How to Grow Oriental Lilies

There are so many beautiful Oriental lilies available that they easily make a stunningly beautiful and colourful garden, they’re most beautiful standing among other shorter growing flowers and shrubs.

Giant Oriental lilies are really easy to grow and they produce beautiful fragrant flowers right from their first year. They are great for novice gardeners and kids gardens.

The bulbs are available in the early spring and early fall. They come in a wide range of solid colours and many colour combinations.

Their height ranges from 18″ to 72″ depending on the variety. They can reach a stately 7 ft tall or more in good conditions.

Characteristics 

  • Bulb will produce a flower the first year
  • They’ll do well in less than ideal conditions
  • Very fragrant
  • The need bright direct sun or they will lean over trying to reach it
  • They don’t require a large amount of soil space

Freckles Oriental Lily They thrive in climate zones 3 – 8. This is a wide temperature range, so they will very likely grow well in your area too.

Oriental Lilies will grow in containers for many years and will withstand quite a bit of abuse and even dry to poor soil conditions. If you have extended months of cold winter weather then they may not survive in a container.

If you have the option of planting it in the ground or a raised bed then do that. Well thought out placement gives the bulb maximum opportunity to acclimatize to its environment and grow to it’s largest possible size with an amazing show of blooms.

Selecting Your Bulbs

If you would like your lilies to look like the ones featured in the images here just make sure the label says “Oriental”, 48″ tall or more and “Fragrant”.

If you’re buying from a store, choose a reputable nursery in town and then choose the physically largest bulb you can find out of the entire display. The bigger the bulb the bigger the plant and flowers will eventually be.

Planting Instructions

When you look at the bulb, if there are roots visible they go pointed towards the bottom. Sometimes the bulb has already started to grow in the package and it clearly shows you which way is up.

Choose the sunniest location you have available as this will help them to grow strong and healthy. 

  • Plant the bulb down about 4″ to 6″
  • Cover the bulb with a few inches more soil
  • Pat down firmly for stability

The stalk can tip over if the roots don’t get a good grip from the beginning. 

Don’t place them along a hedge or tree line. The trees will cast shade and then the lily stalks will lean and reach toward the brightness. The benefit to having them grow in a container is that if the stalk leans at all just give it a half turn once a day to keep it growing straight up.

After planting, in a very short amount of time you’ll see a sprout emerge, usually in less than 2 weeks. Keep the watering consistently but not excessive throughout the growing and blooming period. If you live in a rainy area then adjust your watering accordingly so the bulb doesn’t stay soggy.

The blooms should last a few weeks each before they start to fade and fall off. If you want to cut it and bring the stalk in the house, make sure to cut the yellow part off of the stamens from the center of the flower.

This yellow powder stains and shakes off on to other surfaces in your house including clothing. Sadly, sometimes the weather or wind will break the stalk right when the flowers are the most beautiful, if that happens it’s a good opportunity to bring it in the house so it’s not lost altogether.

 After all the blooms are done and there’s no evidence of more flowers coming, leave the stalk standing. Leave it there for the duration of the summer until the stalk itself and the leaves on it have turned yellow.

Just like a Hosta, this allows the plant time to take back the nutrients that it put out in order to bloom in the spring. These returned nutrients make the bulb much stronger for the next year.  

When it’s all yellow or brown then you are free to cut off the stalk about 8″ from the ground. These remaining tubes become a protected over-wintering nesting spots for ladybugs.

Varieties 

There are at least 12 different colours of Oriental lily, each with various mature heights ranging from 24″ to 72″.

Quite often you’ll find that when the package says the bulb has a mature height of 48″ the plant will actually grow taller than that.

One of the most fragrant and beautiful is the stunning Casablanca. It’s pure white, elegant and is often grown to be used in weddings and bouquets. In the garden it will grow up to 48″ or more with good care.

When you plant several of the fragrant lilies you’ll be greeted every day with the air in your yard being filled with the pleasant scent of these lovely flowers when you go out in the morning.

Plant the taller ones in the back (or place containers in the back) so that the tallest ones are behind the shorter ones and you’ll get a very beautiful display.

