Lilies are a gardener's delight, available in a wide range of colors and forms. True lilies grow from a bulb-like corm, which is covered with overlapping scales. Some varieties, like Asiatic and Oriental lilies, are winter hardy throughout the United States. Others, like Easter lilies, thrive in warmer climates, but can be grown in pots. Most lilies need full sun, but a few varieties, like the Turk's cap lilies, grow well in shade. Once you have chosen lilies adapted to the conditions of your garden, just a minimal amount of care will ensure lovely flowers for years to come.
Plant lily bulbs in rich soil, with excellent drainage, in a sunny, sheltered place, in the fall. Plan to get new bulbs in the garden soon after purchasing them, because they must not be allowed to dry out in storage. Bury large bulbs 4 to 6 inches deep, and place smaller bulbs 2 to 4 inches deep. Be sure to measure planting depths from the top of the bulbs. Space the bulbs 8 to 12 inches apart.
Apply 4 to 6 inches of loose compost, wood chips or leaf mulch on top of newly planted bulbs in late fall, before the first frost. This will insulate the bulbs from early frosts, allowing continued root growth, and protect the bulbs from freezing and thawing cycles as winter progresses. Wait until the ground freezes in early winter to apply mulch to established lilies.
Remove mulch around new shoots in spring after the danger of frost has passed. Protect the tender new shoots from hungry rabbits with cages made from chicken wire staked in place with wooden or bamboo stakes. Apply pet-safe, copper-based slug bait if you see slug damage on emerging lily shoots.
Feed your lilies in spring with a phosphate rich fertilizer to encourage better bloom and maintain the plant's vigor. Use slow release fertilizers for optimal results.
Water the soil around the base of the plants early in the morning. Avoid wetting the leaves or watering in the evening, to reduce the chance of fungal infection.
Cut away spent flowers to conserve the plants' energy and remove dead stalks in summer to improve air circulation. Leave green stalks and leaves on the plant to provide nutrition for the bulb. Remove dead stalks in winter or early spring, as new shoots appear.