Make Way for Lilies: How to Fit More Lily Bulbs in Your Garden
I love lilies and every spring I somehow manage to find room for more of them. My flowerbeds are overflowing with plants and my garden isn’t getting any bigger. So it takes some creativity to find new places to plant lily bulbs.
A few years ago, I started planting lilies in 1 and 2-gallon nursery pots. I got the idea from a local garden center. In late summer they offer a pot of ready-to-bloom lilies for about $20. I decided that if could grow them myself, I could afford twice as many lilies for the same money.
Longfield Gardens offers big, plump Oriental lily bulbs for just a little more than $2 each in quantities of 15 or more. The more you buy, the lower the price. And if you purchase bulbs at the end of the season you can usually get them for even less.
The Benefits of Growing Lilies in Pots
A pot of lilies, just coming into bloom, will instantly perk up a tired perennial border or add some excitement to your entryway. It’s a trick I’ve used often — especially when company’s coming.
Growing lilies in pots has another big benefit: you can feel free to use them as cut flowers. When I have an established clump of lilies growing in a flower bed, it’s hard for me to cut them. And I also know that cutting those stems comes at a cost.
Like other bulbs, lilies need their foliage to produce energy for the next year’s flowers. All of a lily’s leaves are on the stem itself, so when you cut a nice long stem of flowers, you also remove most of the plant’s foliage. This weakens the bulb and may prevent it from blooming the next year.
When you grow lily bulbs in pots, you can treat them as annuals. Cut each stem as it comes into bloom and just toss the bulbs at the end of the season.
If you grow your own potted lilies instead of buying them at a nursery, you’ll save a lot of money.
5 Tips for Growing Lilies in Pots
- Always start with large, high quality lily bulbs. The pre-packaged bulbs available locally are usually smaller than the ones you get by mail. Bigger bulbs produce more flowers per stem. Order your bulbs in late winter/early spring. Ordering early means you’ll have a better selection and usually get better pricing, too.
- Focus on Oriental lilies. For early season color, I sometimes grow a few pots of Asiatic lilies, but the rest are Orientals. Most Oriental lilies are bred for the cut flower market and intended to be grown in containers. They have relatively short stems (which makes it easier to keep the pots upright), outward-facing flowers (good for bouquets) and are available in many beautiful color choices.
- To stretch the season, you can divide up your lily bulbs and plant some of them early and others a couple weeks later. Use 2-gallon pots and plant 3 or more lilies per pot. A single stem of lilies looks lonely. A pot with three or even five stems will have a strong presence in the garden or in a container. Planting the bulbs 4-5” deep helps the stems stay upright. Use a good soil-less growing medium such as Pro-Mix and pre-moisten it before filling the pots.
- After planting, put the pots in a sheltered location where the plants won’t get battered by wind. And where you won’t forget to water them. I keep mine behind my greenhouse. Lilies prefer relatively cool soil, so this location keeps the pots from getting too hot. They might prefer full sun, but half-day sun seems to work fine.
- Wet soil means trouble for lily bulbs. To avoid disease problems, let the soil get almost dry between waterings. Good air circulation is always beneficial. I also fertilize my potted lilies, though some say they don’t need it. I add a spoonful of Osmocote to the top of each pot once or twice during the season. You could use a water-soluble fertilizer instead.
Late Summer Brings Big Rewards
Sound easy? It is! And when August rolls around you will be SO happy you did it. Late last summer I put a large decorative container beside my front door and stuck 3 pots of lilies inside. I enjoyed their beauty and fragrance for more than 3 weeks — every time I went in and out of the house. I used flowers from some of the other pots in arrangements for a special event. The lilies made my bouquets look professional — and smell fabulous.
Click here to see our complete selection of lilies, or here to see just our Oriental lilies. To learn more, you might want to read All About Lilies or check out the slide show Bloom Times for Lilies. We also have a video showing How to Plant Lilies.