Largest Lily Bulbs

  • The Casablanca – Pure white (48″)
  • Conca d’Or – Electric Yellow (48″-60″)
  • Dizzy – White with magenta stripes down the center of each petal with speckles (48″-60″)
  • Golden Star Gazer – Sunshine yellow (48″-60″)
  • Muscadet – White with pale pink stripes down each petal with pink speckles (36″-48″)
  • Scheherazade – Mainly burgundy with lighter yellow or pale green edges on each petal with dark red speckles (36″-48″)
  • Stargazer – Hot pink with white edges

The names of the bulbs may vary from region to region, so look for the tallest mature height of Oriental bulb in you’re favourite colour and you’ll be fine.

Giant Lily StalkLilies vs Slugs

The biggest problem you’ll likely ever have with growing lilies is slugs and snails, depending on your area. One or both of these slimy pests will be an issue if you live in a rainy or temperate climate.

 

In the early spring it will be necessary to apply slug poison or traps to your garden. This article details several remedies for slugs and snails.

The slugs will eat an emerging lily sprout faster than it can grow, the flower stalk will eventually die from stress before it even gets going.

It’s easy to tell if you are dealing with slugs, the emerging lily sprout will not have it’s characteristic pointed leaves and the stump will be misshapen. Each day that you go out to check on its progress, you’ll notice no growth or very little change from the days before.

Look closely and you’ll probably see that it’s slugs. Select and use the remedies or poisons of your choice and enjoy the beautiful summer lilies.

Lily Leaf Beetles

The other main pest of the lily is the Lily Leaf Beetle. It’s known as the scarlet lily leaf beetle (Lilioceris lilii). It’s a little red, hard shelled bug that completely devours lily leaves and foliage right down to the stem and eats until only the bare stalk of the plant is left. Their preferred food is the lily, but the adults will also eat the foliage of some other species. These include:

Flowering Tobacco (Nicotiana)
Hosta
Potato (Solanum tuberosum)
Hollyhock (Alcea)
Lily-of-the-Valley (Convallaria majalis)
Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum)

They are a big problem on the east coast of North America. They were accidentally introduced to to North America through Quebec, Canada in 1943, They are particularly bad in the north East areas near New England, the Maritime provinces in Canada and have recently been found as far west as Manitoba in Canada and Bellevue, Washington in the USA.

The Scarlet Lily Beetle prefers the Asiatic lily the most, but also likes Trumpet lilies Oriental lilies, Tiger lilies and Turk’s Cap lilies. The Day lily is not affected.

Identification

Look under the leaves, you’ll be able to see chewing damage on the edges of the leaves as well as egg masses in narrow rows on the underside of the leaves. The egg masses are usually red or brown in colour. It’s the larva that do the most damage, even more than the adults.

The adult beetles over winter in the leaves and debris on the ground and begin laying eggs early in spring. The larva hatch in 67 – 100 days and begin to feed on the new lily sprouts. The early blooming Daffodils and Fritillaria are on the menu too.

If the problem is bad then you’ll see clusters of small globs of brown stuff on the leaves and leaf nodes of the lily. This is the excrement of the larva, that they’ve piled on top of themselves for protection. The larva eat for 16 to 24 days and then go down to the soil to pupate, then 16 to 22 days after that then the adults emerge to carry on the cycle.

Plan of Attack

If you’re dealing with this pest there are a few solutions that you can start with to help save your lilies.

The first is kind of nasty…hand picking and hand squishing. This means go out to the garden several times a week and hand pick off the adults and squish all the egg clusters you can find. I recommend wearing latex or vinyl gloves. Also, take with you a small bucket of water mixed with dish soap to put the leaves and squished remains in to after you get them.  

Sprays

There are two sprays that are showing to be effective against this pest. The first is Neem oil, this repels the adults and kills the larva. Apply it every 5 to 7 days and early in the season.

The other is Spinosad, this is a widely used organic pesticide that is derived from soil dwelling bacterium. If used regularly it’s shown to be effective. Once you learn how to grow giant Oriental lilies you’ll be astounded at how beautiful and easy they are. 

Please leave a comment about your lily garden.

