Rain Lily Plant Profile

Rain lilies, zephyranthes
Nakano Masahiro/Getty Images

Many new homeowners are left scratching their heads when a stand of crocus flowers suddenly pops up in the middle of summer. In fact, many people unfamiliar with the rain lily mistake this flower for the crocus, as they are similar in size and shape. There are many reasons you should get to know this underused perennial flower bulb, which will spread abundantly in your flower garden with little or no care.

Also known as the zephyr lily, fairy lily, and rain flower, Zephyranthes plants generally produce three upright petals and three identical sepals, ranging from narrow to broad. The foliage is grassy and bright green, and tends to have a prostrate habit: think of the narrow foliage of grape hyacinth bulbs, which is similar. An individual flower will only last a few days, with the heaviest flush of blooms occurring first. The bulbs may bloom occasionally throughout the rest of the season, especially after heavy rain.

Botanical Name Zephyranthes
Common Name Rain Lily
Plant Type Bulb
Mature Size 6–12 inches
Sun Exposure Full sun
Soil Type Average to rich
Soil pH Neutral or mildly acidic
Bloom Time Summer, fall
Flower Color White, pink, or orange
Hardiness Zones 7–11
Native Area South America

How to Grow Rain Lilies

Plant the bulbs in the fall four to eight inches deep; plant deeper in sandy soil or if you live in a marginal growing zone and want to ensure hardiness. These bulbs also thrive when planted in a state of active growth, which gardeners appreciate as they can see the foliage and blooms before making a purchasing decision. 

In areas where rain lilies are hardy, you can leave them in the ground all year. North of USDA growing zone 7, you must dig the bulbs in the fall and store them in a frost-free area over the winter. Rain lily foliage is mostly evergreen, but you can cut it back on occasion, or even mow it in a meadow garden, without harming the plants.

As with many small flowering bulbs, rain lilies look best when planted in large drifts. On the other hand, if you have a small garden and can’t afford to dedicate that much real estate to one flower type, a group of a dozen rain lilies looks splendid tucked in beside a boulder, or peeking out between other sun-loving summer flowers like begonias, million bells, or guinea impatiens. Wherever you decide to plant them, keep them at the front of the border or close to the garden path so you can see the diminutive blooms.

Light

Choose an area in full sun to plant rain lilies. Some dappled shade or afternoon shade is usually tolerated, especially in hot climates.

Soil

Rain lilies thrive in average to rich garden soil. The bulbs exhibit tolerance to a wide range of drainage situations, so try your luck with rain lilies in both boggy and sandy conditions.

Water

While rain lilies can survive periods of drought, you won’t see their flowers until a summer soaking triggers the blooms to appear. You can choose to wait out the drought, or irrigate the flowers thoroughly to prompt flowering.

Temperature and Humidity

Rain lilies are best suited for warm, humid environments. Gardeners in colder growing zones can still enjoy these plants in containers, where they perform reliably as border fillers.

Fertilizer

Rain lilies do not need to be fertilized, but if you're planting them in heavy clay you can spread a layer of compost over the ground before they emerge in the spring.

Potting and Repotting

Rain lilies grow well in pots. The tops of the bulbs should be covered by an inch of soil. Although generally planted 2–4 inches apart when in the ground, when grown in containers, rain lily bulbs can be placed closer together, as they prefer being crowded.

Varieties of Rain Lilies

Unnamed white and pink rain lilies are the most common and easiest to find but do a little digging to find these named cultivars that will bring a range of colors to your flower garden.

  • 'Abacos Apricot': Also known as August grass, this native of the Bahamas features coral blooms with a yellow center.
  • 'Bangkok Peach': From July until early fall, enjoy the most delicate pale peach-hued blooms.
  • 'Beni Tama': Flowering begins in June, with pink blooms and prominent yellow stamens.
  • 'Big Dude': Broad white petals have a hint of lavender frost, making them glow in the night garden.
  • 'Rose Perfection': A rare selection sporting perfectly pink flowers with a central white stripe on each petal.
  • 'Star of Bethlehem': Vivid orange flowers with some yellow streaking
  • 'Fedora': Large white flowers begin early, in May, and continue throughout the summer.
  • 'Lily Pies': If you must choose just one, let it be this striking pink and white bicolor.
  • 'Midas Touch': As the name implies, bright gold blooms on 10-inch stems.