The Timeless Elegance of Lilies


Lily flowers are some of the most elegant and timeless blooms you can find. With their intricate petals, delicate fragrance, and rich symbolism, lilies are beloved by gardeners and flower enthusiasts around the world. I am fortunate enough to have about 45 lily cultivars gracing my garden, mosr of them as companions to my peonies or dahlias.

In this blog post, I’ll talk about the different lily types and provide some practical tips for caring for them.

First, let’s talk about the different types of lilies

There are over 100 species of lilies in the genus Lilium, each with their own unique characteristics. And then there are hundreds of cultivars available on the market. The Royal Horticultural Society is the International Cultivar Registration Authority for lilies, and publishes a Register of cultivar names used in the genus, with a horticultural classification dividing in 7 classes.

Lilies come in a range of colors, from white and yellow to pink, red, and even almost black. Some of the most popular lilies include:

Asiatic lilies

These lilies are known for their bright colors and bold, upward-facing blooms. Asiatic lilies typically bloom in the early to mid-summer months, depending on the climate and growing conditions.

Oriental lilies

These lilies are larger and more fragrant than Asiatic lilies. They have a more intricate shape, with curled petals and sometimes spots or stripes. Oriental lilies tend to bloom a little later than Asiatic lilies, in mid to late summer, usually from July to August in my zone 5 area, so they can be a good choice if you want to extend the lily blooming season in your garden.

Roselily lilies are a type of double-flowered oriental lily known for their large, showy blooms that are made up of multiple layers of petals. This gives them a full, ruffled appearance. They also have a unique characteristic: they are pollen-free. This makes them an ideal choice for people with allergies or those who want to avoid the mess of pollen stains. Roselily lilies produce multiple flowers per stem, making them an excellent choice for gardeners who want to add a splash of color to their gardens, or as cut flowers due to their long-lasting blooms and sweet fragrance.

Trumpet lilies

These lilies, often called Aurelian lilies, are shaped like trumpets, with a long, curved stem and a fragrant, large, flared bloom that faces upward. They’re often used in wedding bouquets and other formal arrangements.

Orienpet lilies

These lilies, also known as OT lilies, are hybrids between oriental and trumpet lilies. They were first developed in the late 20th century and are becoming increasingly popular in gardens around the world. They combine the best characteristics of both parent species, producing large, showy, and fragrant flowers with thick, strong stems that can grow up to 6 feet tall, making them an impressive addition to any garden. One of the unique features of the OT lilies is their ability to produce multiple flower buds on a single stem, which can result in a profusion of blooms that last for several weeks. They are also known for their better resistance to diseases and pests, making them an easy-to-care-for choice for gardeners.

Martagon lilies or Turk’s cap lilies

The flowers of martagon lilies, with their distinctive flower appearance characterized by recurved petals that form a turban-like shape, are typically small to medium-sized, measuring between 2 to 4 inches in diameter, and they are held on sturdy stems that can reach up to 6 feet tall. One of the unique characteristics of martagon lilies is that they often take a few years to establish and bloom after planting, but once they are established, they can produce an abundance of blooms each year. They are also known for their ability to naturalize in zones 3-8 and spread, making them a great choice for woodland gardens or naturalistic planting schemes.

Tiger lilies

These lilies have distinctive orange petals with black spots. They’re named after the stripes on a tiger, and they make a striking addition to any garden. They are also attractive to pollinators such as bees and butterflies. Tiger lilies are late bloomers, blooming in mid to late summer, usually from July to August.

Tiger lilies can produce bulbils, which are small bulb-like structures that form in the axils of the leaves at the top of the stem. These bulbils are clones of the parent plant and can be used to propagate new plants.

Lilium lancifolium - tiger lily

Easter lilies

These lilies are cultivars of Lilium longiflorum. They are very popular in the spring and sold in pots. However, they are only hardy in zone 7-10. Easter lilies can be grown as annuals or planted in pots and brought indoors during the winter months in zone 5, where I live. But my preference goes towards hardy lilies.

Growing lilies

Now, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty: how to care for your lily flowers. Lilies are relatively low-maintenance plants, but there are a few things to keep in mind if you want them to thrive. Here are some tips:

  • Plant your lilies in well-draining soil that’s rich in organic matter and slightly acidic. Lilies don’t like to be in soil that’s too wet or too dry.
  • Choose a spot that gets at least five to six hours of direct sunlight per day. I grow most of my lilies with my dahlias and my peonies that have similar requirements.
  • Water your lilies regularly, but don’t overwater them. Lilies prefer moist soil, but they don’t like to be waterlogged. Avoid spraying lily flowers.
  • Deadhead your lilies regularly to encourage more blooms.
  • Fertilize your lilies with a balanced fertilizer once a month during the growing season.

Planting lily bulbs

This is a straightforward process that can be done in just a few steps. Here’s how to plant a lily bulb:

