How to Grow and Care for Tiger Lilies

These striking lilies are known for their unique flowers

Tiger lily flowers growing in front of bushes
David Beaulieu

Tiger lily (Lilium lancifolium or Lilium tigrinum) is an herbaceous perennial that grows from bulbs with a moderate growth rate. While it's an Asian species, a tiger lily is not rare to see in the United States. You can plant tiger lily bulbs in the fall or spring and expect blooms in the summertime. The plants have strappy leaves and long flowering stems. Tiger lily flowers feature curved petals and are speckled with dark spots. They're typically orange, though there also are several other tiger lily colors, including red and yellow. Tiger lilies only bloom once per year. However, they're a more profuse bloomer than most lilies, producing as many as 10 flowers per stem. And tiger lilies come back every year, as long as they're well cared for.

Beyond its beauty, what is special about the tiger lily is its meaning: The flower is said to represent wealth, pride, and nobility. However, it's important to note that while the flowers are edible, the pollen is toxic to humans. Also, tiger lilies are toxic to cats but not dogs or horses.

Common Name Tiger lily
Botanical Name Lilium lancifolium (also Lilium tigrinum)
Family Liliaceae
Plant Type Herbaceous, perennial
Mature Size 3–5 ft. tall, 7–8 in. wide
Sun Exposure Full, partial
Soil Type Loamy, moist, well-draining
Soil pH Acidic
Bloom Time Summer
Flower Color Orange, red, yellow, white, pink
Hardiness Zones 3–9 (USDA)
Native Area Asia
Toxicity Toxic to cats, toxic to humans

Tiger Lily Care

Tiger lilies should require minimal care on your part. The plants will come back year after year, and they'll likely spread to form clumps. You also can grow these flowers in a cutting garden or containers.

The key is to plant your tiger lilies in a spot with good drainage, as a waterlogged area can rot the bulbs. Then, over the first few years, water your lilies regularly until their root system has matured. After that, they can better tolerate some drought and are fairly low-maintenance plants.

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

Light

Tiger lilies prefer to grow in a sunny location with roughly at least six hours of direct sun on most days. However, these tough specimens are not nearly as fussy about growing conditions as many other flowering plants are. They will tolerate partial shade and can actually benefit when shaded from the hot afternoon sun.

Soil

To ensure proper soil drainage for the bulbs, you might need to amend your soil with compost or humus. Peat moss, sand, or straw mixed into the beds are also options to improve drainage and retain appropriate moisture. Otherwise, tiger lilies can tolerate various soil types, though they prefer soil that's fairly fertile and slightly acidic.

Water

Tiger lilies have average water needs. Mature plants can tolerate some drought, but they still prefer consistent watering. If your area receives regular rainfall, that should be sufficient to keep them happy. If the soil is very dry, you'll probably need to water on a regular basis to prevent the soil from drying out.

Temperature and Humidity

Tiger lilies begin to grow in the spring after the last frost and go dormant in the fall and winter. If you live within their USDA hardiness zones, the temperature shouldn't be an issue. Tiger lilies also grow well in both humid and dry environments, provided the soil moisture is appropriate. They tolerate hot summer days if the bulbs have been planted deep enough to remain cool. It's a good idea to plant lower-growing annual or perennial plants near or around tiger lilies to protect their roots from drying out in hot weather.

Fertilizer

Tiger lilies don't need much fertilizer. A layer of compost around the base of the plants once or twice a year should provide all of the nutrition they require. Apply mulch in late spring to keep the roots cool during the summer. If you want to encourage more flowering, you can use a 5-10-5 fertilizer. When growing these plants in alkaline soils, feeding with an acidifying fertilizer might be beneficial.

Types of Tiger Lily

The familiar orange tiger lily is a pure species that has no named cultivars. However, L. lancifolium has been crossed with other species to create types of lilies with red, pink, white, and yellow flowers. These are often unnamed cultivars, but they all have the characteristic black or brown spots on petals that sharply curve backwards. These two characteristics are not found together on any other types of lilies.

There are also many other related 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. There are nine individual classes of lilies within the official classification system, but most gardeners will find their needs met by these three types of lilies:

  • Asiatic hybrids: These lilies generally flower in June into July, producing blooms in red, orange, yellow, white, pink, and more. These are very durable, easy-to-grow plants that will multiply and spread with little effort. These lilies fall into Division 1 in the official lily classification system.
  • Easter lilies (Longiflorum hybrids): These lilies are often forced into early bloom in pots for early spring celebrations. When planted in the garden—or if potted plants are kept growing in their pots—they usually bloom in mid-summer. These lilies belong to Division 5, featuring trumpet-shaped, brilliant white flowers.
  • Oriental hybrids: Oriental hybrids, such as the famous stargazer lily, generally begin blooming mid-to late summer and feature large flowers in rich colors. These are somewhat more delicate plants than the Asiatic lilies, and the bulbs might lose their vigor after a few years, requiring replanting. But the flowers are spectacular, and many offer a spicy scent that is almost as dramatic as they look. Oriental lilies fall into Division 7 of the official classification system.

