybrids do well in alkaline soil or in containers filled with either a peat- or coir-based compost. Oriental hybrids need acidic soil, so tend to be grown in containers filled with ericaceous compost rather than in the ground.

All lilies like a rich fertile soil, which is moist but free draining. Before planting your lilies, dig in plenty of well-rotted manure or compost to help improve your soil.

When to plant lilies

Lily bulbs are best planted in late autumn as this gives the bulbs plenty of time to establish before the following summer. You can plant lilies up until early spring, provided you have good quality, large bulbs.

How to plant lilies

group
Plant several bulbs together for a dramatic display
Image: V.Borisov

Plant lilies together in groups for maximum impact. The easiest way is to dig a large hole, allowing enough space for the lily bulbs to be planted about 15cm (6") apart. Many lilies produce stem roots below the soil surface, so make sure you plant your bulbs at a depth of three times the height of the bulb. Planting deeply also protects the bulbs from extreme weather.

Growing lilies in containers

container lilies
Lilies thrive in deep containers
Image: indyeyes

Lilies are just as happy in containers as they are in the ground. Make sure you choose a pot deep enough to accommodate the bulbs at a depth three times their own height, with space for root growth below. As a guide, choose a container at least 25cm (10") deep. Place bulbs more closely together than you normally would, to give a fuller display, spacing them about 5cm (2") apart.

Supporting tall lilies

tall lilies
Stake tall lilies to prevent flower stems from snapping.
Featured: Lily ‘Pretty Woman’ from Van Meuwen

As your lilies grow and flower they can become top-heavy. In windswept areas it's a good idea to stake your lilies to prevent the flower stems from snapping. This isn't necessary for dwarf or groundcover lilies. Take care not to damage the bulbs when inserting stakes – you might prefer to put them in at planting time to be on the safe side. Use soft twine to tie in the lily stems.

Feeding

feed lilies
Feed lilies when they come into flower.
Image: Pelevina Ksinia

Lilies are heavy feeders. As they come into flower, feed them with a high-potassium liquid fertiliser – such as tomato feed – every two weeks. Continue feeding lilies after they have finished flowering to help the bulbs grow and ensure a good display the following year.

Cut flowers

cut lilies
Cut lilies will fill your home with beautiful perfume.
Image: Iona Rut

If you're growing lilies for cut flowers, make sure you always leave a third of the stem intact to help feed the bulb for next year. Don't be tempted to cut back lily stems completely until they have yellowed in the autumn.

Whether you're bringing lilies indoors for cut flowers or growing them in the garden, you may wish to remove their anthers as these contain pollen which stains skin and clothing. The anthers can be removed as soon as flowers open.

Deadheading

deadhead lilies
Deadhead lilies once flowers have faded
Image: Dave Nelson

Deadhead your lilies once blooms have faded to prevent the plants directing their energy into seed production. Break away flowers where their base joins the stem to ensure seed pods are completely removed.

Lily beetle

lily beetle
Lily beetles are beautiful but destructive
Image: thatmacroguy

Keep an eye out for lily beetles in the spring and summer. The bright red adults might look attractive, but they are very destructive, as are their larvae. Lily beetle larvae will quickly devour both leaves and flowers, making a messy display and weakening the bulbs for next year.

Be vigilant and regularly check the underside of leaves for reddish-brown grubs hiding beneath their own black excrement. Remove and crush any lily beetles, larvae or eggs you find. For heavy infestations, insecticides containing acetamiprid or thiacloprid can be used to kill lily beetles. Follow the manufacturer's instructions at all times.

Lifting and dividing

divide bulbs
Divide lily bulbs when foliage has yellowed
Image: Shutterstock

After a few years, your lilies will naturally multiply and will need repotting or digging up and dividing. Do this work in the autumn, just after foliage has yellowed and the bulbs have become dormant.

For container-grown lilies, tip the bulbs out of their pot and gently remove them from the compost. When dividing lilies grown in the ground, lift the bulbs using a garden fork, taking a wide berth around the bulbs so as not to damage them. Once lifted, gently separate the bulbs and replant them following the advice given at the beginning of this article.

Any small bulbs or bulblets can be planted in a nursery bed but may take a few years to start flowering.

And there you have it – everything you need to know about growing these fabulous, fuss-free flowers. If this guide has inspired you to grow lilies in your garden, we’d love to see some pictures of your blooms. Share them on our Facebook page or via Instagram.

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