How to Grow and Care for Madonna Lily (Lilium Candidum)

Madonna lilies (lilium candidum) bloom in Turkey

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Among the oldest ornamental plants, the Madonna Lily (Lilium candidum) has been cultivated for more than 3,000 years. From this bulbous perennial come erect stems bearing wonderous, trumpet-shaped pure white blooms brightened by yellow pollen in the centers. The contrast is beloved by many gardeners, a characteristic trait that sets it apart from other plant relatives.

Each flower measures between two and three inches long (sometimes longer), emitting a lovely fragrance. Deciduous leaves are arranged spirally and feel smooth to the touch. Established plants grow four to six feet tall and one to two feet wide.

Welcome this lily to flower beds, rock gardens or borders. It is suited to being planted en masse or as individual specimens. They find good homes around outdoor seating areas such as patios where the gardener and their guests can inhale the scent of the bloom and also arrange them in late spring bouquets.

A prolific bloomer by nature, its needs are simple but different from most other Lilies. Follow the advice in this guide and welcome up to 20 flowers per stem from spring to midsummer.

Botanical Name  Lilium candidum
Common Name  Madonna Lily
Plant Type  Bulbous perennial
Mature Size  4 to 6 ft. tall, 1 to 2 ft. wide
Sun Exposure  Full sun to part shade
Soil Type  Rich, well-drained
Soil pH  Neutral
Bloom Time  Spring to midsummer
Flower Color  White 
Hardiness Zones  5-9, USDA
Native Area  Middle East
Toxicity  Toxic to cats

Madonna Lily (Lilium Candidum) Care

Plant Lilium candidum bulbs when they arrive, typically in early fall. Group bulbs in three's as a minimum. Space them six to twelve inches apart and cover the tops with a humble one-inch of soil. Be aware that this is shallower than gardeners usually plant other lilies.

Light

Lilium candidum prefers dappled sun. While it will do well in full sun or partial shade, best results occur when it is somewhat protected from the midday sun.

Soil

Give your Madonna lily rich, well-drained soil. Naturally, it absorbs lots of nutrients so adding in some compost is recommended. Maintain a soil that is close to neutral.

Lilium candidum bulbs thrive in neutral or alkaline soil. Amend soil that is too acidic with lime. If you plan to have bulbs arrive in the fall, add lime to the site and allow it time to leach into the ground.

Water

Water your Madonna lilies well after planting. Foliage and flowers will emerge in spring, and then they will require very little additional care.

Keep the soil evenly moist, but avoid overwatering. This may cause unwanted standing water and leave the roots soggy and prone to rot.

Temperature and Humidity

As they set roots for winter, plants may send up a tuft of leaves. In the Deep South of the United States and elsewhere, Lilium candidum blooms in spring and goes dormant in the summer heat. It will then produce new foliage again in autumn.

Is Lilium Candidum Toxic?

According to the University of Missouri, the Madonna Lily contains a certain compound that is highly toxic to cats. Evidently, this toxin only affects cats and not humans or other pets, but the toxin itself has not yet been identified.

If one or more cats frequent your garden, plant this lily (and other lilies) with caution or consider planting a different bulbous blooming perennial. Ingestion of parts of this plant can be fatal to felines who may rub against its flowers and lick the pollen off their coats as they groom themselves.

Pruning

When the plant stops flowering, allow the leaves to turn yellow. Then cut them back as one does for other spring-blooming bulbs.

Propagating Lilium Candidum

Propagation is usually done by bulb division. Alternatively, you can wait until the pods have dried on the plant. Break open the pods and carefully collect the seeds. Sow them in winter in vented containers, in a cold frame, or in an unheated greenhouse.