Lilium: lily

Height 45cm-2.1m(1-½ – 7ft)

Planting distance 10-30cm (4-12in)

Flowers early to late summer

Well-drained, humus-rich soil

Heads in sun, roots in shade

Bulbs available early to late autumn and late winter to spring

Some lilies thrive in acid soil and some in alkaline soil; some like sun and some like partial shade. This means that every garden, provided the soil is well-drained and fertile, can grow a clump of these striking plants. Their stately habit, elegant flowers in every colour except blue, and lush green foliage covering most of the stem, combine to form a magnificent sight in summer. So plant lilies where they’ll be seen -massed together in a mixed herbaceous border, among shrubs, or in tubs on a patio. The lily genus has so many species and hybrids that it’s impossible to cover every one. Only those that are easily available and suitable for growing outdoors are listed here.

Popular species and hybrids Lilium amabile has nodding Turk’s cap flowers (recurved or rolled back petals) which are bright red spotted black. These appear in early to mid summer on 90cm (3ft) high stems. This is a particularly hardy species, thriving in light shade, and it will tolerate alkaline soils as long as they are well-drained. Plant the bulbs 12cm (5in) deep. Lilium auratum, sometimes called the golden-rayed lily, has large, fragrant, bowl-shaped flowers. These appear in late summer and early autumn – a brilliant waxy white with golden-yellow rays and crimson-purple spots inside. The plants stand 1.5-1.8m (5-6ft) high. Although easy to grow, it is a short-lived species requiring lime-free soil. A sunny, sheltered position where the lower part of the stem is kept in shade is best. Plant 10-13cm (4-5in) deep; excellent for pot culture.

Lilium bulbiferum croceum, the orange lily, has trumpet-shaped flowers of bright tangerine spotted purple. They appear in early and mid summer. It stands 90cm (3ft) high and should be planted 15-20cm (6-8in) apart. It is a vigorous variety that needs replanting every five to six years – in ordinary soil in a sunny or shaded site. Alkaline soil is tolerated.

Lilium candidum, the Madonna lily, has pure white trumpet-shaped flowers with yellow pollen. These appear in early and mid summer and are renowned for their fragrance. The plants reach 1.2-1.5m (4-5ft) high. Plant the base-rooting bulbs 23cm (9in) apart and 5cm (2in) deep, prefer-ably during warm, damp weather in mid to late autumn. They need a warm sunny site and will tolerate lime. Although a hardy lily, it can be difficult to establish and dislikes disturbance. So plant it in a bed where it can be left alone.

Lilium davidii bears a profusion of bright orange-red Turk’s cap flowers in mid and late summer. The petals are covered with black spots and the pollen is red. This lily reaches 1.2-1.8m (4-6ft) high. Plant the bulbs 23cm (9in) apart in ordinary soil in sun or light shade. It is a short-lived species but easily raised from seed.

Lilium hansonii has pale orange-yellow Turk’s cap flowers with brown spots and a waxy sheen. They appear in early and mid summer, crowded together at the top of 90cm (3ft) high stems and have a pleasant fragrance. Plant the bulbs 25cm (10in) apart in lime-free soil enriched with leaf-mould, and in light shade.

Lilium henryi has large apricot- yellow and recurved Turk’s cap flowers in late summer and early autumn. It is a tall species, reaching 2m (7ft) high and usually needs staking. Plant the bulbs 30cm (1ft) apart in a lightly shaded site and in any ordinary soil; limy soil is tolerated.

Lilium martagon, the Martagon or Turk’s cap lily, has nodding rose-purple Turk’s cap flowers that open in mid summer. Despite the unpleasant smell of the flowers, it is a particularly popular and easy species. The 1.2m (4ft) high plants grow well in the semi-shade of a shrub border. They tolerate limy soils and are slow-growing. Plant the bulbs 22cm (9in) apart.

