Tiger Lily Profile

Weigh the pros and cons before getting this plant

Tiger lily flowers growing in front of bushes
David Beaulieu

Tiger lilies are herbaceous perennials that grow from bulbs and yield colorful, stately flowers in the summer. This flower's petals curve backward and are speckled with brown spots. Because of this so-called "recurving" (as well as the dark spots), they are reminiscent of the blooms of Turk's cap lilies (Lilium superbum). The plants' long style and six long stamens stick out from the bottom of the flower. But, do not be swayed by their good looks and assume that you should necessarily grow them. Although eye-catching, it has some benefits and drawbacks that are important to consider before getting this plant or planting it in your garden.

  • Botanical Name: Lilium lancifolium or Lilium tigrinum
  • Common Name: Tiger lily
  • Plant Type: Herbaceous perennial
  • Mature Size: Stalky, thin, can grow up to 5 feet tall
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
  • Soil Type: Moist to wet soil
  • Soil pH: Slightly acidic to neutral
  • Bloom Time: Summer
  • Flower Color: Orange, red, yellow
  • Hardiness Zones: 3 to 9
  • Native Area: China, Japan, Korea, Russia
Lily family
 DebraLee Wiseberg / Getty Images
Tiger Lily Growing On Plant At Park
Trista Sweeney / EyeEm / Getty Images
Stargazer lily flowers (Lilium 'Stargazer') in bloom, North Carolina, USA.
Panoramic Images / Getty Images

How to Grow Tiger Lilies

Indigenous to the Far East, tiger lily plants can be grown in planting zones 3 to 9. Their toughness helps explain how they have become naturalized plants throughout much of the New England region in the United States.

It is important to be clear on just what exactly constitutes a tiger lily plant, because the same common name is often used for totally different plants. Plants classified as Lilium lancifolium (alternate botanical name, Lilium tigrinum) is a true lily and not a daylily such as Stella de Oro. The sword shape of the leaves gives the plants their species name (lancifolium means "lance-leafed" in Latin).

Botanically speaking, these are herbaceous perennials that are summer-flowering bulb plants, unlike daffodils, and tulips, which are spring-flowering bulb plants. A display of 10 or more flowers per unbranched flower stalk is typical. The blooms are not fragrant. 

As spectacular as the flowers are, the bulbils are perhaps even more distinctive. The bulbils are black, berry-like structures housed in the leaf axils.

Light

Like many flowers, they prefer to be grown in a sunny location. However, these tough specimens are not nearly as fussy about growing conditions as are many plants; for example, they will tolerate partial shade.

Soil

As bulbed plants, they require well-drained soil. If the soil is too moist, the bulb can rot. To ensure proper drainage, you may need to amend the soil, which means adding compost or humus. Peat moss, sand, or straw mixed into the beds are other ways to improve drainage and retain appropriate moisture.

As tall, skinny plants, you may need to stake them. But the trade-off is that their height makes them effective in the back row of a flower bed.

Water

Tiger lilies have just average water needs. After the plants are established, they are somewhat drought tolerant. They often thrive with existing rainfall.

Temperature and Humidity

This plant grows through spring and summer and is dormant in fall and winter. It flourishes in planting zones 3 through 9. It can tolerate humidity but does not require it.

Fertilizer

Tiger lilies do not need much fertilizer. A good application of a layer of compost around the base of the plants once or twice a year should provide all of the nutrition they require. Mulch in late spring to keep the root zone cooler during the summer. If you do wish to encourage more flowering, you can use a 5-10-5 fertilizer.

Potting and Repotting

If your potted lily has begun to stop producing flowers or seems to be dying, it may no longer have enough room for its roots to grow. You should repot it, as it may be root bound or pot bound. Tiger lilies should be planted at the same level of soil that they were planted before. Ensure you have well-draining soil that is rich in organic-matter rich to meet its nutritional needs.

Propagating Tiger Lily Plants

Tiger lilies are an aggressively invasive species and will take over your garden if you let them. Propagate this plant by bulbil or by bulb division. Ideally, this should be done during the spring before it starts to grow anew, but you can divide them in the fall in warmer climates.

Bulb division requires digging up the entire plant carefully when it is dormant and gently separating the individual bulbs. Replant your bulbs as separate plants with the pointed side aimed upward.

Bulbils will form along the stem of the plant at leaf axils. If you wish to minimize spreading, remove the bulbils and dispose of them. Or, if you wish to propagate more, you can carefully remove the bulbils and pot them as if they were bulbs to grow a new plant. These will take an extra year of time before they begin to bloom, so it is a slower growth process.

Toxicity of Tiger Lilies

Tiger lilies are poisonous to cats. The most dangerous and potentially life-threatening flowers to cats are true lilies belonging to the Lilium genus and daylilies (Hemerocallis). Even small ingestion such as less than one to two petals or leaves, pollen, or water from the vase may result in severe, acute kidney failure. If you suspect your cat has ingested any part of one of these lilies, bring your cat (and the plant) immediately to a veterinarian for medical care. Generally, the sooner treatment is started, the better the prognosis.

Pests and Diseases

Tiger lilies are a resilient species that are not really susceptible to disease but have been known to harbor viruses that can harm other types of lilies.

Additionally, immediately capture and kill any red lily beetles (Lilioceris lilii) that you see eating the leaves. If neglected, this pest problem only becomes greater over time.

Pruning

Foliage on the lower part of the stalks will die first (in late summer). These yellow leaves will not be as noticeable if the plants are growing in the back row. Once all of the leaves have yellowed, cut the stalks down to ground level. Do it then or by late fall and dispose of them to minimize the spread of disease to other plants. 

Varieties of Lilies

There are many species and hybrids within the genus Lilium. Fortunately, they do not all bloom at once. Rather, they disperse their vibrant colors and bold floral shapes across June, July, and August. This makes them valued allies for gardeners who demand a colorful variety of flowers throughout the summer months.

The Asiatic hybrids (such as Ceb Dazzle) and Easter lilies bloom first in the northern yard, followed more or less simultaneously by the Asiatic lilies (such as tiger lilies) and some of the Oriental hybrids, such as Stargazer

Many new gardeners find that they have an overabundance of flowers in the spring but lack sufficient floral color as the summer progresses. Long-blooming perennials like lilies can help you solve this problem, affording fantastic summertime color.