Tiger Lily Plant Profile

Tiger lily flowers growing in front of bushes
David Beaulieu

Tiger lilies (Lilium lancifolium or Lilium tigrinum) are herbaceous perennials that grow from bulbs and yield colorful, stately flowers in the summertime. You can plant the bulbs in the fall or spring and expect blooms by mid- to late summer. The flower petals curve backward and are speckled with dark spots. And a long style and six long stamens stick out from the bottom of each flower. The plants are especially eye-catching when you group a few bulbs together or use them as a border.

Botanical Name Lilium lancifolium, Lilium tigrinum
Common Name Tiger lily
Plant Type Herbaceous perennial
Mature Size Up to 5 feet tall
Sun Exposure Full sun to part shade
Soil Type Loamy, moist, well-draining
Soil pH Slightly acidic to neutral
Bloom Time Summer
Flower Color Orange, red, yellow
Hardiness Zones 3 to 9
Native Area Asia
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 Asia, tiger lily plants can be grown in USDA planting zones 3 to 9. Due to their hardiness, they've become naturalized plants throughout much of the New England region in the United States. The bulbs will come back year after year with little effort on your part, and they'll likely spread to form clumps. You also can grow these flowers in a cutting garden or in 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 hands-off plants.

Light

Like many flowers, tiger lilies prefer to grow in a sunny location. However, these tough specimens are not nearly as fussy about growing conditions as many flowers 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.

Water

Tiger lilies have just average water needs. Mature plants can tolerate some drought, but they still prefer consistent watering. If your area gets regular rainfall, that should be enough to keep them happy. But if the soil is very dry, you'll probably need to water your plants.

Temperature and Humidity

Tiger lilies begin to grow in the spring after the last frost and go dormant in the fall and winter. As long as you're within their growing zones, temperature shouldn't be an issue. The bulbs can survive freezing temperatures in the ground, but they'll benefit from a couple inches of mulch over their planting site to insulate them. Moreover, the plants are tolerant of humidity, though they don't require high humidity to grow.

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. Mulch in late spring to keep the roots cool 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 stopped producing flowers or seems to be dying, it might be pot bound—i.e., no longer have enough room for its roots to grow. Try repotting it into a slightly bigger container. Tiger lilies should be planted at the same level of soil that they were planted before. Always use well-draining soil that is rich in organic matter.

Propagating Tiger Lilies

Tiger lilies are an aggressively invasive species and will take over your garden if you let them. If you want to propagate your lilies, you can do so by bulbils (small plants that form on the parent plant) or by bulb division. Ideally, this should be done during the spring before the season's growth picks up, but you also can divide them in the fall in warmer climates.

Bulb division requires carefully digging up the entire plant when it is dormant and gently separating the individual bulbs. 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 as if they were bulbs to grow a new plant. They will take an extra year before they begin to bloom.

Toxicity of Tiger Lilies

While they are nontoxic to people, dogs, and other animals, tiger lilies are poisonous to cats. Even small ingestion—such as a petal, a leaf, pollen, or water from the vase—can result in severe acute kidney failure. Symptoms of toxicity include lethargy, vomiting, and a lack of appetite. If you suspect your cat has ingested any part of one of these lilies, bring the cat (and the plant) immediately to a veterinarian for medical care. Generally, the sooner treatment is started, the better the prognosis is.

Common Pests and 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.

Red lily 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 eaten.

Pruning

Foliage on the lower part of the stalks will die 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.

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.

  • Asiatic hybrids: These lilies generally flower in June and July, producing displays in red, orange, yellow, white, pink, and more.
  • Easter lilies: They also bloom in June and July (and can be forced to bloom even earlier) with their white, trumpet-shaped flowers.
  • Oriental hybrids: Oriental hybrids, such as the stargazer lily, bloom in mid- to late summer and feature large flowers in rich colors.