How to Grow and Care for Resurrection Lily

Resurrection lily with trumpet-like purple flowers clustered on end of stem in sunlight

The Spruce / K. Dave

Resurrection lilies (L. squamigera) commonly known as surprise lilies are named for their sudden appearance in early fall when they spring forth from the ground without any prior noticeable foliage to announce their presence. Not a true lily, these plants are part of the amaryllis family. Plant the bulbs in late summer to early fall, but don't expect to see any flowers the first year. After that first year, foliage will appear in the spring and die back in early summer, with fragrant flowers appearing on naked stems in late August or early September. L. squamigera is resistant to deer and rabbits and does not have any significant risk of pests or diseases.

Botanical Name Lycoris squamigera
Common Name Resurrection lily, surprise lily, magic lily, naked lady
Family Amaryllidaceae
Plant Type Perennial, bulb
Mature Size 1.5 to 2 ft. tall, 1.5 to 2 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full sun to partial shade
Soil Type Well-drained, sandy, loamy
Soil pH Neutral to acidic (6.5)
Bloom Time Summer
Flower Color White, rose pink with a hint of lilac
Hardiness Zones 5 to 9
Native Area Asia

Surprise Lily Care

Surprise lilies are fairly low-maintenance plants. Their unusual growth habit helps them thrive in areas with rainy springs and dry summers, so they do not need any supplemental irrigation during their dormant period. Excessive summer watering can cause the bulbs to rot.

Surprise lily bulbs are large and can reach about two inches in diameter. Choose the plumpest bulbs to get the best show of blooms. If you're dividing bulbs, you can replant the smaller bulblets that form, but they might not flower for a year or two. Plant the bulbs about five to six inches deep or slightly deeper if you’re planting them in a zone they’re marginally hardy in. Plant them in a location that receives full sun or partial shade. Pick a spot where the plants can remain for the long term because they don't like to be disturbed once planted.

The surprise lily foliage will die back during the late spring or early summer months, but you don't need to remove any of the faded foliage from it. A couple of months later, you'll be surprised by blossoms in various shades of pink that are growing atop naked stems.

Resurrection lily flowers with light purple trumpet-like petals in sunlight closeup

The Spruce / K. Dave

Resurrection lily flowers growing on tall and thin stem surrounded by foliage in sunlight

The Spruce / K. Dave

Light

Resurrection lilies thrive in locations with full sun. However, the plants will tolerate partial shade, particularly in warmer climates.

Soil

These plants aren't too particular about their soil, but they grow best in a loamy bed with good drainage. If the soil is poor-quality, work a three-inch-thick layer of compost into the top foot of soil.

Water

The L. squamigera plant is not drought-tolerant, so it needs moderate watering during its growing season. However, you should limit watering during its dormant period during the winter months, as well as during the period in late June when the foliage begins to die back but the blossoms haven't appeared yet.

Temperature and Humidity

Resurrection lilies can be hardy—in fact, they're the hardiest of all the Lycoris species—but they don't tolerate extreme temperatures. If subjected to extreme heat or cold, flowers will be smaller and fewer. It tolerates a wide range of humidity levels.

Fertilizer

Let the bulbs settle in for about a month before fertilizing or you risk burning the root system. In the autumn, feed the plants with a high-potassium fertilizer, then provide a nitrogen-rich fertilizer in the early spring to encourage growth.

Pruning

Resurrection lilies do not need pruning beyond removing dead foliage and stems. Simply leave them alone and they will thrive in the garden.

Propagating Resurrection Lilies

After a few years, the blooms might be diminished, which means it's time to propagate via division.

  1. Before lifting the bulbs, water them thoroughly.
  2. Use a shovel to lift the bulbs carefully, aiming to keep as much soil around the roots as possible.
  3. Quickly work a three-inch-thick layer of compost into the top 12 inches of soil, then gently divide the bulbs and replant them at a depth of five to six inches and six inches apart.
  4. Water them thoroughly and add a two-inch layer of mulch over the soil.

The plants won't bloom the first year after being divided because they are establishing new roots.

How to Grow Resurrection Lily From Seed

Resurrection lilies grow from bulbs. These bulbs can be purchased at your favorite garden center or through division of existing plants.

Potting and Repotting Resurrection Lilies

Surprise lilies can be grown in containers. Choose a large container to allow the plant room to grow. Ensure the container has drainage holes to allow water to drain from the sand and potting soil mixture. Mix in a slow-release fertilizer and water well after planting.

Repot the bulbs when the plants begin to show signs of struggling for space, such as a reduction in blooms. Simply dig up the plant and divide the bulbs, then replant the largest bulbs in a pot similar to the size of the current one.

Overwintering

Resurrection lilies suffer from cold damage when the temperature dips below 28 degrees Fahrenheit. To protect them, spread a two-inch-thick layer of mulch on top of the bulbs in the winter.

Common Pests

This plant might face trouble from aphids and from the lily leaf beetle, both of which can be handled with insecticidal soap or spray. Fortunately, resurrection lily is quite hardy and doesn't face serious plant diseases.

How to Get Resurrection Lily to Bloom

Keep in mind that during the first year, resurrection lilies won't bloom; they are too busy creating a root system and can't devote energy to flowers. After that first season, however, keeping the lilies in well-drained soil in an area of full afternoon sun will often be all that's required to bring them bursting forth from the ground with a profusion of blooms.

FAQ
  • How long do resurrection lilies live?

    These plants can live for seven to 10 years when given the proper environment. Dividing the plants regularly can help ensure the original bulbs live on for many years beyond that.

  • Can I grow resurrection lilies indoors?

    It is possible to grow resurrection lilies in containers; however, it can be quite difficult to force them to bloom indoors. To fully enjoy their beauty, keep them outdoors.

  • What are alternatives to resurrection lilies?

    Numerous types of lilies bring the same burst of color to the landscape as resurrection lilies. Keep in mind that any plant in the amaryllis family is also a contender, as these offer brightly colored flowers on top of long stems, grown from hardy bulbs.