True Lilies (not daylilies) - Asiatic, Oriental, Border Lilies, Trumpets, and Orienpets  ("Tree Lilies"), a combination Oriental and Trumpet Lily - Can reach 8 ft. tall, with huge clusters of big, fragrant blooms. The only lilies I really don't care for are the spider lily and tiger lily. Tiger lilies are smaller lilies on really tall spindly stems. As for the spider lily....I just don't like not seeing upward or outward faces, and they're kind of skinny for my taste. In my garden, lilies are royalty.

I'll lay the persisting myths to rest because I'm an admitted lily snob. 
Daylilies (Hemerocallis) are absolutely not true lilies.
Daylilies have many leaves that grow from a crown of foliage, but true lilies usually have only one stem or shoot that grows from a bulb. Peace lilies, canna lilies, water lilies, lily-of-the-valley, and calla lilies are not true lilies either.
There, I feel better now. Let us proceed......

The Lily is an historical symbol of purity. The Roman goddess, Venus, was so jealous of the white lilyís purity, that she caused the long pistil to grow from the flowerís center.

The white, graceful flowers became a symbol of fertility for pagans and Christians. The Old Testament, New Testament and many other ancient books mention lilies. The flowers still represent purity and abundance in Greece, where brides wear crowns made of lilies and wheat.

European explorers searched the globe for medicinal plants during the Victorian era. The explorer, Augustine Henry, became enamored with lilies and switched the goal of his expedition from finding medicinal plants to locating new types of lilies. 

Easter lilies are perhaps the best-known type of lily. The flowers, which are used to create arrangements in churches during the Easter season, symbolize the Resurrection. Christians strongly associate the lily with the Virgin Mary, as a symbol of her chastity and purity. Entire garden designs are created and dedicated to The Blessed Virgin, and Lilies  have their place as one of several symbolic flowers in the sacred garden. The white Madonna Lily was so-named as a dedication tothe Madonna, Mary. To learn about Mary Gardens and how to create one in your landscape, visit this page.

Lilies are amazing in a vase and in arrangements - one stem can have 6 or more flowers on it, and the indoor fragrance is incredibly heady and wonderful. Finding a deep and wide enough elegant vase to hold the big stems full of flowers is a little bit of a challenge. Be sure it has good bottom weight and a flared top for the multi-blossomed top-heavy varieties.

How To Care For Lilies

Type of Lilies

A Photo gallery of the lilies in my gardens, and how to grow them in yours.


Lilies In The St. Francis Garden

Madonna Lilies In Mary Gardens

How To Grow Beautiful Lilies Without Really Trying

There really isn't a lot to tell you about growing lilies - they kind of do it all by themselves. Except for staking the tall varieties, you can grow them almost anywhere but full shade. They grow best in full sun and part sun. Rabbits, deer and groundhogs will feast on them if given the chance. I have a problem with squirrels. They dig up and eat or steal my bulbs. But they're not particular about which bulbs.

Such perfect and fragrant blooms on long stems with distinctive leaves, with little or no care at all once you pop those bulbs into the ground or into a decorative Asian-style or modern pot. They're so easy, I call  them "Plant and Stand Back" plants. Lilies are beautiful, elegant flowers that are well-suited to provide impact in many garden design themes, e.g., Mary Gardens, Zen Gardens, Asian/Japanese Gardens, Secret Gardens, Saints Gardens, Fragrance Gardens, Moonlight Gardens and Cut Flower Gardens. They are a hit as cut flowers grown for sale at markets and garden shows. They are also great balcony, terrace and patio garden ornamental display. Tall stems, dark green interesting foliage, beautifully-shaped flowers,  spectacular fragrance, zero care, and they take up almost no horizontal space. 

Lilies also look stunning along fence lines (inside or outside the fence) with the tallest close enough to the fence to make it easy to stake or tie, if necessary. I have a row of Tree Lilies growing along the inside of my front yard's white picket fence for a cottagey look. They peek over the 4 ft. fence and face the street, so that neighbors and walkers can enjoy them, too. They  finish blooming just as the old -fashioned Giant Hibiscus, that are also planted there, are already full of buds and preparing to take their turn and bloom until frost. Since they're the same height as the Lilies, it's a rotating flower show of high impact flowers.

In a flower bed, lilies are very friendly, respects other flowers' space, and prospers in the presence of low-growing plants that protect the liliesí roots from drying out. Mine have beautiful and dense ground covers at their feet, like Snow in Summer, Creeping Jenny and Blue Star Creeper (Amsonia). Ground covers keep weeds away and fills in any gaps. Soft and frilly types look like delicate carpets. Let them grow even if they start to grow over the tops of bulbs in spring - the lilies will just push right through the soft foliage and stems.

Besides the glorious blooms that are a feast for the eyes and a treat for the nose, these elegant beauties attract butterflies and other pollinators, so add them to your pollinator and butterfly gardens. If you grow fruit trees and shrubs, lilies will draw more pollinators into the garden who will happily pollinate them, and along with the bees, will provide pollination of fruiting plants that present you with the fruit feast at harvest time.

Lilies are not at all fussy. Mine don't seem to get bugs or disease, and you don't have to prune them. Plant several varieties, and you can have a long season of lily blooms. Lilies do well in Zones 4-9. They come in several heights, from border lilies for the front of the garden, to tall Tree Lilies (Orienpets) that tower over fences, you can have three types in your flower garden blooming at the same time or rotating bloom times from Spring to Fall. Lilies are perennial and will bring you joy year after year.


