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Growing lilies in pots

Martyn Cox

Lilies are elegant plants with bewitching flowers that can be so heavily scented that they will fill your garden with perfume on a warm summer’s day.

White lilies against a blue sky
Growing lilies is a doddle

Easy to grow and maintain, lily bulbs can be planted in spring, into pots or among other plants in a sunny border.

What lilies to grow

There are hundreds of different lilies available from 10ft giants that are suitable for the back of a border to knee-high plants that will thrive in pots. Among the best for borders are the dark pink Lilium martagon, the common Turk’s cap lily and Lilium regale or regal lily, which has very fragrant white flowers. Lilium lancifolium var. splendens is a magnificent tiger lily with deep orange flowers marked with black spots.

In pots, try Lilium longiflorum for its pure white trumpets and deep purple, scented Oriental lily 'Sumatra'. Lilium formosanum var. pricei is a compact plant with big flowers that look and smell the same as the much bigger regal lily.

Planting lilies in the garden

Lilies prefer to grow in well-drained soil in a sunny position and look best when grown in groups of three or more. To plant, dig an 8in deep hole with a trowel – if you have clay soil, spread a layer of sharp grit on the bottom. Bulbs will prefer sitting on this drainage material, rather than on wet soil that could lead to rotting. Put a bulb in the centre of the hole and backfill with soil. Space bulbs at a distance that’s roughly equivalent to three times the diameter of the bulb.

Growing lilies in pots

Many lilies are ideal in pots and look fabulous in long tom style containers, which accentual the form of the flower and are heavy enough to avoid be blown over in a gust of wind. Add a layer of crocks (bits of broken terracotta pot) to prevent it from becoming clogged with compost, then half fill with gritty John Innes No.2 compost. Space three to five bulbs on top then cover with more compost, so bulbs sit about 4in below the surface. Leave a 1in gap between the top and the lip of the container.

Looking after lilies

Caring for lilies is a doddle. Prevent the stems of taller flowers from being toppled over in a gust wind or bowing under the weight of flowers by shoring up with a stout cane.

Feed plants with a liquid fertiliser high in potash every couple of weeks when in growth and water well during dry spells over summer, especially if bulbs have been planted in pots.

Snip off flowers as they start to fade to prevent them from producing seeds and to keep plants tidy. Cut the main stem to ground level when it starts to turn brown in autumn.

Lilies grown in pots should be placed in the greenhouse or another sheltered place over winter to prevent winter rain turning the compost soggy, leading to bulbs rotting

Controlling lily beetles

Sadly lilies are a magnet to lily beetles. It may only measure 8mm long, but these shiny-shelled, scarlet insects cause major damage to all types of lily. The highly visible adult beetle can defoliate plants, as can its larvae, which hides beneath a black jelly-like substance. If you spot an adult, remove carefully as they’ll try to evade capture by dropping to the ground on their backs – their dark underside makes them difficult to see against the colour of the soil. Also squish larvae and clusters of their red eggs.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.