Plant and Seed Shop

Lily Bulbs - Lilies

Hardy bulbs - Plant in early spring, flower July to September

Buy lilies

Lilies almost define gardening for me and why I bother with it. Mainly I like the infinite shades of green that my garden provides and I'd rather have a shapely and elegant foliage plant than one that flowers but is fussy with it. Lilies are the exception that proves the rule. I like big plants, big leaves and big flowers, I like show-offs that can carry it off. If someone shouts "Look at me, look at me" I expect them to be worth looking at at.

Lilies are all of that and more - they are botanical show-offs par excellence. They force you to look - and if you aren't looking, they get your attention by their fragrance until you turn to see.

Huge showy flowers with big wobbly anthers and a large stigma they are the flowers that you will show off to your friends more than any others (and get the most compliments for) and be the ones you just have to go and see more often than any others in your garden - I like lilies!

Even lily buds are impressive, more impressive than many opened flowers. If you've only ever bought these from the florist or supermarket, then grow your own and not only will you have the perfumed beauty on your doorstep or patio, but you'll be more pleased than with anything you've ever grown.


Lilies produce large scented flowers on the top of stout stems, they still need support however, so tie them in as they grow and as the buds begin to form, especially if they are as large as the tree lilies to the right. Otherwise the weight of rain and wind can cause them to topple.

Buy tree lilies

Lilies are best grown in many places in containers. They can be grown in the ground in borders, but they need to be molly coddled a bit - less likely to happen in the border than in a container. If you supply a position where the roots are in moist shade and the top growth is in the sun then they'll do well, but realistically such positions are rare - if you do have such a thing however - you should grow lilies in it. I grow my lilies in containers, not having an ideal situation for them in the ground, any lilies I have planted in the soil just got smaller every year until they eventually stopped coming up all together.

If grown in containers, lilies can left in place from season to season. They start to shoot and grow in mid to late spring and flower from mid summer onwards. The taller varieties should be supported with canes or similar as the flowers are so large and heavy they will bend the stems over, especially when heavy with rainwater - so support them before the flower buds appear.

When the flowers are over, snap them off just behind where they are trying to make seeds so the energy doesn't go to where you don't want it. The leaves should then be left to fill the bulbs with nutrients to power next years flowers. I usually move my containers to a bare patch in the vegetable garden at this point.

Size matters - buy the biggest bulbs you can afford. The biggest bulbs will produce the biggest flowers and the most flowers. If you look after the plants after flowering and feed them ready for next year, they will build themselves up all the better for next year too.

Lily Care

    Plant - In containers, or borders with moist soil that has plenty of organic matter. The ideal position is with the top growth in full sun and the roots in shade. Semi-shade is usually tolerated well as long as there is at least a few hours of each day in the sun, deep shade is not tolerated.

    Depth - at a depth of 2 - 3 times height of the bulb, leave a space between bulbs of about 3 times the bulb diameter, the same applies in the soil or in containers, they need their space.

    Cultivation - after flowering, remove seed heads so not to waste resources, water once with double strength liquid fertiliser.

    Let leaves yellow and fade naturally, when the leaves have fallen off in the autumn cut the stems down to just above ground level, the remainder can be pulled up the following spring, if you try too early you could damage or pull up the bulb.

    Support is often necessary for varieties that grow above about 2 feet - if yours are this tall and the buds still small, then support them sooner rather than later, the tall large flowered varieties can become very top heavy.

    Lilies will often develop larger and larger bulbs each year if they are looked after which will reward you by producing more and more impressive displays.

    Pests - Aphids are a common pest which are relatively easily dealt with by a systemic insecticide.

    Scarlet lily beetle with characteristic damage on lily leavesLily beetle (aka red or scarlet lily beetle) can be a major problem, but the vigilant gardener can often deal with these fairly simply by picking them off and squashing them underfoot, they are more prevalent in the South of the country but have been heading north for some time now so no-one is safe from them. They appear from about March-April onwards through to the autumn and are very obvious as bright shiny scarlet beetles 6-8mm in length (quite handsome really).

    Both the adults and the reddish/brown grubs feed on lily leaves leaving holes in their wake. Heavy infestations are best dealt with by a systemic insecticide "smart-bomb" spray, you could also spray follow finding some like I have in the picture here as there are likely to be some that you have missed and/or some larvae around. The beetles tend to stay on the underside of leaves, so I look for them by getting down low and looking upwards through the plant, their colour makes it easy to find them fortunately! If you're organic, then you may feel more noble, but probably won't have such impressive lilies - my line is drawn on the lily-side of the contest.

Buy lilies | Buy tree lilies

    Q. I bought four Asiatic lilies and transplanted them in the spring. They bloomed fine but then when summer started the petals fell off. Will the flowers bloom again this summer?

    A. Lilies only flower once a year, you need to look after them still though so that the leaves can fill the bulb with energy for next years flowers.

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