The common name "Peruvian lily" is assigned to several species in the Alstroemeria genus, but most of the garden selections are hybrid creations, often with A. aurea as one of the parents. These tuberous perennials are not true lilies, but the summer blooms extending up from clustered foliage of lance-shaped leaves closely resemble lily flowers. Peruvian lily flowers are commonly used in mixed flower bouquets, where the funnel-shaped flowers with warm brown freckles are among the last blossoms to fade, often lasting as much as two weeks, but they are equally valuable for their display in a sunny border garden. Peruvian lilies should be planted in the spring after all danger of frost has passed. They are moderately fast-growing plants that often bloom in their first year, but bare root plants may not bloom until the second year.
Several university sources list Peruvian lily as a plant with mild toxicity (class 2, class 4) to humans. This category includes plants that can cause relatively mild digestive upset if consumed, as well as dermatitis skin reactions. But this plant is not a true lily, and thus does not have the serious toxicity to humans and animals found with plants in the Lilium genus.
|Common Name||Peruvian lily; lily of the Incas; princess lily|
|Botanical Name||Alstroemeria spp.|
|Mature Size||1–3 ft. tall, 1–2 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full, partial|
|Soil Type||Rich, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Acidic (5.5-6.5)|
|Flower Color||Pink, orange, red, yellow, white, purple|
|Hardiness Zones||7-10 (USDA)|
|Native Area||South America (Argentina, Chile)|
|Toxicity||Mildly toxic to people|
Peruvian Lily Care
Peruvian lilies are sometimes sold as potted nursery plants, but more often they are planted as tuberous roots, which resemble the tubers of dahlias. Tubers are brittle, so handle them carefully while planting. Plant in the spring, after soil temperature reaches the 60s Fahrenheit. Spread the thin tubers over a mound of soil, and cover with about 2 inches of soil. Keep moist as you wait for growth to emerge; they often flower in their first season, though sometimes the flowers don't appear until the second year.
In their native habitat of Chile and Argentina, wild stands of Peruvian lilies grow and spread into large colonies. Where Peruvian lilies are hardy and well-tended in the landscape, the plants can spread vigorously. Treat them as pass along plants, and dig and share tubers with friends. You can also control their spread by cutting the flowers for the vase with abandon, which will prevent seeding.
Peruvian lilies are remarkably free of serious pests and diseases, though they can be affected by some of the usual garden thugs, including slugs, mites, and aphids. Use insect soap or slug bait as needed to prevent damage.
Peruvian lilies flower most abundantly in full sun (six to eight hours), but in very hot climates, they will appreciate some shade during the peak of the afternoon sun.
Peruvian lilies like fertile, well-drained soil. You can accomplish both of these qualities by improving your soil with an organic amendment, like compost or leaf mold. These plants do well in most ordinary garden soil, though they prefer a slightly acidic pH. Peruvian lilies grow well in raised beds or by using the lasagna gardening method.
Peruvian lilies need regular moisture, especially as summer temperatures heat up. Give them at least 1 inch of water per week, or when the soil surface feels dry.
Temperature and Humidity
Alstroemeria likes temperatures in the 65 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit range. Temperatures in the upper 90s can cause the plants to produce blind stems—foliage without flowers. You can prevent these blind stems by planting tubers in partial shade, or in an area that receives only morning sun.
In humid areas, it's important to provide adequate spacing to help air circulation that will carry away spores of fungal diseases like botrytis.
One feeding in early spring will prep your Alstroemeria for the growing season. Use a balanced flower fertilizer. A steady stream of nutrition will keep your Peruvian lilies productive in the garden. You can also provide fertility via a mixture of organic additives like manure and compost tea.
Types of Peruvian Lily
Peruvian lily breeders focus on introducing exciting new colors for the cut flower market, which you can also use to enhance your garden design. Here are a few favorites among many options:
- 'Fougere' has large white flowers with purple flushes in the throat, streaked with burgundy. It grows 24 to 28 inches tall.
- 'Alexis' has cheerful sunset tones that glow in the summer border as well as the bouquet. It tops out at about 18 inches tall.
- 'Mauve Majesty' has bright mauve-pink flowers with creamy yellow throats. It is a relatively tall variety, growing up to 36 inches
- 'Indian Summer' has coppery orange flowers and grows 28 inches tall.
- 'Princess Eliane' has bright pink flowers with yellow and burgundy throats. It is a small variety, 9 to 12 inches tall.
Cut Peruvian lilies back after blooming to prevent the plants from directing energy into seed production. Where plants are spread too much, pull up stems that are less productive to encourage younger plants from newly formed tubers to flourish.
Propagating Peruvian Lily
Peruvian lily can be propagated in several ways, but the easiest and most reliable method is by dividing the tuberous roots. The best time to propagate Peruvian lilies is by dividing tubers in early spring before new growth begins. Here's how:
- Use pruners to cut off dead growth or cut back green growth to a height of 6 inches.
- Use a shovel to dig down several inches around the clump you want to divide. In large colonies, you may not be able to divide without damaging neighboring plants.
- Lift the entire clump from the ground and carefully brush off excess soil. Take care not to break the brittle roots.
- Carefully cut apart clumps so that each clump you replant has three to five tubers.
- If possible, replant immediately in the garden. Dig a shallow hole, place the tubers over a small mound of dirt in the center of the hole, then cover with about 2 inches of soil. If necessary, the divided root clumps can be stored over winter in a dry, cool location, then planted in the spring.
