The Best Time to Plant Lily Bulbs

The elegant, showy blooms of lilies are enhanced by their bright or delicate colors and some by their heady fragrance. As a bulb, the lily needs special care and early attention if you wish to have blooms in the correct season. The best time to plant lilies will depend on the type of lily.

Types of Lilies

The two most popular hybrid groups of lilies are Asiatic and Oriental. Asiatic lilies tend to be brightly colored, 2 to 3 feet in height, and profuse in blooms for cutting. Oriental lilies, with some varieties reaching 6 feet in height, will provide heavenly scent and sometimes wavy-edged petals on large flower heads. The Asiatic hybrids tend to bloom in early summer, while Oriental varieties are later bloomers.

When to Plant Bulbs

Knowing when the hybrid types bloom provides a key to optimum planting times. As a general rule, lily bulbs may be planted in the fall or early spring. However, if you consider that Asiatic lilies will tend to flower in early summer, you may miss your window for achieving blooms the first season if you wait to plant until early spring. Plant your Asiatics in the mid- to late-fall for best results. Oriental lilies have a longer blooming window as they should not flower until the middle of the summer at the earliest. Planting Oriental varieties in early spring should yield summer blooms. Alice Dodson, master gardener for the University of Illinois Extension, suggests that a potted lily hybrid can be planted directly into your garden. If you miss the blooming window for that year, you can expect blooms in the following season.

Dividing and Re-Planting

Approximately every three years, your lily bulbs will have multiplied to the point where they are too close together, advise University of Minnesota expert gardeners Anne M. Hanchek, Jane E. Bolla and Deborah Brown. When bulbs are bunched, they cannot create as big or beautiful a bloom as they did when they were first planted. To encourage healthier plant results, dig up the bulb clusters, divide and re-plant. Space clusters should be spaced 3 to 5 feet apart, with each bulb at least 8 inches from the others in the group.