How to Plant Lily Bulbs

A lovely lily in bloom
A lovely lily in bloom (Image: Jupiterimages/ Images)

Lilies are a group of flowering bulbs renowned for being easy to grow. They come in a wide variety of shapes, colors and growing habits. With thousands of cultivars to choose from, and about 100 species, these striking flowers can be a showy highlight to any garden. In order to have success in planting lilies, you should plant lily bulbs as soon as possible after purchasing.

Things You'll Need

  • Rototiller, shovel or fork
  • Composted leaf mold
  • Aged cow manure
  • Trowel
  • Planting stakes
  • Mulch
  • Fertilizer

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Find a planting site for the lily bulbs that provides full sun to partial shade. Ideally the site should provide full morning sun and dappled afternoon shade.

Prepare the planting bed using a rototiller, garden fork or shovel. The soil should be loosened to about 12 to 15 inches deep. If you find any weeds, roots, rocks or sticks, make sure you remove them from the soil.

Spread over the planting bed a 2- to 3-inch layer of composted leaf mold followed by a 2-inch layer of aged cow manure. Incorporate the amendments into the soil using the rototiller, fork or shovel. Do this about two weeks before planting the lily bulbs.

Dig 6-inch-deep holes in the planting bed for larger lily bulbs. For smaller bulbs, make each hole about 4 inches deep. Make sure the holes are 12 to 15 inches apart.

Plant one lily bulb in each hole, point side facing up. Scoop soil over the bulbs slowly until the bulbs are completely covered with soil.

Water the planting bed with a slow, steady spray of water until the entire area has been thoroughly watered.

Place 12- to 16-inch-tall planting stakes around the entire planting bed so you'll know where to water and avoid walking. Once shoots emerge, spread a 4- to 6-inch layer of weed-free compost, wood chips or leaves for a mulch over the planting bed. Reapply mulch every spring, only using about a 2-inch layer.

Tips & Warnings

  • When choosing lily bulbs, make sure you choose a cultivar that is best suited to your growing region.
  • You can plant lily bulbs in the spring or in the fall, from mid-September through mid-October.
  • Remove old, dead flowers by snapping them off gently at the top of their stems. This encourages more plentiful blooms.
  • Fertilize lilies every spring using a 5--10--10 slow-release fertilizer.
  • Water the lilies throughout the summer if supplemental rainfall is 1 inch or less every week.


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