Iowa Regional Lily Society (IRLS)
Growing Lilies in Iowa and neighboring states since 1973
Picking out your Bulbs
Pick bulbs that are solid--NOT mushy, bruised or dried out. Fresh bulbs should still have intact roots and no sprout or
only a short sprout. Lily bulbs are never dormant, so handle them gently.
Planting your True Lilies
First, choose lily bulbs suitable for the sunny or shady areas of your garden. Different cultivars have different sun
requirements, but most need 4-6 hours of sun per day. Plant your bulbs in well-drained soil, but away from trees or
shrubs. Dig a hole 4 inches wide and plant the bulb twice as deep as it is tall. Do not feed, but water it in well to remove
air pockets. Mulch well. Lilies like their heads in the sun and their roots cool. Be sure to mark your bulb with a garden
name stake so you do not accidentally dig it up later .
Caring for your True Lilies
Fertilize your lilies in the spring before the first lily shoots appear--usually in March. Use a formula low in nitrogen such
as 10-10-10 or 20-20-20. Too much nitrogen encourages heavy foliage, less bloom and could rot your bulb. Add acid
fertilizer to your martagon beds. Protect your emerging stems from late frosts and critters –this will be the only stem
your bulb will send up this season.
After your gorgeous true lilies bloom, be sure to cut off the spent blooming head but leave the leafy stem to feed the bulb
for the rest of the season. Hybrid lilies do not grow true from the seed, but rather from the young bulblets under ground.
If the summer is very dry, water at ground level. Wet foliage encourages botrytis, which attacks the leaves and damages
Protect your Lilies
Mulch your lilies well in the winter. In the spring, cover your lilies to protect from a hard frost that will kill the stem.
Keep safe from rabbits & deer who will eat it--you get only ONE stem per year per bulb!
Dig, separate and replant only in the fall and when the stems are closer than 2 inches to each other.
Cut the brown stems in the fall and mulch well to protect your lilies from the cold winter.
Notes on Living With Lilies
Browned Leaves — Brown leaves on lilies may well indicate botrytis blight, a fungal disease. It is a
weather-related difficulty and not permanent. However, it will disfigure the plants in the current
growing season. Sometimes flowers will not open properly, with one or more “missing” petals, smaller-
than-normal petals or odd shapes to the flowers.
Double Lilies— Lilies with double flowers need some patience. Don’t freak out if the first year the
flowers look deformed. All the doubles look ugly the first year! You may get one decent bloom if you are
lucky. It’s just part of the bulb adjustment to a new location. Like most perennial yearly growth: sleep,
creep and leap. The second year you will see some nice blooms
and by year three it likely will put on quite a show.
Emergency Move— Is a new patio or city road, water or power line work endangering your lily
garden in bloom? If you are very careful, by digging up the entire clump with a good root ball of soil,
you should be able to move them without any damage. Dig a hole slightly bigger than what you need,
fill with water and some loose soil to create mud. Place the clump into the hole, filling in and gently
tamping more loose soil down around the root ball. Use just enough water to firm the
soil and withhold water until the soil has started to dry out. Do not over water!The biggest mistake is to
give the bulbs extra water to make up for transplant shock. If the lower leaves turn yellow and fall off,
they received more moisture than they could handle, and you need to stop watering until the soil is dry
at least 2 inches below the surface.
In spring, if the bulbs are just beginning to break though the soil surface and need to be moved, dig
carefully so you do not break a sprout. The lily will not grow another one the same season and you will
have no bloom from that bulb.
Leave Some Stem— If you cut a lily for a lily competition or for floral arrangements, do not take more
than half to 2/3 of the stem (leaves) or they will not be able to rebuild themselves to bloom the
following summer. Lily bulbs only put up one stem a year, so you need to take care of it. A better choice
for cutting would be bulbs that have stems at least 4 feet in height, so there is room to cut off the top
and leave enough leaves to nourish the bulb. The flower head should removed after blooming, but the
stem left to feed the bulb.
Sun and Shade— Asiatic hybrids are generally best suited to areas of direct sun with at least 6 hours
of sun per day. They can also take some light shade, without leaning too much.
Trumpet Lilies grow well in full sun or part shade too. Trumpet lilies will tend to grow very tall and will
need staking if blooms are too heavy or grown in too much shade, if you are unsure as to whether or
not to stake, try placing a short, 24-inch thin wood or plastic stake 4-6 inches from the stem . Tie
loosely with soft material at 2 foot intervals. If more support is needed, simply replace the marker
stake with a taller one.
Oriental Lilies like to have 4 hours or more of sunlight to be at their best. This could be spots of sun
scattered throughout the day, or a couple hours in the morning followed by a couple of hours in the
afternoon, as long as it added up to 4 hours or more of bright light on their leaves. In areas of high
heat, orientals prefer to be in light to moderate shade throughout the hot afternoon hours or in
dappled shade all day long.
When Should Lilies be Divided —After the lily stems have turned brown in the fall is the best time
to divide them.Dig and divide when you see multiple stems emerging from the same bulb or the stems
are closer than 2 inches to each other. Stems will often be shorter than normal and blooms will be less
plentiful. During transplanting, if they have split, you will see two distinct bulbs. Simply pull them
apart from one another. Replant or share with your gardening friends!
Double Sensation- asiatic
Trim the bloom head to feed
the bulb for next year!
Stems too close together .
Lilies need to be divided!
Lily bulbs multiply underground
and are clones of the mother bulb
Bunnies love lilies!
Sun loving trumpet- Pink Perfection
Shade loving double oriental-
by Wanda Lunn
If you have 6 inches of space in your garden, you have room for a lily bulb. Lily
bulbs can be planted as long as the ground is unfrozen in the fall or first thing in
the spring. Some cultivars prefer spring planting while others require fall planting.