Lily Planting Guide

“Dozing, not sleeping . . . just resting.” That’s what lily bulbs would whisper if they could. These are one of the few bulbs that are never in a state of full dormancy, never in a really deep winter sleep. In fact, to keep them from sprouting prematurely, lily farmers pack these plump scaly bulbs into big crates cushioned with peat moss and freeze them as solid as a Thanksgiving turkey. When they are allowed to begin to thaw, they start to sprout.

The moral of this story is . . . when your lily bulbs arrive, be ready to plant. They’ll be itching to grow and will not sit quietly on the kitchen counter for 3 or 4 weeks until you find an open Saturday morning to plant. Pushy? Perhaps. Worth making a slight schedule adjustment for? Absolutely.

Choosing a Growing Site

Lilies prefer full sun locations. These perennials will grow in partial shade but won’t produce as many flowers and the plants won’t be as robust. Lilies need soil that drains well. If your chosen site still has puddles a couple hours after a rain, consider another location.

Soil Prep

Loosen the soil to 12- 15”. Deep planting provides stem support for stability and can eliminate the need for stalking. Deeply planted lily bulbs are also less likely to be impacted by soil heat when summer temperatures rise. Enrich the soil with a few handfuls of compost to provide nutrients.

When to Plant Lilies

Plant outdoors in spring when frost danger has past and soil has warmed a bit. These plants are winter hardy once established but during their first spring plant after danger of frost has past. In fall, lily bulbs can be planted at any time the soil can be worked, although a few weeks before hard frosts allows for more root growth.

How to Plant Lily Bulbs

Dig holes 3 times as deep as the bulb is high; i.e. for a bulb that’s 2.5” tall, dig 7-8” deep holes. Place the bulb in the hole with the pointy end facing upwards. This is where the sprout will appear. Fill the hole with soil, pat to eliminate air pockets and water well to settle the soil around the bulb. Plant bulbs 7-9” apart and in groups of 3 to 5 or more for best effect.

During the Season

Lilies need about 1” of water a week; rain, irrigation or a combination of the two. An application of a high potassium fertilizer every couple of weeks from spring through flowering will keep bulbs strong for future performance.

At the Season’s End

Wait until the lily foliage has turned brown in the fall before cutting it. Leaving the stalk and foliage in place helps nourish the bulb. Trim the stem to 3” above the soil line.

Insider Tips

  1. Adding a layer of mulch around your lilies in the late fall helps to delay the ground’s freezing. While the soil is cold, but not frozen, the lily roots will continue to grow.
  2. When cutting lilies for arrangements, try not to take more than one third of the stem. The rest of the stem and attached leaves are needed to nourish the bulb for next year's performance.
  3. With bloom timing that varies by type, you can design a lily garden that is in flower from early summer through frost.
  4. If you have cats that roam your garden and chew foliage, be aware that lilies are toxic to cats.
  5. Lilies are perennials in growing zone where there's winter chill. These plants need a winter cold period to thrive. Check individual varieties for zone recommendations.
  6. Martagons are species lilies and produce smaller bulbs than the hybrids do. These also may take a year to settle in and start blooming. Don't let that dissuade you - they're worth a little wait.
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Success Snapshot

Light: Full sun

Soil: Average

Depth: Plant 6-9" deep depending on bulbs size; bigger bulbs are planted deeper

Water: Average moisture

Uses: Perennial beds, along foundations and fences

Tip: Site to enjoy the delicious fragrance

GUIDE: Lily Planting Guide

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