  1. Choose a location: The ideal location in your garden should meet the growing requirements and be appropriate for the height of the lily cultivar you are planting.
  2. Prepare the soil: Before planting, prepare the soil by loosening it to a depth of 6-8 inches and removing any weeds or debris. Add organic matter, such as compost or aged manure, to improve soil fertility and drainage.
  3. Plant the bulb: Dig a hole in the soil that is two to three times the height of the bulb. Place the bulb in the hole with the pointed end facing up, and cover it with soil. Plant 1-5 bulbs at once (I usually plant 3), spaced about 8 inches apart and at least 18 inches from other plants. Water the soil lightly to settle it around the bulb.
  4. Mulch: Apply a layer of organic mulch, such as shredded bark or leaves, around the base of the plant to help retain moisture and suppress weeds. Adding granular chicken manure is recommended. I always spread wood chips over the soil so that I remember not to walk on the newly planted bulbs.
  5. Water: Water the newly planted bulb thoroughly to help it establish roots. After the initial watering, water the lily deeply once a week or as needed, depending on the soil moisture level and weather conditions.
  6. Be patient: Patience is definitely key when it comes to growing lilies. It’s important to remember that these plants are perennials, which means they will come back year after year and continue to grow and bloom. While it may be tempting to expect instant results, allowing the lilies to take their time and establish themselves properly will ultimately lead to healthier and more abundant growth in the long run.
  7. Maintain: As the lily grows, stake it if necessary to support the stems and flowers. I use half-circle supports and tomato cages for tall varieties or ones that are on the front of the borders. Deadhead spent flowers to encourage continued blooming, and remove any diseased or damaged plant material promptly.

By following these simple steps, you can successfully plant a lily bulb and enjoy beautiful blooms for years to come.

Watch for these pests

Lilies are beautiful and prized ornamental plants, but they can also be susceptible to a variety of pests that can cause damage to the plant and its blooms. Some of the most common pests of lilies include:

  1. Lily beetle: The lily beetle (Lilioceris lilii) is a small, bright red beetle that is native to Europe and Asia. It is also known as the red lily beetle or scarlet lily beetle. The adult beetle is about 8-10 mm in length and has an elongated, oval-shaped body. Its distinctive bright red color makes it easy to spot on green foliage. The lily beetle has a voracious appetite for lilies and other plants in the lily family. It feeds on the leaves, flowers, and stems of the plant, causing significant damage. Adult beetles typically emerge in the spring and begin feeding on lilies soon after. They mate and lay eggs on the underside of lily leaves, and the larvae that hatch from these eggs also feed on the plant. The larvae of the lily beetle have a slimy appearance. They can grow up to 10 mm in length and have an elongated, worm-like shape. They feed on the leaves and flowers of lilies, and can quickly defoliate a plant if left unchecked: the plant cannot store enough food in its bulb for the next year and becomes weak and weaker. The lily beetle is considered a serious pest of lilies, and can cause significant damage if not controlled. Some areas have more lily beetles than others. I have lost 30 cultivars of lilies in a matter of 3 years in my former garden. In addition to feeding on the plant, the beetle can also transmit plant diseases. Gardeners can control the lily beetle through a variety of methods, including hand-picking the beetles and larvae, applying low-impact insecticides, keeping the soil clean in both fall and spring, and using physical barriers such as netting. Regular inspection of lilies for signs of beetle activity is recommended, as early detection can prevent an infestation from becoming established.
  2. Aphids: Aphids are small, soft-bodied insects that feed on the sap of lilies. They can cause leaves to curl and distort, and can also spread plant diseases.
  3. Thrips: Thrips are tiny, slender insects that can damage lilies by feeding on the leaves and flowers. They can cause the flowers to become deformed or fail to open properly.
  4. Slugs and snails: These slimy pests can feed on the leaves and flowers of lilies, leaving large holes in the foliage and destroying blooms.
  5. Spider mites: Spider mites are tiny pests that feed on the undersides of leaves, causing them to turn yellow and brown. They can also produce webs on the plant.
  6. Deer and rabbits: These animals can cause significant damage to lilies by feeding on the leaves and flowers. They can also trample the plants and cause them to become uprooted.

To prevent pest infestations, it’s important to maintain good garden hygiene by keeping the area around the lilies free of weeds and debris. Regular inspection of the plants for signs of pest activity is also recommended, as early detection can prevent an infestation from becoming established.


Lilies can be affected by a number of diseases that can cause damage to the plant and reduce its aesthetic value. Here are some of the most common diseases of lilies:

  1. Botrytis blight: Botrytis blight is a fungal disease that can affect lilies, causing them to develop gray mold on the leaves, stems, and flowers. This disease is often caused by poor air circulation and high humidity, and can be controlled by removing affected plant parts and improving air circulation around the plants.
  2. Lily mosaic virus: Lily mosaic virus is a viral disease that can cause mottled or streaked discoloration on the leaves of lilies. The virus is often spread by aphids and other insect vectors, and infected plants should be removed and destroyed to prevent the spread of the virus.
  3. Fusarium wilt: Fusarium wilt is a fungal disease that can cause the leaves of lilies to turn yellow and the stem to become soft and discolored. This disease can be controlled by planting disease-resistant cultivars and avoiding overwatering and poor drainage.
  4. Root rot: Root rot is a fungal disease that can cause the roots of lilies to rot and turn brown or black. This disease is often caused by overwatering and poor drainage, and can be controlled by improving soil drainage and avoiding overwatering.
  5. Gray mold and pythium root rot: Gray mold can affect the flowers of lilies, causing them to turn brown and wither. Pythium root rot can cause the roots of lilies to rot and the plant to wilt and die. These fungal diseases often appear as a result of high humidity and poor air circulation, and can be controlled by improving air circulation and soil drainage and avoiding overwatering.

Prevention is the best strategy for controlling lily diseases. It’s important to select disease-resistant cultivars, avoid overwatering and poor drainage, and maintain good garden hygiene by removing dead plant material and debris. Regular inspection of lilies for signs of disease is also recommended, as early detection can prevent an infestation from becoming established.

With these tips in mind, you should be able to enjoy your lily flowers for years to come. Whether you’re using them to celebrate a special occasion or simply enjoying them in your garden and arrangements, lilies are a beautiful and timeless choice.

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