Top 10 Questions About Lilies

By Nikki Tilley | July 22, 2018
Image by Elen11
by Nikki Tilley
July 22, 2018

We get lots of questions at Gardening Know How, which is why we try wholeheartedly to provide the best answers possible. Maybe you’ve got a general inquiry or one that pertains to a particular plant in the garden. Chances are we’ve covered it somewhere. One of the plant families popular in many gardens include lilies. Here are the 10 most commonly asked questions about lily plants we receive.

When is the best time to transplant lilies?

Lily plant grow from bulbs but, unlike many other bulbs, they don’t always go completely dormant. Autumn is usually the best time for transplanting lilies in most areas but, technically, you can transplant at any time during the warm months, but when temps are very high, the water stress on the plant greatly increases the chances that the plant will die. If you transplant during high heat, provide lots of water for at least a week or two after transplanting. Providing temporary shade for the plant is helpful as well.

Why do lilies fall over after they bloom?

It is normal for them to bend over when the blooms start to get old. Once the flowers have been pollinated and start to set seed, they will naturally bend over, often all the way to the ground. You may even see the seed pod on the inside of the lily. Additionally, some lily varieties can reach several feet tall, and while they’re usually fairly sturdy, the added weight of those pretty blooms can cause the plants fall over. This can be easily remedied by providing a stake for extra support.

How long do tree lily bulbs take to sprout?

How quickly a tree lily grows can vary and is mostly dependent on its current soil and air temperatures. With warm spring temperatures, you might expect to see sprouts within in 2-4 weeks, but if it’s colder, it might take longer than that. Colder regions may benefit from adding an extra layer of mulch over the planting area, which will help insulate the soil temperatures and further help the plant along. All in all, though, there’s reason for the saying, “patience is a virtue.” Seasonal fluctuations are not uncommon from year to year, making the appearance of sprouts variable at best.

Are lily plants poisonous?

With exception to peace lily and calla lily (Note: these are not true lilies and are not toxic the way lilies are.), all other lily varieties are major threats to cats (and some dogs), causing kidney failure and death. It takes only a small amount to result in poisoning. There’s also potential for toxicity in humans, depending on the type of lily which may range from fairly mild to even death. And all parts of lilies, those in the Lilium genus, are toxic. So if you have pets or small children, you may want to reconsider planting lilies in the garden just to err on the safe side.

How to store lily bulbs?

If you live in a regions not prone to freezing, you can leave the bulbs in all year long. Gardeners in colder climates, however, should consider pulling up bulbs for overwintering indoors. Lily bulbs left in the ground during winter freezes may not come back in spring and can even rot. Wait until all the foliage has died back, then dig up the bulbs and separate any with offsets. Check the bulbs for mold or damage and discard any that aren’t healthy. Allow them to dry in a cool, dark location for a few days and then store the lily bulbs in a peat moss filled cardboard box or paper bag.

Is pruning or deadheading of lily flowers necessary?

While deadheading spent blooms is a common practice in many gardens and one that can often encourage reblooming, this isn’t the case for lilies. Deadheading of lily plants isn’t necessary. Once they’re finished blooming, that’s it. They will not bloom again. You can, however, cut the flower stalks back after the blooms have faded. It is best to keep the leaves in place though until they die back naturally in the fall or winter. Cutting them before this will weaken the plant because it needs the leaves to store energy for next year.

Why won’t my lily plants flower?

If you find that you have no flowers on a plant, a number of factors, from age to environmental or cultural issues, could be to blame. Members of the lily family require a minimum of 5-6 hours of full sun to bloom. If yours are located in an area that’s not getting enough sun, then this could be the problem. Moving the lilies to another location can help. Also, have you been fertilizing the flowers? Too much nitrogen, for example, can prevent blooming. Adding phosphorus, like bone meal, can alleviate the issue.

Can you grow lilies from seed?

Absolutely, you can grow more lilies from the seeds, but just be aware that it requires a little more effort and patience since they will take much longer to grow and bloom than those planted from offsets or other means. In fact, for some lily varieties, it could take years. Don’t let this deter you though. If you have the time and feel like experimenting, by all means go for it. Simply wait for the seedhead to dry up and brown before collecting the seeds. Depending on the type of lily you have, these may require a cold period (stratification) prior to planting.

Can I grow lily plants from bulbils?

Yes, it is definitely possible to grow plants from bulbils. The bulbils can be easily separated from the parent plant and put directly into the garden in the late summer, which gives them plenty of time to develop a strong root system before winter sets in. Likewise, you can collect and store the bulbils over winter and plant them outside in the spring. Place them in labeled Ziploc bags. Then put them into the fridge for about a month or so to give them a cooling period. Take them out of the fridge and transfer them in growing trays or pots, then place these under Florescent lighting to grow them over winter. By spring the bulbils should be adequately sized for planting in the garden.

What causes the leaves to get holes or splits in them?

While this could be due to any number of insects, the most common culprit for this type of lily damage is the lily leaf beetle, which is bright red and relatively easy to spot on the plant. Both adults and their larvae can cause unsightly damage to lily plant foliage. While picking off adult lily beetles in one method of control, treating the plants with neem oil is more effective at controlling both adults and larvae. Neem oil is organic and safe for people, pets and bees.

We all have questions now and then, whether long-time gardeners or those just starting out. So if you have a gardening question, get a gardening answer. We’re always here to help.

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  • David Buzay
    Comment added July 12, 2021Reply

    Several years back I planted four red Asiatic Lilly balls I now have hundreds but they are morphing into different colors and sizes the original dark red have changed into more orange several plants have come up a wine purple these plants are very tall Many have changed into a brilliant yellow I also have white cream colored and this year three of the plants have developed a very dark purple almost black with white accent on them is this somewhat normal or is something goofy going on here

  • Sherry
    Comment added June 10, 2021Reply

    The flowers on my red Lily are very small.
    Pale red and only 4 petals.

  • Lil Holloway
    Comment added July 2, 2019Reply

    My Lilies look “scrawny” this year, for lack of a better word. Not nearly as tall and robust as in the past. And some of them didn’t come back. A friend in a different town town expressed same problem. I live in NE about 30 miles north of Boston. Any ideas?

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