Lily plant care: watering, pruning & more


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Lilies are a real delight both in the pot and in the summer bed. But without the right care, you will not be able to enjoy their wonderful flowers.

Thriving pink lilies
With the right care, lilies are radiant [Photo: Kisialiou Yury/]

Lilies (Lilium) are frugal and at the same time beautiful summer bloomers in the border, which apart from a little skill in watering do not have many care requirements. Even wintering in the bed is not a problem for many species. If you do not have a bed for the mass of flowers, you can cultivate small species in a pot. However, this involves a bit more maintenance. Because lilies in pots are somewhat more demanding, especially when it comes to nutrient supply. Finally, the supreme discipline is considered to be caring for them as a houseplant. But with our helpful tips, you can master even this challenge. Of course, a few things should also be considered when choosing the location or the variety. That is why here you will find everything you need to know about growing lilies.

In order for your lilies to reveal their full flowering splendour, you will find out below everything you need to know about watering, fertilising and overwintering lilies, both in the bed and in pot culture. We also clarify whether you should remove faded flowers.

Lily plant care: watering

Lilies require some attention when it comes to watering. The splendid flowers like it nice and moist, but are very sensitive to waterlogging. The soil should therefore be loose and permeable. It is best to lay a drainage layer of gravel or clay shards at the bottom of the planting hole right at the time of planting. Otherwise, the plants quickly tend to develop stem base rot and die. Since the bulbs of the lily lack a solid scale, they tend to dry out faster than other bulb flowers. This plays a role in the storage of the bulbs, but also should not be ignored when watering. You should never allow the substrate around the bulb to dry out completely. In summer, this means reaching for the watering can every day. How often to water ultimately depends on many factors, such as the weather or substrate. In general, however, it can be said that lilies are watered as soon as the soil around the plant has dried superficially.

Lilies are sensitive to waterlogging [Photo: Sarycheva Olesia/]

Fertilising lilies

To grow big, strong and beautiful, lilies need the right food supply. When, with what and how much fertiliser is applied will determine to a considerable extent how many lily flowers will later adorn your garden and how many years your lily will be able to maintain this splendour. Especially with bulb flowers such as lilies, it is true that too much of a good thing is not always beneficial. In addition, it is advisable to mix compost into the soil at the same time as planting.

Fertilising lilies: when and how often?

Lilies are really easy to care for, as far as fertilisation is concerned, but they are still considered to be heavy growers among bulbous flowers. Therefore, fertiliser is applied twice a year. Fertilisation takes place in the spring. The first fertilising is done before the bulbs sprout. It is best to pick a sunny day without ground frost. The second time fertilise during budding.

Note: A third fertilisation in summer, at the latest in August, should prolong flowering.

Person planting bulbs in pot
Lilies are considered to be heavy feeders among the bulbous plants [Photo: Christina Siow/]

The right fertiliser

When fertilising, you have the choice between a mineral or an organic fertiliser. While both have their advantages, especially for frugal bulbous plants, the rapid and concentrated availability of nutrients with mineral fertilisers tends to do harm. The organic option, on the other hand, benefits from a slow release of nutrients over time and long-term promotion of soil life.

If you rely on an organic-mineral flower fertiliser, you will reap the benefits of both fertiliser options. The combination can achieve an optimal fertilising effect: A quick effect with simultaneous soil care, the prevention of leaching and overfertilisation, a natural slow-release effect and conservation of resources. The special thing about organic-mineral fertilisers is that they use only mineral ingredients that are also approved for organic farming and may even contain live microorganisms. Our Plantura Flower Food with slow-release effect is one such fertiliser. This way you will be able to provide your lilies with optimal nutrients while protecting the environment and promoting soil life.

