HISTORY— Minoan wall paintings from 1600 BC show Lilium chalcedonicum, the Romans carried herbal L. candidum throughout their empire, and Parkinson opened his great florilegium of 1629 with L. martagon and 23 others. Many of these classics are hard to find today, shoved aside in the 1800s by a deluge of new species from the recently-opened Far East. Complex hybrids came to the fore in the 20th century, many by North American hybridizers.
LILY ARCHIVES — For customer tips and raves, the stories behind the bulbs, links and books, history, news, and more, see our Lily Newsletter Archives.
LILIES AS CUT FLOWERS — For tips for longer lasting bouquets, see our Bulbs as Cut Flowers page.
PROTECTING FROM ANIMALS — Lilies, unfortunately, seem to be a favorite on most animal menus.
If animals dig your newly-planted bulbs try covering with plastic bird-netting, wire-mesh, a window screen, or burlap bags for a couple of weeks till the inviting smell of freshly-dug earth disappears.
If animals burrow to your bulbs, try lining the planting hole with wire-mesh, plant in wire-mesh boxes, or plant in buried pots covered with a square of chicken-wire.
Moles often disturb bulbs as they dig for grubs. Killing the grubs (try beneficial nematodes or spraying your lawn with bitter, organic Mole-Med) will reduce the moles — and this will discourage voles and mice which often use mole tunnels to munch on bulbs.
If animals eat spring growth, cover it with chicken wire for a few weeks (while they are hungriest), sprinkle blood meal around it, fence them out, or — our most successful solution — spray it with bitter, non-toxic Ro-pel, available at many garden centers. Bulbs can be dipped in Ro-pel before planting, too.
PLANTING & CARE — Most lilies like their heads in the sun and feet in the shade, with cool, loose, well-watered but well-drained soil. We send full planting and care instructions with all of our bulbs.
Since lilies are more perishable than most bulbs, plant them as soon as possible after they arrive. If necessary, store them only briefly in plastic in the refrigerator, away from fruit.
Lily bulbs often feel a bit soft, and a little Penicillium mold is common, but neither is cause for alarm. Remove brown or mushy scales.
Well-drained soil is essential for lilies! So avoid or improve clay soil, or plant in raised beds. If it’s also fertile and humusy, that’s ideal. Although adaptable, most lilies prefer soil that’s slightly acid. Tiger lily and Henry’s lily are two that thrive in neutral to alkaline soils.
In the North, choose a sunny (but not hot) or very lightly shaded site. In the South, give afternoon shade. Good air circulation is critical, too.
Plant so bulbs are covered with three to four times their height in soil. Deeper is better than shallower. Space most lilies 9-18 inches apart, depending on their ultimate size. Smaller lilies such as L. pumilum and the martagons, for example, can be planted 6-12 inches apart.
Lilies like their heads in the sun but their feet in shade, so add a good mulch to help keep the soil cool and moist or over-plant with low-growing annuals or companionable perennials. In the North, add a winter mulch to help keep sprouts from emerging too early (to late-frost damage).
Water as you would other perennials; lilies like moisture (though not heavy, water-logged soil). Rich soil is good, but heavy fertilizing is NOT recommended.
Be prepared to stake the heavy heads of some lilies in bloom, especially those grown in less than full sun.
Like many perennials, lilies rarely reach their full height, bloom, or beauty the first year, but your patience and good care will be rewarded.
The red lily leaf beetle is a new pest that’s spreading through New England and beyond. Hand-picking and neem-based insecticides are two widely recommended controls. Learn more here.