Potted Lily Plants – Tips On Planting Lilies In Containers

potted-lily
Image by Kelcy

By Darcy Larum, Landscape Designer

Many of us plant lovers have limited space in our gardens. You may live in an apartment, with no yard, or you may have already filled your flower beds to the brim. Yet, you find yourself drawn to the exotic look of lilies and, as a result, wonder “can you grow lily plants in pots?” The answer is yes. As long as you have enough space on your porch, patio or balcony for a medium to large pot, you can grow potted lily plants. Read on to learn more.

Container Grown Lilies

To grow potted lily plants, you will need these few things:

  • Healthy lily bulbs – You can purchase lily bulbs from many places. Mail order catalogs, home improvement stores, garden centers and plant nurseries often have lily bulbs for sale in packages. When you get these bulbs home, it’s important to sort through them. Throw away any bulbs that are mushy or moldy. Plant only the bulbs that look healthy.
  • A medium to large, well-draining pot – Proper drainage is very important for lilies. While they like moist soil, sopping wet soil will cause the bulbs to rot. Make sure you select a container with drainage holes on the bottom. For extra drainage, add a layer of rocks in the bottom of the pot. This layer of rocks will also help stabilize the pot if you are growing tall lilies, but it will make the pot a little heavy to move around. Select the proper size pot for the amount of lilies you are planting. The bulbs should be planted about 2” apart. Deeper pots are better for taller lilies.
  • Sandy potting mix – Lilies do best in partially sandy soils. Potting mixes that are mostly peat will stay too wet and again cause bulb rot. However, you can buy any potting mix and just add sand to it. Mix about 2 parts potting mix with 1 part sand. The more sand, the heavier the pot will be, though.
  • Slow release fertilizer – Lilies are heavy feeders. When you plant them, add a slow release fertilizer like Osmocote, to the top layer of the soil. Your lilies will also benefit from a monthly dose of potassium-rich tomato fertilizer during the growing season.

Planting Lilies in Containers

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When you have everything you need, you can begin planting lilies in containers. Fill your pot 1/3 of the way full with the sandy potting mix and pat it down a little. Don’t press it down too hard and compact the soil, just a light even patting will do.

Arrange the lilies how you want them on this layer potting mix, with the root side down and bulb tip up. Remember to space the bulbs about 2” apart. I like to plant them in a bullseye scheme by height. I place one tall variety of lily in the center, then a ring of medium height lilies around it, then one last ring of dwarf lilies around that.

After you have arranged the bulbs to your liking, cover with enough potting mix so that the bulbs’ tips are slightly sticking out. Add slow release fertilizer and water well.

Most lilies need a cold period in order to grow beautiful blooms. It is best to pot them up in early spring and then put them in a frost free, cool greenhouse or cold frame for a few weeks until outside temperatures become warm and stable. If you do not have a greenhouse or cold frame, a cool garden shed, garage or basement will work.

Once the weather permits it, place your potted lily plants outside in a sunny to part sunny location. If there is any danger of frost, simply move your potted lily plants indoors until it has passed.

Care of Lilies in Pots

Once your container grown lilies begin to grow from the bulb tips, add more potting mix to the container. Keep the soil line about an inch below the brim of the pot for watering. You should water only when the top layer of soil looks dry. I usually just stick the tip of my finger right in the soil to see if it feels dry or moist. If dry, I water thoroughly. If moist, I check again the next day.

Asiatic and Oriental lilies will bloom between June and August. After the blooms have faded, deadhead them to encourage new flowers and bulb growth rather than seed development. A dose of tomato fertilizer once a month also helps the blooms and bulbs. August should be the last month you use fertilizer.

Overwintering Container Grown Lilies

Your potted lily plants can live in these containers for a few years with proper overwintering. In autumn, cut the stalks back to just above the soil line. Discontinue watering at this time so the bulbs don’t rot.

Stick a few mothballs in the pot to deter mice and other pests. Then simply overwinter them in a frost free greenhouse, cold frame, shed or basement. You can also wrap the entire pot in bubble wrap and leave it outside for the winter if you don’t have a cool shelter to put it in.

Do not bring container grown lilies into a warm house for the winter, as that will prevent them from flowering next summer.

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