In most places, plant lily bulbs in the fall, a few weeks before the first freeze date. Bulbs planted in fall will have well-established roots in the spring. Flower bulbs benefit from a winter chill to produce big blooms. I don't follow a schedule. I plant them anytime in fall, early and mid-spring, and they perform beautifully. I have planted in late spring and still had a big show in summer.

In areas with very harsh winters, plant as soon as the threat of frost has passed, and the ground is dig-able in spring. Container-grown lilies can be planted anytime during spring and early summer.  Buy the bulbs close to planting time because lily bulbs donít go dormant, and you don't want them to rot while waiting. If I have to wait to plant my bulbs, I store them in baggies in the veggie drawer of the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

After planting and during active growth, water freely, especially if rainfall is less than 1 inch per week. Lilies love mulch. Keep lilies mulched so that their roots are cool during very hot weather and to keep water from evaporating. I use a recycled rubber mulch that stays put and doesn't decompose or need replacing. Leave a little space around the stem without mulch. Even in the hottest weather, my in-ground lilies are fine without watering more than once a week. Mulching before the first freeze keeps the soil warmer and allows roots to keep growing a little while longer.

Lilies bloom only once per season, but you can remove the faded flowers so that the plants donít waste energy making seeds. You can cut back the stems of spent flowers, but don't remove leaves until they have died down and turned brown in fall. Itís important not to cut back the dead leaves until the end of their season, because they help provide energy to the bulb for next seasonís blooms. I'll admit I don't always follow that advice because I don't like dead leaves on my plants. The bulbs do ok for me if I skipped that part. Mine look best if I cut the flower stem down to a few inches and ignore cutting off the leaves. The leaves are actually pretty attractive on the short stems.

Cut and Place In Vase

I work in, and photograph my gardens and lilies regularly. Orange/yellow stains are always happening from the pollen and I end up wearing it. It's amazing how it sticks to just about anything. I have found groovy yellow and orange streaks in my hair (from pushing my hair out of my eyes), on my face and hands, and it stains clothing. I wear a gardening "uniform" anyway, to make sure I don't ruin my favorite clothing. I always forget that if I cut the stamens out from the center of the flower before bringing them inside, I won't have pollen marks everywhere. New lily varieties are being developed that don't have that pollen thing going on. Not good for pollinators, but clothes- and nose-friendly.

Try not to cut off more than a third of your lily plant's stems with the flowers. Before arranging in a simple, but classy, tall vase with a wide mouth, strip the lower leaves on the stems so that no foliage will be underwater. That causes that rot and brown water thing. A lily arrangement will last two or more weeks. Mine generally last only a week because I don't cut until the flowers are fully open. I like them to stay in the garden as long as possible.  Cutting the lilies just as the buds are opening and you can just see the flower colors, will give you more time. Change the water every few days, cutting a little bit off the bottom of the stem to facilitate water absorption. 

Place the vase on top of a colorful placemat or a pretty vintage doily or runner because once the petals start to drop, they drop everywhere. I use a small serving tray with handles that has a raised edge to contain it, and the handles make it easy to move around without dropping petals all over.

Types of Lilies

Asiatic lilies

Asiatic lilies start the lily blooming season in early to mid summer. Most have upward-facing flowers and all are hardy in zones 4 to 9. The fragrance has just about been bred right out of 'em. But they're still stunning to look at. 


Martagons are also  known as Turk's cap lilies. Growing 3 to 4 feet tall, they have 3-inch flowers with petals that curve backward (recurved), and up to 20 blooms on each stem. Turk's Cap Lilies are hardy in zones 3 to 9.

Trumpet Lilies
Zones 5-9

Mid-summer bloomers named for their trumpet-shaped flowers. Trumpet lilies produce lots of flowers (12 to 15 per stalk) and have a heady, sweet fragrance. 3-5 ft. tall.

Trumpet Lilies have two categories:

Aurelian hybrids can reach 5 feet tall. 
Easter Lilies are known for their huge, trumpet-shaped, outward-facing blooms. Very fragrant.

Orienpet Lilies
A hybrid cross between the oriental ("orien") trumpet lily and the Trumpet ("pet") lily. Also called "Tree Lilies", they can reach 7-8 ft. tall. Upward-facing or hanging blooms and intense, exotic fragrance.

Tiger Lilies

3 to 4 feet tall with large, freckled, hanging blooms with recurved (curving backwards) petals. Tiger lilies are very hardy (zones 3 to 9) and will multiply to form large clumps over the years. They are happy anywhere, and can produce more than a dozen blooms on each stem.

Rubrum Lilies

Rubrums resemble the Tiger Lilies but the color range is from white to deep pink and the blooms are very fragrant.

Oriental Lilies

The last lilies to bloom are Oriental Lilies. Intensely fragrant, with very large blossoms up to 10 inches across. Blooming in mid- to late summer, just when Asiatic lilies are beginning to fade. From 2-8 ft. tall. The shorter vrieties are great for patio container gardens. Treasured for their intoxicating fragrance that intensifies after dark, Oriental lilies produce masses of huge white, pink, red, or bi-color blooms. They make wonderful cut flowers that will fill rooms with their scents. Perfect for Fragrance Garden, Romantic Garden, Secret Garden, and Moonlight Garden design themes.



Article and Photos ©2020 Mary Hyland
Mary's Bloomers
All rights reserved


Note: Every part of the lily is said to be toxic to cats. The cats terrorizing my gardens and killing  birds in flower beds that are filled with lilies and feeders beg to differ. They roll in them, break the stems hunting down birds, and cover their fur with pollen. I don't own the feral or roaming cats, and cats are here all the time, so I don't worry about it. But if you're cautious and your cat has access to your garden, lilies might not be for you unless your cat is a homebody.

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