Overview and History
Originating in various parts of the Northern Hemisphere, lilies have adorned myths and traditions for thousands of years. In ancient Greek mythology, these flowers were believed to have sprung from the milk of the goddess Hera, symbolizing purity and renewal. Similarly, in Christian iconography, lilies are often associated with the Virgin Mary, representing purity, virtue, and the divine.
Basic Types of Lily
There are about 100+ species in the genus Lilium. Besides variations in appearance, each of them differs slightly concerning ease of growing, bloom time, sunshine need, and more.
Many plants have lily in their name that are not true lilies and members of the genus Lilium. These include day lily, water lily, peace lily, calla lily, canna lily, lily of the valley, and many, many more.
- Flower Aspect: up-facing, out-facing, or down-facing
- Flower Shapes: trumpet-shaped, bowl-shaped, flat-shaped with just tepal tips recurved, or tepals strongly recurved.
9 Different Lily Divisions explained:
Division 1: Asiatic Hybrids
Found almost anywhere, these hybrids are the easiest to grow. Their flower aspect can be up-facing, out-facing, or down-facing, known also as pendant. Asiatic hybrids are the most popular, but unscented. Attractive and long-lasting, usually the earliest to bloom.
Division 2: Martagon Hybrids
Martagon Hybrids are known for their height and the abundance (up to 40-50 per stem) of small, strongly recurved petals on down-facing or nodding flowers. They are early blooming and a shade-tolerant woodland division, shying away from intense heat, humidity, and direct sunlight.
Division 3: Candidum Hybrids
This division consists mostly of European varieties that are not commonly found for sale. They are one of the oldest, perhaps the first species of lilies introduced into culture.
The Madonna Lily is a Lilium candidum, but can also be categorized in Division 9. It is over 3,000 years old, so you can see why it could be associated with both divisions.
Division 4: American Hybrids
This division is native to North America, where they grow wild. American hybrids are quite tall, with nodding, down-facing blossoms on tall, curved pedicels.
Division 5: Longiflorum Hybrids
Showy and fragrant, this species is cultivated usually as white trumpets at Easter. It features large, fragrant, outward-facing, trumpet-shaped, pure white flowers.
Division 6: Trumpet Hybrids
Trumpet hybrids provide long seasons of ample and fragrant blooms, growing so large as to necessitate staking. Tall and elegant, this species is composed of many Asian out-facing and down-facing trumpet-shaped flowers.
Division 7: Trumpet Hybrids
Hybrid crossbreeds with species native to Japan are fragrant and tall, with large, out-facing flowers. Robust flowers with a strong, enchanting fragrance. Many are called “Stargazers” because they appear to be up-facing.
Division 8: Garden Hybrids
This group consists of hybrids of the other seven divisions. Garden hybrids will cross species by any number of methods such as the cut-style method, the grafted-style method and the in vitro isolated ovule pollination technique creating more variety, beauty, health, and disease resistance.
Division 9: Wild or Native Lilies
This division is comprised of all the species in their native form, before hybridization. All the fabulous hybrids that we know and love growing in our gardens have derived from these wild lilies.
Popular Lily Variety/Series Names
- Division 7, Oriental Hybrid ‘Stargazer’ was a breeding breakthrough in the 1970s, noteworthy because of its upward-facing flowers, thus the name referencing looking up at the stars. Up until this point, Oriental Hybrids were heavy, with blossoms facing out or downward.
- Lilium candidum, Madonna Lily, from Division 9 (also known as White Lily, French Lily, Juno’s Rose, St. Joseph’s Lily, Ascension Lily, Annunciation Lily, Bourbon Lily) won the Award of Garden Merit of the Royal Horticultural Society.
- Other recent Royal Horticultural Society winners: Anastasia, Friso, Red Velvet and Fusion
A Complete Growing Guide for Lilies in Your Garden
- Choosing the Right Location for Lilies
- These bulbs thrive in well-draining soil and prefer to receive partial sunlight throughout the day.
- Most love the sun, and six hours or more is necessary. Remember the adage, “head in the sun, feet in the shade.” To keep their roots cool, plant them with low-growing annuals, perennials, or grasses.