Lilium pumilum (syn L. tenuifolium) has small nodding bright red Turk’s cap flowers that appear in early summer. It is one of the smaller lilies, standing only 45-60cm (l’/2-2ft) high. Plant the bulbs 10-15cm (4-6in) apart in ordinary garden soil in a sunny position.

Lilium pyrenaicum has tightly recurved Turk’s cap flowers, appearing in loose clusters in early summer. They are bright green-yellow with purple-black spots, orange-red pollen and an unpleasant scent. It is a short lily, only 60-90cm (2-3ft) high. Plant the bulbs 23cm (9in) apart in a sunny site -alkaline soils are tolerated.

Lilium regale has fragrant white funnel-shaped flowers carried in loose clusters in mid summer. The centres of the flowers are yellow and the backs of the petals are shaded rose-purple. These popular lilies stand 1.2-1.8m (4-6ft) high. Planted 30cm (1ft) apart in ordinary soil and full sun, the bulbs will increase quickly. There is also a pure white form ‘Album’.

Lilium speciosum has fragrant bowl-shaped white flowers heavily shaded crimson. These appear in late summer and early autumn on 1.2-1.5m (4-5ft) high stems. Given a winter mulch, it will grow in most districts. Plant the bulbs 30cm (12in) apart in lime-free soil.

Lilium tigrinum, the tiger lily, has strongly recurved Turk’s cap flowers, which are bright orange-red spotted purple black. These are carried on 90-180cm (3-6ft) high stems in late summer and early autumn. Plant the bulbs 23cm (9in) apart in lime-free soil in full sun.

An enormous number of hybrids have been developed from the species, offering more robust plants in a wider range of colours. The hybrids are organized into groups according to flower shape.

Asiatic hybrids have upright flowers, carried singly or in clusters, which appear in early and mid summer. They are hardy plants, and are suitable for growing in any ordinary well-drained soil in sun or partial shade. The plants reach 90-150cm (3-5ft) high and the bulbs should be set 15-23cm (6-9in) apart. Popular hybrids include ‘Brandywine’ (orange), ‘Connecticut King’ (golden-yellow), ‘Electric’ (orange-rose with white bands), ‘Enchantment’ (a warm orange-red colour), ‘Exception’ (pink and white), ‘Red Lion’ (red tipped with white), ‘Sterling Star’ (white) ‘Syndicate’ (peach-pink, yellow throat), and ‘Uncle Sam’ (yellow spotted with brown).

Martagon hybrids have small pendent Turk’s cap flowers in early and late summer. They reach 1.2-1.8m (4-6ft) high, and the bulbs should be set 23-30cm (9-12in) apart. These hybrids are easy to grow in light shade and well-drained soil – they will tolerate alkaline soils. Popular hybrids include ‘Backhouse Hybrids’ (cream, buff, yellow or pink), ‘Marhan’ (orange) and ‘Paisley hybrids’ (white, yellow, orange, lilac, tangerine or mahogany).

Candidum hybrids have long pendent trumpet-shaped flowers carried singly along the 1.2-1.8m (4-6ft) high stems. These appear in early and mid summer and have an attractive scent. Plant the bulbs 23cm (9in) apart in rich soil in full sun. The most popular hybrid is L. x testaceum (apricot), also called the Nankeen lily. American and Bellingham hybrids have brightly coloured Turk’s cap flowers in mid summer. They are tall hybrids, reaching 1.5-1.8m (5-6ft) high. They give the best results in light shade, in well-drained, lime-free soil enriched with leaf-mould. Plant the bulbs 23cm (9in) apart. These lilies make excellent, long-lasting cut flowers. Popular hybrids include the ‘Bullwood Hybrids’ (red to orange), ‘Lake Tahoe’ (pink-red and white) and ‘Shuksan’ (orange).

