Growing Lilies in Nursery Pots for Late Season Color
I love lilies and have planted dozens of them in my flower gardens, including Asiatics, Orientals, trumpets, OT lilies and species lilies. Though I usually manage to add a few new ones each year, the beds are already so packed with plants that it is hard to find space.
In my quest to acquire ever more lilies, I struck on the idea of growing them in nursery pots. This was inspired by a late summer visit to a garden center, where I saw pots of ready-to-bloom Oriental lilies selling for $25 each.
Longfield Gardens offers 10-count bags of mixed Oriental lily bulbs for just under $30. Like most other plants, lilies look best in groups, so I plant three lily bulbs per 2 or 3-gallon nursery pot. Each pot gives me three stems and 15-20 flowers for less than $10.
The Benefits of Growing Lilies in Nursery Pots
Having your own supply of potted lilies may be a luxury, but you’ll soon come to see it as a necessity. Need to perk up a tired perennial border or replace a plant that failed? Grab a pot of lilies for an instant makeover. Expecting company or just want to add some some excitement (and fragrance!) to your entryway? Arrange a few cachepots near the front door and fill them with potted lilies.
Here’s another way that growing lilies in nursery pots will enhance your life: you can use them as cut flowers. I rarely cut the lilies in my perennial garden because I like how they look in the flower beds. I also know that cutting the stems reduces the bulbs’ vigor. Lilies need their foliage to produce energy for the next year’s blooms, and cutting a stem of flowers removes most of the plant’s foliage. Since I treat my potted lilies as annuals, I can cut as many stems as I want and just toss the bulbs at the end of the season.
5 Tips for Growing Lilies in Pots
Bulb Quality Matters. Always start with large, high quality lily bulbs. The bulbs that are available locally can be smaller than the ones you get by mail. Bigger bulbs produce more flowers per stem. If possible, reserve your bulbs in late winter/early spring. Ordering early means you’ll have a better selection of varieties and may get better pricing, too.
Grow Asiatics and Orientals. Most of the Asiatic and Oriental lily varieties on the market are bred for the cut flower market. These commercial growers are looking for big flowers with long, sturdy stems. They also grow most of their lilies in bulb crates rather than in the field, so Oriental lilies are well adapted to container culture.
For early season color, I grow a few pots of Asiatic lilies, but the rest are Orientals. I have tried growing OT and trumpet lilies in containers, but they get to be too tall, and once they come into bloom it’s impossible to keep the pots upright.
Plant 3 or More Bulbs Per Pot. A single stem of lilies looks lonely. A pot with three or even five stems has a strong presence. I use 2 or 3-gallon pots and plant 3 or more lilies per pot. Planting the bulbs 4-5” deep helps keep the stems upright once the flowers come into bloom. Be sure to use a good soil-less growing medium such as Pro-Mix and pre-moisten it before filling the pots. To stretch the season, you can divide up your lily bulbs and plant them in two or three batches, spaced two weeks apart.
Protect Plants Wind and Heat. After planting, put the pots in a sheltered location where they won’t get battered by summer storms. I keep mine along the east and north side of my greenhouse. They would probably appreciate a bit more sun, but half-day sun seems to work fine. Lilies prefer growing in relatively cool soil and this location also keeps them from getting overheated.
Care and Feeding. Wet soil spells trouble for lily bulbs. To avoid disease problems, it’s best to let the soil get almost dry between waterings. Having good air circulation is always beneficial.
I fertilize my potted lilies, though some say that’s unnecessary. Each pot gets a spoonful of Osmocote once or twice during the season. Alternatively, you could apply a monthly dose of water-soluble fertilizer or top-dress the pots with compost about midway through the growing season.
Late Summer Brings Big Rewards
When August rolls around, you will be SO happy to have potted lilies coming into bloom. Plant some of them in your flower beds to fill those inevitable late summer gaps. Put a few pots in a big planter on your deck or patio and enjoy their heady fragrance up close. Add them to cut flower arrangements for your home or share them with others. I am pretty sure it’s impossible to have too many lilies!
Click here to see our complete selection of lilies, or here to see just the Oriental lilies. To learn more, you may want to read All About Lilies and 8 Tips for Growing Better Lilies. And be sure to check out our new Bloom Time Planning Guide for Lilies.