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How to Care for Lily

By Dena E. Bolton ; Updated September 21, 2017

There are numerous plants that have the word “lily” in their name, such as daylily, toad lily, and spider lily. However, these plants are not true lilies. The genus name for true lilies is “Lilium” and applies to the popular Easter lily and to such hybrids as Oriental and Asiatic lilies. There are hundreds of varieties of lilies hardy in zones 3 through 8 and appearing in a multitude of colors and sizes. Nevertheless, they all require similar conditions and care in order for them to grow and bloom successfully.

Apply a time-released balanced fertilizer at the first sign of new growth. A good time-released balanced fertilizer applied at the beginning of the growing season will give your lilies all the extra nutrients they might need for the entire season. Follow the instructions on the back of the package.

Top-dress your lilies with organic compost. As your lilies start their new growth for the season, amending the soil with some organic compost will add nutrients and promote good drainage. Just cover the area where your lilies are planted with about 1 to 2 inches of compost.

Cover the planting area with 2 to 3 inches of any type of organic mulch. A saying among lily growers is, “heads in the sun, feet in the shade.” Lilies like the sun, but they also like their roots to remain cool. Applying a layer of organic mulch purchased from any garden center will help to accomplish this, plus it allows the soil to retain moisture.

Water for about 20 minutes once or twice per week during the growing season. Lilies, like most perennials, have deep roots, which require deep watering.

Gently remove any spent blooms. As the blooms fade and die, pull them from the stalk and discard.

Allow the stems and leaves to die back naturally. The stems and leaves will turn a yellowish color as they die. However, do not be too quick to cut them back. The bulbs take in nutrients through their stems and leaves for the next year’s growth and blooms.

Cut your lilies back to the ground at the end of the season, after the stems and leaves have died completely. This is usually in the early to mid fall.

Mulch well. After you have cut back your lilies, apply 3 to 4 inches of mulch to provide them with protection through the winter months. The bulbs will do well left in the ground as long as they are covered with a good layer of mulch.

Divide in the early spring or early fall if they become too crowded and are not blooming as well as they once did. If you want to divide your lilies, dig up the bulb. You will see little bulbils, scales or offsets, depending upon the type of lily you have, around the main bulb. Gently remove these and replant all of the them and the main bulb immediately.


Things You Will Need

  • Compost
  • Time-released balanced fertilizer
  • Mulch


  • Planting low-growing ground cover around your lilies will serve the same purpose as mulch. Creeping jenny, for example, turns a bright yellow in the sun and can offer an attractive contrast to the darker green leaves of your lilies.
  • If you do not like the unattractive dead stems, plant an annual vine, such as a morning glory, at the base of the lily. The vine will wind around and hide the lily's dead stems and leaves.
  • Squirrels and chipmunks love to dine on lily bulbs. To discourage them, stick one or two cloves of garlic in the ground around each lily. The garlic smell repels the rodents.


  • Lily bulbs can dry out rather quickly, which is why you should re-plant them immediately when dividing. If you are unable to do so, store the bulbs in damp sphagnum or peat moss until you can plant them.
  • Do not overwater your lilies. Allow the soil to dry out between waterings. Overwatering can cause more damage than underwatering. In fact, it can cause root rot plus a condition known as gray mold, which shows up as a gray substance on the leaves.

About the Author


Dena Bolton has written for local newspapers and magazines since 1980. She currently writes online for various sites, focusing on gardening. She has a BA in Political Science and German and graduate credits in Latin American Studies from East Tennessee State University. In addition, she is a TN Master Gardener.