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By: Doreen Sage (updated by Ted Sobkowich 2024)


Lily bulbs are never completely dormant, so they must be planted as soon as possible after purchase (or if received as a gift). If you can’t plant, store the bulbs in a poly bag in slightly damp peat moss in the fridge crisper. 

  • Location: Since lilies often remain in the same site for years, choosing and preparing the site is of utmost importance. Lilies Require direct sunlight for part to all of the day, although they will still thrive in filtered sunlight to moderate shade for part of the day. Good morning sun is preferred as it helps dry the dew off the foliage, reducing the occurrence of botrytis. 
  • Soil: Must be well drained. A medium sandy loan with a reasonable amount of humus (compost) is ideal. Peat moss can also be added. Heavy soils can be lightened with coarse sand & peat moss. 
  • Planting: If planting a single lily bulb, dig a hole about one foot square & one foot deep. To the soil you have removed from the hole, add compost, peat moss, well-rotten leaf molds &/or black peat (peat soil). Make a mixture of about 1/3 additions to 2/3 soil. Do not use new / fresh manure to the lily bed (2 or 3 years old is best). Refill about 1/3 to 1/2 of the hole with your prepared soil mixture. Place the lily bulb in the centre of your prepared hole with its roots down & scale points up. Cover with your soil mixture.  Pack the soil in well around your bulb but not to tight as to restrict its root growth. If you are planting a grouping of lilies, make your hole wide enough to accommodate all the lilies at once. There should be a minimum of 12 inches between each bulb. Lilies make a nice show if they are planted in triangular groups of three bulbs of the same Variety, spaced 12” to 18” apart & to a depth of 4” to 6” up to 8” to the top of the very big bubs. 
  • Watering: It is important to thoroughly water your bulbs in after planting to ensure the soil settles in around the roots.  They do not require daily watering, but when watering, be sure to water deeply enough to reach the bulb. Avoid wetting the leaves. Excessive watering will cause your bulb to rot. Lilies must be in a site free of standing water especially in the spring. If you have low garden or drainage problems, raised beds are one solution. 
  • Fertilizing: A 20-20-20 can be applied when the emerging shoots are about 1 to 2 inches tall and then again, a week or two before flowering. Once flowering is finished, fertilize at the end of July or beginning of August. Avoid getting the foliage wet with the liquid application.  The fertilizer after flowering can be 20 - 20 – 20 or 14-14-14.  In fall, the bulbs will be going dormant, so it is not a good idea to fertilize at the time, as the bulbs could go soft and rot. If preferred, on top of the soil, a good, decomposed compost, 
  • Labeling: Mark each bulb planted with a stake (wood or plastic) and a permanent marker. Do this as bulb are planted. This will remind you to be careful in the spring when digging as you do not want to damage new growth which might still be below the soil surface. It is also a good idea to keep track of the names of the bulbs you have planted with in a book or on a garden map or a computer file. 
  • Fall Care: Your spring planted bulb grew well & the foliage must not be cut back until it dies down or freezes. Some growers leave stalks to spring as they help hold the snow cover. However, if you have had disease showing, cut off at ground level & dispose of. The fall is the best time to divide existing clumps of lilies. This will probably have to be done about every 4 or 5 years, depending on how bulbs have multiplied. ** Keep a written record of what you have for bulbs. 

An excellent source of information is the booklet “Let’s Grow Lilies”, available from your local Lily Society or the North American Lily Society.  It is great for the experienced lily gardener and the beginning lily gardener.  The current 2011 edition has been updated by N.A.L.S. and provides information on Interdivisional hybrids and has a coloured picture section.