How and When to Transplant Lily Bulbs

Overview

True lilies grow from bulbs, which are overdeveloped roots that store nutrients for next season's blooms. Transplanting lily bulbs should be easy if you understand the lily's pattern of growth, bloom and regeneration. The problem is that lily bulbs never really go dormant. They gather food all summer and early fall, develop root structure all fall and winter and begin growing as soon as they sense the sun warming the ground in spring. However, following a few guidelines will improve your chances of success.

Step 1

Prepare planting holes about a foot deep and wide, 8 inches to a foot apart before you start to dig up your lilies if possible. Make holes a few inches deeper for oriental bulbs, which tend to be larger. Line each of the holes with a cushion of compost and peat moss.

Step 2

Dig lily bulbs in late fall after all the foliage has died down. Dig a circle around the plant about 8 inches out from the main stem. Dig carefully---bulbs may have grown tissue in any direction from the stem.

Step 3

Pry the bulb mass up from underneath gently with a garden fork, disturbing as few roots as possible. Gently rinse clumps of dirt off so you can see how many bulbs you have. Cut the stem off at the neck of the parent bulb and set it aside on a piece of newspaper.

Step 4

Twist adult bulbs apart and dust the necks and any breaks with a plant fungicide powder, sold in garden centers. Inspect the bulbs for signs of rot or damage from rodents and discard damaged bulbs. Do not let lily bulbs dry out; if you must delay planting, wrap them in muslin or cheesecloth and keep them in a cool, moist place like a refrigerator vegetable crisper.

Step 5

Place each lily bulb, roots down and neck up in a hole with its roots spread. Back fill with garden soil amended with compost and humus while holding the bulb 4 to 6 inches deep, depending on the size of the bulb. Water well and mulch with about an inch of well-rotted compost and leaves for winter protection.

Tips and Warnings

  • Mice and voles love lily bulbs as a winter meal. Keep bulblets in cold frames to protect them and limit winter mulch to an inch so rodents can't use it for shelter while they excavate for bulbs. Dig bulbs up very carefully. Lily bulbs grow "contractile" roots that actually pull them deeper into the soil as they mature. You'll find bulbs that you dig up to transplant sitting deeper than you planted them. Always wear gloves while using fertilizers and chemicals and wash hands thoroughly afterward.

Things You'll Need

  • Garden spade
  • Garden fork
  • Hand trowel
  • Peat moss
  • Compost
  • Fungicide
  • Muslin or cheesecloth
  • Refrigerator or cool basement or garage
  • Newspaper
  • Humus
  • Leaves

References

  • North Star Lily Society; Dividing Lilies
  • Wisconsin Regional Lily Society; Transplanting Lilies

Who Can Help

  • University of Washington Botanic Gardens
  • Ontario Lily Society
Keywords: transplanting lilies, lily bulbs, true lilies

About this Author

Chicago native Laura Reynolds has been writing for 40 years. She attended American University (D.C.), Northern Illinois University and University of Illinois Chicago and has a B.S. in communications (theater). Originally a secondary school communications and history teacher, she's written one book and edited several others. She has 30 years of experience as a local official, including service as a municipal judge.