14 thoughts on “How to Grow Oriental Lilies”
  1. I can’t find any reference to shoots (non-flowering, skinny, stems near the flowering ones). I’ve had three varieties of Orientals planted for three years. This year, lots of shoots, some small buds on skinny stems. Of the 30 bulbs, I’ve gotten six 6-foot stems that are about 3 inches around at the base and have 9 or ten blossoms each. They’re extraordinary but I don’t know what to do with the shoots; clip when they appear? And is it time to divide?

    1. Those giant lilies must be so beautiful! I love it when they get that big.

      The little things at the bottom are called ‘offsets’ and are your next generation of lilies. Leave them there for now. Do the dividing well after blooming is finished. Ideally you want to let the stalk turn yellow before you cut it off, then lift the bulbs.

      They can be separated when the parent bulb is lifted from the soil in the fall. Have you ever lifted them before? You can replant them again right away if they’ve already been living through the winter outside. Each little offset can be planted on it’s own and will (eventually) create a plant identical to the parent.

  2. I live in zone 8. Can I plant lilies (tiger, asiatic and/or star glazer lilies in June for next spring? So many website have clearance sales now. Many thanks!

    1. Yes, you definitely can. The bulbs will most likely bloom this year as well as next spring/summer.

  3. Regarding overwinter storage in a basement/garage do the bulbs need to be kept in the dark? Is storing them in vermiculite a good method to store overwinter, like I do with Dahlia tubers. The temperature in the location will remain at approximately 40-45F.
    Bob

    1. What zone do you live in? In zones 5-9 they can stay outside year round.
      Yes, they do need to kept in the dark and a tiny bit moist. The temperature you’ll have them at is great, between 35F – 45F is ideal. Wood shavings, peat moss or vermiculite are all fine for storing them in.

  4. thank you for being the only intelligent reference I checked –
    I have grown all types of lilies for over 40 years; this is the first time that I had “bugs”- the scarlet lily beetle -could not figure/identify out.

    Now I can deal with it –

    1. You’re most welcome! I’m glad my info was helpful and that you found it when you needed it. Your garden must be so beautiful now and over all of those years! Good luck conquering those beetles.

    1. Yes you can grow Oriental lilies indoors, they do this quite well. Start by selecting the largest healthiest bulb you can find.
      It’s best to use a first year bulb for this, older bulbs don’t perform as well.

      Place the bulb, roots to the bottom, in a 6″ round pot (or something similar) with some small rocks on the bottom and a bit of soil and then cover it all around with soil and then with another 1″ of soil on top, soak the soil once.

      Then water it once a week with a half strength solution of fertilizer that’s high in phosphorus…when you see the “xx-yy-zz” number on the package, choose one with a high middle number. These fertilizers are often called “bloom enhancers” or “bloom food” or something that refers to growing big beautiful flowers.

      You can plant more than one bulb in a larger pot just leave 3″ of space between each bulb.

      Keep it moist and watered but not drenched, lilies like to be damp but not waterlogged. Delay watering a few days if it seems like it’s still soaked when the week is up. Set the pot in a sunny location that doesn’t get too hot and make sure the temperature doesn’t exceed 75 degrees F.

      In a short amount of time (less than 2 weeks) you should see the lily spike poke through the soil. Keep up the careful watering and the flower should grow tall and bloom nicely. Let it go until the flowers begin to fade, then as they do carefully break them off to allow the plant to feed the new buds coming.

      After all the flowers are gone, cut the stalk off near the bulb and either plant it in the garden or wash it off and store it in the fridge, cool basement or garage until the next growing season. I hope that helps you grow some beautiful Oriental lilies indoors! Let me know if you need more help doing this! Good luck.

      1. my lillies dont have nearly as many blooms as usual. we did have a record wet winter. please advise.

        1. Is it that there are the same number of stalks as usual with fewer flowers? or is it that there are fewer stalks and therefore fewer flowers? How old are the bulbs/how many years have they been planted?

          If your area has had a an unusually wet winter then it’s possible that the bulbs rotted.

          What kind of lilies do you have? The Oriental lilies tend to fizzle out on their own after a few years and Tiger lilies tend to cause problems for other lily species if they are nearby each other.

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