Flower Food, 1.5kg
Flower Food, 1.5kg
  • Perfect for flowering plants in the garden & on the balcony
  • For healthier plants with beautiful & long-lasting blossoms
  • Long-lasting fertiliser that is free from animal products - child & pet friendly

As an alternative to an organic-mineral fertiliser, you can also fertilise with mature manure, bone meal and compost. However, never use fresh manure, because lilies are sensitive to it.

Summary of fertilising lilies:

  • When? In the spring
  • How often? once before budbreak, once at budbreak
  • With what? Mineral-organic fertiliser, mature manure, bone meal or compost.

Caring for potted lilies

Care in the pot is not much different from the care in the bed. After all, they are still plants of the same species with the same requirements. The only difference is that an environment that meets the lily’s requirements can be created differently in a pot than in a bed. Watering is the same as for planted lilies. The watering can is used as soon as the upper layer of soil has dried out. It should also be noted that the selected pot has a drainage hole. Otherwise, the risk of waterlogging is even greater than in the bed. Even with lilies in pots, you can rely on a natural fertiliser such as our Plantura Flower Food. In general, potted plants are fertilised more often than bedding lilies, as they have limited storage volume and are therefore depleted more quickly.

Flower Food, 1.5kg
Flower Food, 1.5kg
  • Perfect for flowering plants in the garden & on the balcony
  • For healthier plants with beautiful & long-lasting blossoms
  • Long-lasting fertiliser that is free from animal products - child & pet friendly

Caring for lilies as a houseplant

In a nice sunny place without direct sunlight, lilies in pots can also thrive indoors and enchant the room with their lovely fragrance. However, as a houseplant, lilies savour the human need for care a little more than when outside in the garden. In order for your lily to still be an impressive houseplant, there are a few things to keep in mind when caring for it:

  • Temperatures: 15 – 20 °C
  • Watering: keep substrate moist at all times, no waterlogging
  • Fertilisation: growing phase: every 2 – 3 weeks with low-nitrogen complete fertiliser in the irrigation water; for bud formation once with flower fertiliser in the irrigation water.
  • Pruning: Remove faded flowerheads, pruning in autumn
  • Overwintering: Cool, dark place at about 10 °C.
Potted lily indoors
Lilies as houseplants need special care [Photo: Lost Mountain Studio/]

Too warm temperatures and parched soil quickly lead to the shedding of flowers. Which is why it is considered difficult to care for lilies as a houseplant in the long term. Pruning in the autumn is done when the above-ground parts of the plant have withered. It is cut back with a clean and sharp knife to a hand width above the ground. It is especially important that the rest period in winter is observed. How to overwinter in a pot is explained in more detail in the section “Overwintering lilies & caring for them in winter”.

Note: Lilies are known for the incredible amounts of pollen that land in yellow waves on furniture and in the noses of allergy sufferers. Double varieties like ‘Miss Lucy’, ‘Blushing Girl’ or ‘Annemarie’s Dream’ offer an excellent alternative here. You can find more lily varieties here.

Deadheading lilies

Unless you are planning to propagate your lilies by seed, faded blooms are cut off. Removal prevents the formation of seeds. This would otherwise cost the plant a lot of energy, which you could also store for next year. The remaining parts of the plant above ground are cut off both potted and bedding plants only after wilting. This allows the nutrients contained therein to move into the bulb during wilting. This means even more energy for the coming flowering season.

Withered lily flowers
Withered flowers should be cut off [Photo: Amornpant Kookaki/]

Overwintering lilies

How to overwinter lilies planted in the garden depends on whether your lily is hardy or not. With hardy varieties, the bulbs can remain in the bed through the winter. After the first frost, simply cut off the withered leaves a hand width above the ground. Then spread a protective layer of brushwood, straw or twigs on the bed. The bulbs of non-hardy varieties must be dug up before the first frost and stored indoors over the winter. Potted lilies, whether houseplants or balcony plants, should also be kept in a cool, dark and frost-free place over the winter.

For more on preparing hardy and non-hardy lilies for winter and caring for them afterwards, see our article on overwintering lilies.