Trumpet and Aurelian hybrids have large trumpet-shaped fragrant flowers. They’re vigorous hybrids flowering in mid and late summer, and come in a wide range of colours on 1.2-2.1m (4-7ft) high stems. All the hybrids are lime-tolerant but their site requirements differ slightly: the white and yellow flowered varieties grow in sun or partial shade, but the pink flowered ones must have shade or their colours fade. Popular hybrids include ‘African Queen’ (gold-orange), ‘Black Dragon’ (white and purple-brown), ‘Golden Clarion’ (yellow), ‘Green Dragon’ (white and Chartreuse green), ‘Limelight’ (greenish yellow), ‘Pink Perfection’ (pink) and ‘Sunburst’ (yellow).

Oriental hybrids have large strikingly coloured flowers in crimsons and pinks. The flowers appear in mid and late summer on 90cm-2.1m (3-7ft) high stems. Plant the large bulbs 30cm (1ft) apart and 10-15cm (4-6in) deep in well-drained acid soil enriched with leaf-mould. A site in dappled shade is best. Popular hybrids include ‘Bonfire’ (deep crimson edged silver), ‘Hitparade’ (rose- pink), ‘Kyoto’ (pure white, spotted pink), ‘Imperial Silver’ (white and maroon), and ‘Treasure’ (rose-pink, edged white).


Lily bulbs should be planted in autumn or spring. Put the bulbs in the ground immediately after pur-chase to reduce the chance of drying out. If the bulbs are slightly shrivelled, place them in a tray of moist potting compost for a week before planting.

All lilies require well-drained soil. With heavy soils this can be achieved by digging in leaf-mould and coarse gritty sand. Poor sandy soils may need enriching with humus to make them moisture retentive. Some lilies tolerate limy soils, others prefer acid. Dig leaf-mould into all chalky soils. If you want to grow lilies that don’t suit the soil in the garden, grow them in containers on the patio.

Lilies prefer their heads in the sun and roots in partial shade. They grow best with plenty of light and space around them, though they must be sheltered from strong winds.

For the best effect, plant in groups of at least three. Cover species bulbs and hybrids with. Small bulbs with 6-8cm (2-1/2 – 3-1/2in) of soil, and large-bulbed hybrids with 10-20cm (4-8in) of soil. Lilium candidum is an exception requiring the bulb tips to be only just below soil level. Mulch all lilies after planting, and renew mulch annually in spring.

During the growing season, water frequently. Every spring, mulch with well-rotted manure, compost or leaf-mould. Stake species that are tall or heavily flowered or those with arching stems.

To grow lilies in containers, plant in pots 25cm (10in) deep and 20cm (8in) across, putting one bulb in each pot. Alternatively use pots 30cm (1ft) deep and 30cm (1ft) across and plant three bulbs in each. Place gravel over the drainage holes and add a layer of leaf-mould. Fill the container half-way up with a suitable potting compost, position the bulbs and cover with another 5cm (2in) of compost. Water well. Keep in a cool, frost-free position, or plunge the pot in an outdoor bed for the winter. When the lilies start to grow in spring, water to keep the compost moist. Place in their flowering position when the weather improves. Stake if necessary and feed once a month with a balanced garden fertilizer. Dead-head. When the leaves and stems die back in autumn cut them down, then return the containers to a frost-free place. Repot every two years in mid or late autumn. In the years you don’t repot, give a top-dressing in early spring. Only grow varieties under 90-120cm (3-4ft) high in containers.


Division is the easiest way to increase stock. Separate and replant overcrowded clumps every three or four years between mid autumn and early spring.

Species lilies can also be increased from seed or leaf bulbils sown in early autumn and left to germinate in a cold frame. Grow the seedlings on in an outdoor nursery bed; they will reach flowering size after one to three years.

Pests and diseases

Slugs may damage the plants and aphids can transmit virus diseases. Leatherjackets sometimes feed on roots and bulbs. Botrytis, a fungus, can be a problem in humid weather.

22. February 2012 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Annuals, Biennials, Bulbous Plants, Featured Articles | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Lilium: lily


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