Growing Lilies (True Lilies)

Fragrance and Elegance in an Easy to Grow Bulb

Hot Red Asiatic Hybrids
Hot Red Asiatic Hybrids.

Overview and Description:

The names lily is applied to many plants, but "true lilies" belong to the genus Lilium. There's a great deal of variety when choosing lilies. There are 9 different Divisions of lilies: short, tall, swept-back, upright, trumpet, speckled or blushed in colors from pure white to blood red and almost everything in between. What they all share is a certain elegance of form and sweetness of fragrance that have made lilies regal flowers in the garden and as gifts and bouquets for special occasions like weddings and Easter Sunday.

Lilies are tall, upright plants with whorls of leaves running the length of the plant and flowers that can be bowl-, bell-, trumpet-shaped or even flat, borne singularly or in groups and facing every which way. They come in almost every color except blue. Most of the true lilies we grow today are hybrids and are classified into 9 divisions.

  • Division I: Asiatic Hybrids
  • Division II: Martagon Hybrids (Turk's Cap)
  • Division III: Candidum Hybrid
  • Division IV: American Hybrids,
  • Division V: Longiflorum Hybrids
  • Division VI: Trumpet and Aurelian Hybrids
  • Division VII: Oriental Hybrids
  • Division VIII: All other Hybrids
  • Division IX: All True Species

Of these, the most commonly found and grown are the Asiatic Hybrids (Div. I), the Martagon or Turk's Cap Lily (Div. II), the Trumpet or Aurelian Hybrids (Div. VI) and the Oriental Hybrids (Div. VII). There are also approximately 100 different species of lilies (Div. IX), with more hybridizing being done every year.

Asiatic lilies are the most commonly grown garden lily. They are among the earliest lilies to bloom and come in the widest range of colors and sizes. The showy blooms face either upward or outward. Asiatic lilies are easy growers and tend to multiply quickly. The shorter varieties, like 'Pixie', are ideal for containers, reaching only about 1-2' in height.

Most Asiatic lilies do not require staking. Fragrance isn't great in Asiatic lilies, but they make a great cut flower because of their extremely strong stems. Asiatic lilies root above the bulb, along the stem, and can be planted deeper than other lilies. This makes them even hardier and easier to grow.

Oriental lilies are especially popular because of their large bloom size and intense fragrance. 'Casa Blanca' the classic pure white heavenly scented lily is an Oriental. Oriental lilies generally don't start blooming until mid- to late summer. These can be some of the tallest lily plants, many reaching 6' or more, and benefit from some protection from strong winds.

Trumpet lilies are so named because their petals are partially fused and extend forward like a trumpet. They also have the distinction of having no spots. Trumpet lilies have strong Flagrance and can grow even taller than Oriental lilies, topping 8'. So once again, protection from strong winds is encouraged. Recent hybridizing with Oriental and Asiatic lilies has resulted in a wider range of colors of Trumpet lilies.

Turk’s cap lily or the Martagon hybrids have petals that face downward with swept-back or reflexed petals, giving them the appearance of a "Turk's Cap".

Turk's cap lilies began as woodland hybrids and are better able to handle some shade than other lilies. The flowers are a bit smaller than other divisions and the fragrance is not agreeable to every gardener. They range in height from about 4-7 feet and come mostly in shades of burgundy, yellow and orange, many with speckles and spots.

Botanical Name:


Common Name(s):

Lilies, True Lilies

Hardiness Zones:

Divisions I and II: USDA Hardiness Zones 3 - 8
Divisions III - IX: USDA Hardiness Zones 4 - 8

Can be grown in USDA Zones 9 - 10 if given a period of refrigeration

Mature Size:

Height varies greatly between divisions and even within divisions. Lily plants can be found that grow from about 1 ft. tall to over 8 ft. tall.


Lilies grow well in full sun to partial shade (Trumpet lilies need full sun, Turk's Cap prefers partial shade.) Too much shade will cause plants to lean towards the sun.

Bloom Period:

Varies with variety. Some begin blooming in late spring and others peak at the end of the season. Generally the Asiatics are the easliest to bloom, followed by the Oriental and Trumpet hybrids and then the Turk's Caps.

Cultural Notes:

Lilies are grown from scaly bulbs that are usually planted in the fall. You can purchase plants in the spring, for blooms the first year, but fall planted bulbs have the advantage of getting their roots well established before the growing season begins.

Lily bulbs like to be planted deeply, (3 times their diameter) to keep cool.

Plant container grown lilies to the same depth they are in their pots. Space lily bulbs 10 inches apart, to provide adequate air circulation. Mulch is recommended for lilies, to keep the roots cool in summer and to protect them from freezing in the winter.

Lilies like well drained, rich slightly acidic (6.5 pH) soil pH. (Do it yourself soil pH test.)


Lilies are early risers in the spring, often poking through the soil before the last frost. Don't worry, they'll survive. Flowering time depends on the species and can be any where from late-spring through fall. So it is possible to have lilies in bloom all season.

Lilies aren't divided and only species lilies will grow true from seed. Most lilies are propagated by separating either the scales or the bulblets that form around the main bulb. This can be a slow process, taking 2-3 years before a new plant will flower.

When cutting lilies for bouquets, cut when the buds haven't quite opened, but are showing their color. This will help them last longer. Do not cut more than 1/3 of the flower stem, so that there is still plenty of foliage to feed the bulb.

Deadhead just the flowers or seed pods, not the flower stalks. The stalks and leaves will feed the bulb for next year.

Keep reading for Suggested Varieties, Design Suggestions and Problems to Watch For.

Lily Growing Problems:

  • Botrytis: All lilies are prone to botrytis in cool, damp weather. Provide good air circulation.


  • Lily Mosaic Virus: Prevalent in tiger lilies (Lilium tigrinum), although it does not harm them. However, the virus can be carried by insects to other varieties and cause distorted, streaked or mottled foliage. It is often recommended that tiger lilies not be planted near other hybrid lilies. Lily mosaic virus is not curable and infected plants should be destroyed.


  • Lily Leaf Beetle: The larva can be controlled with neem. The beetles seem to avoid ‘Black Beauty’ lilies

Suggested Varieties:

  • 'Connecticut King' (Asiatic) 3-4' tall, Yellow Blooms in Early Summer
  • 'Casa Blanca' (Oriental) 4-5' tall, White Blooms in Late Summer
  • 'Star Gazer' (Oriental) 2-3' tall, Red with Dark Red Spots in Peak Summer

Design Suggestions:

Lilies look best when allowed to shine by themselves, in large clumps, However, the tall, straight lily plants combine well with other sun lovers like bushy peonies and sword-like iris. Lilies are addictive as cut flowers, so grow extras. Remember to remove the anthers so the pollen doesn't stain you or the petals.