- Zones 5-8 are ideal for most lilies. Some are hardy and can tolerate some chill, but not the heat found in the higher zones.
- Drainage is a critical issue for these bulbs. They like to be planted in a berm or raised bed so water drains away from the bulbs.
- Planting Your Lilies
- Plant bulbs in the fall or early spring, before the ground freezes or becomes too warm.
- If planting in the fall, spread a thick winter mulch to help retain moisture and regulate soil temperature.
- Mulch also inhibits eager sprouts from poking up too early in the spring and getting nipped by frost.
- Space the bulbs approximately 8-12″ apart, depending on how full you would like the garden to look.
- Plant bulbs with the pointed end facing up.
- The general rule of thumb for planting depth is to cover the bulb with soil that’s about three times its height.
- Lilies look best and make the most impact when planted in clusters of three or more.
- Plant bulbs in the fall or early spring, before the ground freezes or becomes too warm.
- Proper Lily Watering
- Keep the soil evenly moist but not waterlogged.
- Water deeply and less frequently, rather than shallow and often, to encourage strong root growth.
- Fertilizing Lilies
- Fertilize with a balanced, slow-release fertilizer in early spring when new growth starts. A complete formula such as 10-10-10 works well, remember to apply it throughout the season in smaller feedings too.
- Avoid over-fertilization, as it can lead to excessive foliage growth and fewer flowers.
- Always water thoroughly after fertilizing.
- Nitrogen is needed when the green leaves are growing rapidly, and phosphorus and potassium later for bloom and bulb production.
- Benefits of mulching Lilies
- Keeps the soil cool and loose, and also discourages weeds.
- When to stake your Lilies
- Tall varieties might require staking to support the heavy blooms and prevent them from bending or breaking.
- Place stakes at the time of planting to avoid spearing the bulb. Then, tie the stems naturally and gracefully to the stake, careful not to make them too tight.
- Deadheading Lilies
- Remove faded flowers to encourage the plant to put energy into bulb development.
- Fall Lily Cleanup
- When stalks have yellowed or completely dried, cut them back or cautiously pull them out, careful not to remove the bulb with them.
- Old stems should be cleared away before winter.
- Overwintering your Lilies
- Mulch over the bulbs in colder climates to protect them from extreme temperatures.
- In spring, remove the mulch gradually as the weather warms up. Keep this mulch to the side and available just in case a cold snap approaches, mulch can easily be spread out to protect the young plants.
- Wildlife and Lilies
- Deer and rabbits are known to find the foliage, stems, and buds quite appealing.
- Consider planting onions and garlic around the perimeter or using deer and rabbit-resistant fencing and repellent sprays.
- Lilies as Cut Flowers
- Increase lilies’ vase life and avoid a sticky mess by removing the pollen found on the anthers. Use gloves or a wet paper towel to remove them and avoid staining your hands. Aim to remove the pollen before it matures and starts to become powdery. It’s best to catch the pollen when the buds are just beginning to open.
- If some pollen falls on your clothing, resist the temptation to rub it. Rubbing will only push the pollen deeper into the fabric. Use a pipe cleaner or sticky tape to gently brush the surface and lift the pollen off the fabric. Apply stain remover and wash the garment.
- Lily Bulbs Toxicity
- Some lily species like Asiatic Lily, Easter Lily, Stargazer lily, and Oriental lily are toxic to cats
- The Best Flowers for Homegrown Bouquets by National Garden Bureau
- Savor a Scent-sational Garden with Fragrant Plants by National Garden Bureau
- Grow Your Own Scent Garden by National Garden Bureau
- How to Have Lovely Lilies in Bloom All Summer Long by Brent and Becky’s
Purchase at NGB Member Online Stores and at Your Local Garden Retailer
The National Garden Bureau recognizes and thanks the human experts at Eden Brothers, an NGB member, as the author and contributor to this fact sheet.
This fact sheet is provided as an educational service of the National Garden Bureau. There are no limitations on the use. Please credit National Garden Bureau, and link to this page, when using all or parts of this article or referencing the Year of the program.
Each state in the U.S. has its own list of invasive species. Before trying a new plant in your garden, refer to the USDA’s National Invasive Species Information website or check with local agencies such as an Extension specialist.