Erythronium / Trout Lily Planting Guide

Trout lilies, fawn lilies, dog-tooth violets, avalanche lilies or another colorful moniker – what you call these depends on where you live as the names vary regionally. What isn’t up for debate, however, is that these are among the prettiest of spring woodland plants. Thriving in the dappled sunlight under oaks, maples, elms and similar leafy landscapes, trout lilies can be found growing wild in ever-expanding patches the Cascade and Sierra Mountains of the West Coast.

While these plants may not grow wild in your area, provide a site to their liking and you can start your own little patch this fall. Then watch it grow larger and more colorful with each passing spring!

Choosing a Growing Site

Choose a site with dappled sunlight or early day sun. Locations under deciduous trees, particularly those with limbs high enough to let in some light, are ideal. The soil under such trees often has benefited from years of decomposed fallen leaves, making it perfect for trout lilies. These spring bloomers actively grow in the spring and are dormant (and invisible) during the other seasons.

Erthroniums also grow well in east facing gardens that receive early to mid-day sun.

Soil Prep for Trout Lilies

Trout lilies love humusy soil. These plants are happy with soils that are moist in the spring and drier during the summer and fall when the bulbs are dormant.

Pink flowering mahogany trout lilies, erthronium revolutum, are more flexible than some other types and will thrive in average to lightly sandy/rocky soils. Provide these plants with a bit of supplement moisture the first spring to help them establish and they’ll take care of themselves after that.

When to Plant Trout Lilies

Plant in the fall, as soon as you receive your bulbs. Trout lily are distant relatives of garden lilies (Orientals, Asiatics, etc.) and like these more familiar bulbs, erythroniums do not develop hard outer skins that help seal in moisture. Because of this, the bulbs don't do well out of the ground for months on end.

How to Plant Trout Lily Bulbs

Dig holes 6-7” deep and mix a handful or two of compost into the soil you removed. Add a bit of the amended soil back into the holes and plant your bulbs about 5-6” below the soil line. Place the bulb in the hole with the pointed end facing up, fill the hole with soil, pat to eliminate air pockets and water well to settle the soil around the bulb. While there won’t be any visible growth in the fall, the bulb’s roots will be growing and creating a network for absorbing nutrients and moisture. Note: we do not recommend using bone meal as an amendment when you plant these as it can encourage pets and pests to dig up the bulbs you just planted.

Plant a few inches apart. Yellow Pagoda is a variety that tends to develop into sizeable clumps, so planting these bulbs 10” apart allows for future growth.

During the Spring Growing Season

Erythroniums need about 1” of water a week from rain, irrigation or a combination of the two.

At Season’s End

After flowering, your fawn lily leaves will photosynthesize and create food for next year’s show for a short period and then they’ll disappear. The bulbs will go dormant and sleep through the summer. No extra moisture is needed during the summer and, in fact, trout lilies tend to do better without much water. When fall temperatures cool, the bulbs will develop new roots and then wait for spring rains and warmth to prompt the next cycle of growth and blooms.

Insider Tips

  1. Get your trout or fawn lilies in the ground as soon as possible. Bulbs for these plants do not develop a hard outer skin like tulip and daffodils bulb, and can dry out easily.
  2. Plant 3-5 inches apart. For Pagoda, plant a bit further apart, about 10” as these grow into clumps.
  3. Trout lilies and hardy cyclamen make great partners and thrive in similar growing conditions. The trout lilies flower in the spring and the cyclamen bloom in the fall.
  4. Trout lilies develop seed pods after the flowers have gone by. Scatter the fresh seed for more plants and keep an eye out for slender seedlings that look like grass blades.
  5. Sited where they are happy, trout lilies naturalize and expand over time into huge patches that require virtually no care.
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Success Snapshot

Light: Partial shade

Soil: Humusy to average soil

Depth: Plant 5-6” deep

Water: Average moisture, dry in summer and fall is ideal

Uses: Garden beds in warm climates, showy indoor blooms anywhere

Tip: Plant the bulbs upon receipt

GUIDE: Erythronium Planting Guide

They Start Out Looking Like This: