How to plant and grow lilies

Posted in All Gardening Advice, Bulbs, February, March, on

Lilies are one of the most exciting bulbs to grow, with scent and scale that's hard to beat.


Soil and Site

Sun or light shade, where they won’t be disturbed. Lilies are reliably perennial – reappearing for year after year – so bear this in mind when you choose where to plant them. Most colours stay better with some shade, particularly the pinks


I always plant lily bulbs in clumps of a minimum of three or five. Without these numbers, you get a very dotty effect. Dig a hole for each group at least 8in/20cm deep. I dig out a trench or shallow hole, taking up as much space as I have room for between other plants. It’s just one big hole, dug at the same time, not lots of mini cores.

In the garden

Lilies can be planted at any time during the autumn, winter or early spring. As long as they are in by the end of March, they will be fine.

Plant them pointy end up. Don’t worry if the bulbs have a sprout. Plant them with the sprout just above ground and, even if it is bent, it will right itself in three to four weeks.

Spread a 2in/5cm layer of grit all over the bottom. Drainage is the most important thing. All lilies flower better and live longer if the soil is not cold and clammy, with feet in the shade, flowers in the sun. Mark clearly wherever you plant a lily bulb so you don’t later slice through it and protect against slugs.

For containers

On heavy, clay soils, the best way to grow lilies is in pots, either ornamental, or black plastic ones which you can drop into borders where you want extra flowers. 

Plant the bulbs using a loam-based compost, mixed with grit, ⅔ compost, ⅓ grit. They like to be fed while they’re growing. Ideally give liquid potash feed every two weeks as well as a top dressing with a slow release fertiliser.


The main current issue with lilies is lily beetle. These are scarlet, easy to see small beetles which munch away on the lilies foliage and flowers through the spring. Squash them whenever you see them (particularly in April and May when they are at their most active) or use a systemic insecticide.

Cut Flowers

When cutting leave enough stem and foliage for photosynthesis and food storage. Strip anthers from the stamens to prevent sticky pollen.

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