How To Grow Potted Lilies


Question: I would like to grow some lilies in pots so they can be moved around on our patio and terrace or even the front porch when they are in flower. What is the best way to grow them in pots? Shelia, Chilhowee, Tennessee

Answer: Shelia, the lily’s needs are no different from those of any other strong-growing garden plant. And although the variety selection available is increasing, it is still possible for any gardener to buy for a small outlay a comprehensive collection of the best in hybrid and species lilies. Many nurseries consider these plants as a special feature of summer displays.

In spite of their regal bearing, it is no problem to fit lilies into the home garden. First of all, they are fine, commanding flowers for a herbaceous border, or for planting among low-growing shrubs such as azaleas and rhododendrons.

movable potted lily

I have used them with excellent effect. Another method I highly recommend is to set them in pots or plant boxes for porch, terrace or patio. In keeping with the trend toward outdoor living and “recycling”, plants that respond to pot culture as well as lilies do are easily brought close to terrace or porch when in bloom, then removed to a secluded corner of the garden. Lilies can be left in containers for years without transplanting.

For potting I have used a mixture made up of two parts good rich garden loam, one of peatmoss and one of very well rotted cow manure. Bulbs are set as soon as they arrive in October, then the pots are topped with some coarse leafmold and river sand. Clean sand or vermiculite on top gives a clean, sterile surface.

Writing this reminds me of some pots I potted up some six years ago of one large bulb which, in season, produced five large flowers on one stem. The next year two stems and 15 flowers appeared. The third year I repotted the plant in an 11-inch pot and was rewarded with 49 flowers on three stems. Well, I still have the bulbs, now in a 24-inch pot, and expect at least six, perhaps seven, good stems and some smaller ones this year.

Of course, in such a case strong feeding is necessary. We use liquid fertilizer after the stem roots are fully developed and continue with weekly applications until well after flowering. Great care should be taken that lilies in containers have perfect drainage, provided in the usual way with pieces of charcoal or fragments of broken pots over the hole. Otherwise the plant will have little chance of survival.

Advancing The Season – Greenhouse Or Coldframe

With a small greenhouse, deep coldframe or heated sun porch the lily season can be advanced several months. Bulbs are stored at a temperature between 31 and 50 degrees already potted up. Old pots must be washed thoroughly and allowed to dry before using; new ones should be soaked for about 24 hours. After six weeks, the lilies are moved into a warmer room where plants develop normally, to flower during the latter part of March. The bulbs may also be stored in damp peat at a temperature between 31 and 40 degrees, to be taken out and potted at various times during the winter for a succession of bloom from March to May.


Once the lilies have bloomed the pots can be set out in an inconspicuous corner of the garden. But they should not be put in a low spot where water accumulates, nor should they be allowed to dry out. Foliage will probably die down during June or July, and after that they need little water.

Even in full flower, lilies can be lifted with bulb, basal and stem roots to be planted in a large pot for the house or a show. They should be well watered after transplanting and hardened off for 24 hours in a cool spot before being taken to the living room. The points to watch in such drastic moving are drainage of the container and water, which should be ample but not excessive.

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