Pruning

Foliage on the lower part of the stalks will fade first (in late summer). These yellow leaves won't be as noticeable if the plants are growing in the back row of a garden bed. Once all of the leaves have yellowed by late fall, cut the stalks down to ground level, and dispose of them.

Propagating Tiger Lilies

Tiger lilies, though not classified as an invasive species, have invasive growing tendencies and spread easily if you let them. If you want to propagate your lilies, you can do so with bulbils (small bulbs that form on the parent plant) or by bulb division. Ideally, this should be done in spring before the season's growth picks up, but you also can divide them in the fall in warmer climates. Here's how:

  1. Carefully dig up the entire plant when it is dormant.
  2. Gently separate the individual bulbs.
  3. Replant your bulbs as separate plants with the pointed side aimed upward.

Bulbils 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, you can carefully remove the bulbils and pot them. Bulbils will take an extra year of growth before they begin to bloom.

How to Grow Tiger Lily From Seed

It’s easy to grow tiger lilies from their seeds, or bulbils. They can be planted in the fall after they’ve ripened on their parent plant or in the spring after the danger of frost has passed. Plant each bulbil, roots downward, roughly 1/2 to 1 inch deep. The spot should receive bright, indirect light. Keep the soil lightly moist but never soggy. Root growth will occur over the winter, followed by foliage growth once the temperature warms in the spring.

Potting and Repotting Tiger Lily

When growing tiger lilies in containers, select a pot with drainage holes that’s at least 8 inches wide and deep. Unglazed clay is an ideal container material to allow excess moisture to evaporate through its walls. Use a quality, well-draining potting mix.

You’ll likely have to repot or divide your plant every couple of years. If you notice roots growing out of the drainage holes or popping above the soil line, that’s a good sign that your plant is root-bound and needs a bigger pot. To repot, gently ease the plant out of its old pot. Position it at the same depth in a new pot that allows for a couple inches between the root ball and container wall. Fill around it with fresh potting mix.

Overwintering

Tiger lilies will go dormant over the winter. The bulbs can survive freezing temperatures in the ground, but they'll benefit from a couple inches of mulch over their planting site for insulation. Also, make sure the planting site never becomes waterlogged, as the bulbs need very little water while they're dormant.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

Tiger lilies are a resilient species and aren't very susceptible to disease. However, they can harbor viruses, such as lily mosaic virus, that can harm other types of lilies. If you suspect this disease, the plant and bulbs should be pulled and destroyed. (Don't add it to your compost bin.)

Lily leaf beetles (Lilioceris lilii) and aphids can be problematic pests for the lilies. So treat your plants as soon as possible if you notice the leaves are being damaged.

How to Get Tiger Lily to Bloom

Tiger lilies are one of the later flowering plants, blooming by mid to late summer each year. While the bright orange speckled flowers only bloom once annually, the bloom period can stretch into early fall. Deadheading, or removing the spent blooms, isn’t essential, but it can help to prolong the bloom period. Otherwise, simply continue to ensure proper moisture levels while the plant is in bloom.

Common Problems With Tiger Lily

Tiger lilies tend to thrive when given the environment they like. But if conditions are off, they can develop some problems.

Leaves Turning Yellow

If your tiger lily’s foliage is yellowing, that’s often a sign of overwatering and/or poor drainage. An overall droopy appearance or a lack of blooms also can be signs of too much moisture. Allow the top few inches of soil to dry out between waterings. If this doesn’t do the trick, you might need to dig up your bulbs and amend the soil the improve drainage.

FAQ
  • Are tiger lilies easy to care for?

    Tiger lilies are somewhat drought-tolerant and quite maintenance-free once the bulbs are established.

  • How fast do tiger lilies grow?

    Plant the lily bulbs in the fall or spring, and you can expect blooms by mid to late summer.

  • Can tiger lilies grow indoors?

    A tiger lily can do well indoors in a pot. Just make sure to keep the soil moist, but never leave the pot in standing water or the bulb will rot.

Article Sources
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  1. Lilium Lancifolium. Chicago Botanic Garden.

  2. Tiger Lily. ASPCA.

  3. Lilium (Group) - Plant Finder. Missouri Botanical Garden.

  4. Types of Lilies. North American Lily Society.