How to Grow and Care for Lilies, a Beautiful Perennial With Multiple Unique Varieties

A beginner-friendly option for container, cut, and border gardens, lily plants provide color and dimension no matter where they're grown.

For centuries, lily plants have held a role as one of the most symbolic, beautiful, and popular flowers in the world. The perennial has many different meanings depending on the culture and color. Yellow stands for joy and health, red for romance and passion, orange for confidence and wealth, and light pink for elegance and generosity.

With a countless number of hybrid lilies on the market, a little research and planning can lead you to the type that's best for your climate—and that will make the biggest impact in your garden. Whether you want to add a pop of color to containers or create dimension in a flower garden, lilies provide stunning interest no matter where they’re planted.

orange flower lily

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How to Plant Lilies

It is possible to grow lilies from seed, but since it's a time-consuming process, it's rarely done. It can take up to seven years for the perennial to produce a flower. "Lilies are generally purchased already growing in a container or in bulb form," says Peggy Anne Montgomery, a horticulturist with Plant your bulbs after the last frost and stake taller varieties to support them as they mature.

  1. Dig a hole slightly wider than its current pot and two to three times as deep as the bulb is tall. 
  2. Gently remove the plant from its pot. 
  3. Place the plant in the ground at the same depth as it was in the pot. 
  4. Back fill with loose soil. 
  5. Water the base of the plant thoroughly. 

How to Care for Lilies

Though each type of lily has its own specific growing requirements, some needs are consistent across all (or most) varieties. "Lilies look like they would be fussy plants, but they are actually quite easy to grow," says Lynn Slackman of the North American Lily Society. The low-maintenance plant just needs some routine care in order to thrive both outdoors and in containers.


Unlike many plants, lilies aren't particular about soil type or pH—but they do all have one critical need: "Even more than other bulbs, lilies demand well-drained soil," says Slackman. If you have dense, heavy soil that holds onto water, amend it with sand to improve drainage


Lilies should be watered often after their initial planting, but you can adjust your watering schedule once they are established. "In general, lilies do not like soggy soil or wet winters, but they also do not like dry summers," says Kerry Ann McLean, senior horticulturist at Longwood Gardens. "Even moisture is key and surprisingly, cool feet is mostly universally preferred across lily divisions."


The perennial isn't fussy when it comes to sunlight, but its preference may change depending on the variety you're growing. "They grow well in full sun, part sun, dappled shade, and sometimes even light shade," says Slackman. In hot climates, lilies should have access to afternoon shade. 


Lilies prefer cold winters and moderately warm summers with minimal humidity. "Lilies require a cold period during winter so they will generally not thrive in tropical climates," says Montgomery. The perennial uses the cold period to rejuvenate. "If you plant them in pots, you will need to move those pots to a cool area such as a garage," says Stephanie Simms of the North American Lily Society


To encourage healthy blooms, you should fertilize lilies in the spring using an organic bulb fertilizer. "Scatter the granules around the plant and water it in well," says Montgomery. 


In zones 4 to 9, lilies won't require much winter maintenance. If you live in a really cold area, though, you should cover the plant with extra mulch to keep the roots insulated. 

How to Deadhead Lilies

Unlike some perennials, lilies don't require much pruning beyond deadheading. "Deadheading the flowers when they are finished blooming is advised," says Montgomery. "That way, they do not use energy to produce seeds."

How to Propagate Lilies

As your lily plant grows, it will produce new bulbs, which can be propagated to grow more plants. To do so, simply remove the new bulbs from the main bulb and replant them in a suitable sized pot with a well-draining potting mix. Alternatively, you can remove scales from the main bulb and use them for propagation. "Put scales in a plastic bag with sand and peat moss or damp vermiculite," says Montgomery. "Store away from heat and cold in indirect light. In six to eight weeks, you will have bulblets."

regal lily

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Types of Lilies

The family Liliaceae includes a nearly infinite number of plants, since lilies are easy to propagate and hybridize. "There is a huge number of lilies on the market with new hybrids coming out every year," says McLean. Each division has its own growing habits, so finding the plant that will complement your landscaping and thrive in your yard is key. However, there are a few lily types that are most popular among gardeners, with each common cultivar growing best in USDA hardiness zones 4 to 9. 

Asiatic Lilies 

asiatic lily

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As the most recognizable type of lily, asiatic lilies can be found in an array of hues ranging from creamy white to nearly black. "They also come in bold reds, warm yellows, hot pinks, soft peaches, and multi-colored mixes that bring pops of brightness and warmth to any arrangement," says Montgomery. "Asiatic lilies are known for straight and sturdy stems, high bud counts, and brightly spotted blossoms that turn slightly upward." Available in various shapes, this lily is commonly unscented—a plus for gardeners who don't like fragrance

  • Size: 2 to 4 feet tall  
  • Sun: Full sun
  • Soil: Well-draining soil 

Oriental Lilies

oriental lily

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Oriental lilies are a fragrant variety with blooms that are deer and rabbit resistant. "Orientals are the most amateur-friendly lilies," says Simm. This fragrant lily type has large flowers with multiple flowers per stem. "They come in various shades of pink and purplish red, in addition to white and creamy yellow," says Montgomery. 

  • Size: 2 to 6 feet tall
  • Sun: Full sun
  • Soil: Well-draining soil 

Trumpet Lilies

trumpet lily

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As the name implies, these lilies produce numerous trumpet-shaped, flowers that are long-lasting and fragrant. "Some have as many as a dozen flowers per stem," says Montgomery. "They come in various shades of white, yellow, orange, cream, and pink. They often have a contrasting colored throat." When grown in a flower garden, trumpet lilies are best planted in the back due to their tall stature. 

  • Size: 4 to 6 feet tall
  • Sun: Full sun
  • Soil: Well-draining soil 

Easter Lilies

easter lily

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Also known as Longiflorum lilies, this variety is generally sold during Easter time and has been bred to bloom early. "While that does take a lot of energy from the bulb, you can try to plant them in the garden after the holiday," says Montgomery. "They are cold tolerant and the white flowers are well known to most people."

  • Size: 2 to 3 feet tall
  • Sun: Full sun
  • Soil: Well-draining soil that is rich in organic matter

Common Problems With Lilies

Generally, lilies are strong plants that don't suffer from diseases or pest infestations. But there are some common problems you may run into when growing this perennial. 


Potted lilies occasionally have aphids, which are tiny insects that have green, yellow, brown, red, or black bodies. Commonly found on the under side of leaves, aphids leave behind a heavy coating that can prevent light from penetrating the leaves. Check the foliage on your lily plant when you buy them. If you find that aphids have infested your plant, wipe or spray the leaves with a solution of water and a few drops of dishwashing detergent.


Botrytis is a fungal disease that can affect the stems, leaves, and occasionally the flowers of your of lily plant. "If that happens, destroy the infected plant material to prevent the fungus from contaminating the soil," says Montgomery. "You do not want this is your compost pile." Prevent the disease by ensuring you water your lily plant in the morning at the base of the plant, rather than over its foliage.

Lily Leaf Beetle

In some areas of the country, lily leaf beetles can be a nuisance. The red bodied insect eats the leaves, stem, buds, and flowers of lily plants. To prevent the beetle from destroying your plants, rub neem oil on its foliage.

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