Growing Peruvian Lily From Seed
Growing these plants from seed is not a common exercise, since the germination rates are low and the seeds require special handling. And it can take several years for seed-grown plants to achieve flowering maturity. Seed propagation of Peruvian lily is a practice for very serious gardeners. Make sure to plant plenty of seeds, as many will fail to germinate.
If you do want to try seed propagation, you can collect the seed pods after the flowers fade, then dry them until they are brittle and hard. Break apart the seed pods and harvest the seeds. Sow seeds 1/4 inch deep in sterile potting mix, then place the container in a cold location (about 40 degrees Fahrenheit) for about one month. This cold stratification is necessary for the seeds to germinate and sprout. After the cold treatment, place the containers in a 70-degree location with bright indirect light until the seedlings have developed their true leaves. Then, move the container into a location with full sun to grow them into mature plants.
The seedlings are ready to plant in the garden after two sets of true leaves have formed. Take care when transplanting from pots, as these plants do not like to have their roots disturbed when they are young. Place seedlings in the garden spaced 8 inches apart. Be prepared to wait for two years or even longer for the plants to flower.
Potting and Repotting
Your Peruvian lily plants can thrive in large containers, and for many gardeners this is the preferred method of growing them. Pair them with trailing plants that enjoy the same growing conditions, such as sweet potato vine, million bells, or love-lies-bleeding. Plants may need staking to remain upright in containers.
Use any commercial potting mix for your Peruvian lilies, and select an ample size pot—at least 8 inches wide and 24 inches deep. In warmer climates where the Peruvian lilies will remain outside year-round, even larger pots are recommended. Any pot material will be fine, but make sure the container has good drainage.
Peruvian lilies cannot be moved indoors to grow as houseplants, but in colder climates, you can bring pots indoors for winter and store them as dormant plants in a cool, dry location. Keep the soil very dry to avoid rot. Dig, divide, and replant the tubers at the end of winter; use fresh potting soil when replanting.
In warmer regions (zones 8 to 10) Peruvian lilies require no winter protection, other than clipping back foliage as it dies back. Zone 7 is a transitional zone, and here the plants should be covered over with dry mulch for the winter.
Gardeners in colder zones sometimes grow Peruvian lilies by digging and storing the tubers for the winter. Dig up your garden plants in the fall before the ground freezes. Shake off the loose soil and place the tubers in a paper bag filled with peat moss and hang it in a dry, cool (35 to 41 degrees Fahrenheit) location for the winter. Replant in spring after the soil warms to at least 60 degrees.
Common Pests & Plant Diseases
Peruvian lilies can be plagued by aphids and thrips, and while these pests are not usually serious in themselves, they can transmit some serious diseases between plants:
- Botrytis (gray mold) appears as furry, gray-brown spores on the plant's leaves and stems. This fungal disease is hard to cure, but you can prevent spread by spacing plants well apart to improve air circulation and watering at ground level rather than overhead spraying.
- Root rot is caused by various fungi, and announces its presence by leaves and stems that wilt and collapse even though the plants are getting enough water. Allowing soil to dry out can allow plants to recover, but serious rot will call for the plants to be removed and destroyed. Prevent root rot by amending soil so it drains well.
How to Get Peruvian Lily to Bloom
These are not difficult plants to grow, and they will normally bloom well if given adequate water and light, and especially fertilizer. Potted plants will bloom better if fed every two weeks with a balanced 6-6-6 fertilizer.
It is fairly common for Peruvian lilies to stop blooming robustly after five or six years. When this happens, it's best to lift and divide the root clumps and replant to create new plants.
Common Problems With Peruvian Lily
Plants Won't Stay Upright
These plants have profuse flowers and rather spindly stems, so it's common for the plants to flop over. This is a common problem for species grown as cutting flowers, and it is easily handled by staking up the flower stems.
Stems and Leaves Wither, Even When Plants are Well-Watered
This is a classic sign of root rot, caused by various fungi. Most common in warm, wet weather, you can prevent root rot by making sure the soil is porous and well-drained.
Why Have My Plants Stopped Flowering?
It's common for Peruvian lilies to gradually stop flowering as the tubers get old, even though the foliage continues to flourish. Normally this happens as plants reach five or six years of age. When this happens, it's time to lift and divide the tuberous roots.
What is the difference between Peruvian lily and Asiatic Lily?
With their vibrant colors, splash of freckles, and popularity as cut flowers, the Peruvian lily and the Asiatic lily (Lilium auratum) share some common features. However, the blooms of the Asiatic lily are larger (5 to 6 inches), have more prominent stamens, and grow at the top of tall stems bearing narrow foliage. Another key difference is the hardiness of the Asiatic lily: as hardy perennials that rebound from zone 3 winters, the Asiatic lily is a staple in Northern gardens.
How long to Peruvian lilies live?
In a favorable garden location, Peruvian lilies will live almost indefinitely, as the tuberous roots will gradually spread and colonize the area. The spread is usually manageable, however; this is not officially regarded as an invasive plant.
How should I use Peruvian lily in the landsape?
This plant is very often grown as a large container plant, or in cutting gardens for flower arrangements. Its foliage is rather sparse, so as a garden plant it is best planted behind other species that disguise the base of the plants.
How do I harvest Peruvian lilies for cut arrangements?
It's not recommended to use pruners to cut flowers from these plants. Instead, grasp the flower stem—leaves included—near ground level and pull laterally to detach the stem from the root crown. Arrange the flower stems, with leaves attached, in a vase with taller stems in the center, shorter stems surrounding them.
Don't worry about frequent harvesting; the more flowers you harvest, the more the plant will produce.