Lilies in Containers

Growing Lilies In Containers or Pots

Many lilies will adapt well to container culture, regardless of size. It is important, though, to choose a large container so that the bulb can be planted as deeply as necessary, it's able to expand (the mother bulb and there will be multitudes of other bulbs as the years pass), and there is a good supply of potting mix to nourish it through to flowering. Also note that any tall lilies are vulnerable to strong winds, and a broad-based  tub or barrel will be less likely to blow over in windy conditions and they will also have to be supported before bloom and in bloom.  Plan how you will use the container before planting the lily bulbs and make sure the pot or container has adequate drain holes.

Large Wood or Decorative Containers

I prefer to plant my lily bulbs in a large and deep container (such as whiskey barrels, wood planter boxes, etc.) and if you are like me, I want some added color such as annual marigolds.  The problem here is that the other flowers will require a lot of water and if the lily bulbs are planted too deep, the soil will remain too wet and eventually rot the lily bulb.  If planting other flowers with your lily bulbs, place them no more than 2 to 3 inches deep.  This will allow you to give sufficient water to the other flowers without rotting your lily bulbs. To plant the lily bulbs, fill the container full with a free-draining, commercially available potting mix or make up your own.  I prefer 50% mulch, 25% fine coconut fiber, 20% peat moss, 10% coarse sand (do not use beach sand because of the salt content) 5% perlite and enough slow release fertilizer granules to keep them fed for at least eight months.  I will also place one to cups (sometimes more depending upon the size of the container or pot) in the bottom of the container. This adds a bit more drainage and prevents the potting mix near the bottom becoming saturated with water.  Drainage is very important; do not use garden soil because it will compact quickly, drainage will be poor, and the lilies will not get sufficient  moisture and air to their roots.  Using a small garden spade or hand trowel, dig a hole no more than 3 inches and plant your lily bulb with the scales facing upward.  If planting more than one, place each bulb about four inches apart.  Keeping them in the container outside over winter, you should cover the tops with a piece of plywood or another material to keep the container from becoming saturated with water.  Or, if practical, move the container indoors and place in a dry, cool location such as a garage.

Small or Medium Sized Pots

Fully developed Lily bulbs can be grown in small or medium sized (1 to 3 gallon) pots, too.  They make a grand display when placed individually (or in groups) on a small deck or patio, providing the apartment or condominium dweller a flower garden, too!  Normally, plastic pots are used because they are cheaper, the bulbs can be repotted with ease, will not break when dropped, and can be moved very easily.  Just remember, the taller varieties (24 inches and above) will require a 2 gallon or larger pot and may have to be staked so they don't fall or blow over in the wind. To plant the lily bulbs, fill the container full with a free-draining, commercially available potting mix or make up your own.  I prefer 50% mulch, 25% fine Coconut fiber, 20% coarse sand(do not use beach sand because of the salt content) 5% perlite and one teaspoon of slow release fertilizer granules thoroughly mixed into the potting soil.  Drainage is very important; do not use garden soil because it will compact quickly, drainage will be poor, and the lilies will not get sufficient  moisture and air to their roots.  Fill the pot or container one-half full of potting mix and place the lily bulb in with the scales facing up and finish filling the pot with the potting mix.  You can place more than one bulb in the pot giving you added flexibility for color and appearance .  However, you will want to give the bulbs plenty of room for expansion and growth over an extended period of time, say two years or so.

They will also need protection from excessive rain. Lily bulbs remaining in containers outdoors and over winter must never be saturated. Although the soil should be kept slightly moist, exposure to constant moisture or rain will most likely cause them to rot. Be kind to all your potted lilies in winter. If your area gets frosts, put your potted lilies in a building of some kind to protect them - below-zero conditions normally will kill them. Keep them in a cool, dry place with some light, and don't over water them at any time, especially during the winter!  Just keep the soil moist, not wet.  If available, you can also store them in a well-ventilated cold greenhouse. In spring, when the new shoots are approximately 3 in (7.5 cm) high and danger of frost has passed, the plants are ready to enjoy some sun.  Frost at this point will damage the new shoot, so be aware of environmental conditions at this time.

Some Basic Information

Asiatics multiply quickly and will need repotting after three to four years.

Lilies are big eaters. During the growing season, lilies in containers or in the garden/landscape will need to be fertilized if slow-release capsules are not incorporated into the mix or garden before the bulb is planted or used as a topical feed. If you forgot the slow release fertilizer, then use a good tomato fertilizer to start with then add the slow release mix in two weeks.  If leaf color is a rich green then the root system is working effectively at bringing sufficient nutrients to the whole plant. Where foliage is losing color, the plant is probably running out of food. This could happen if a very big bulb is in a small container. Ideally, it should be replanted, but if it's late in the season, add more fertilizer and some fresh potting mix. 

Repotting during rapid growth periods is not recommended but can be achieved with successful results.  I do not recommend moving a potted lily plant into the garden or landscape until the above pot parts of the plant (stem and flower) are spent. Normally, repotting is occurring because the pot is too small for the bulb and is out growing the pot, the height is too tall for the pot and keeps falling over (even when staked), or the plant is being overwatered.  In all or any of these situations, you should re-pot into a larger one and you will want to be very prepared when attempting this procedure.  Have your new pot with potting soil in it, no more than one-third full, and some ready to fill the new pot close at hand (refer to our recommended section on potting mix).  VERY CAREFULLY grab the potted lily being careful not to break the stem. and squeeze the outside of the pot just enough to loosen the roots inside.  This will release the root's grasp on the pot so the plant, all roots, and potting mix will come out as one.  Depending upon how tall the plant is, you can place the pot on the ground or gently grasp the base of the stem and base of the pot (be very careful not to break the stem) while holding the bottom of the pot and remove the plant, making sure the plant, roots, and potting soil come out together. 

 Remember the new pot with potting mix in it and spare potting mix close at hand?  If for some reason the plant, roots, an potting mix come apart, immediately place the lily plant in the new pot and cover only the roots with potting mix.  Straighten the plant carefully, placing the bulb at the desired depth, and finish filling the pot. 
Another method (once the plant has been loosened from the old pot) would be to place one hand with fingers protecting the stem so the hand is flat against the top of the pot preventing the plant to hit the ground thus breaking the stem.  Then, with the other hand flat against the bottom of the pot, tip the pot upside down and the lily plant will come out with all roots and potting mix together as one.  Place the plant with its' bulb, roots, and potting mix attached in the new pot (the new pot should be no more than one-third full of potting mix), straighten and place it at the desired depth, then finish filling the pot with your new mix.   

 I do not recommended removing the roots from the bulb within the old potting mix unless it is waterlogged or you suspect something is wrong with the roots or bulb.  If this is the case, go ahead and place the plant in the new pot, covering the roots (making sure they will not dry out or be exposed to the sun).  Try to inspect the bulb as quickly as possible for any signs of insect or disease damage.  If you find something, prepare a solution in a small bucket (according to the label directions), and dip only the bulb in this solution for about five minutes.  Then place the plant back into the new pot at the desired level, straighten it, then fill with your new potting soil.  Wait a day or so before giving it water.
Over the years I have repotted lily plants in this way with very good results, as long as it's done before the lily plant is blooming.  You just need to be prepared and not let the roots dry out.

When planting in pots or any containers, excellent drainage and the correct amount of water is of maximum importance. Most, if not all, commercial potting mix, have a wetting agent within the mix so be careful not to over water. Thw wetting agent will retain water longer than normal. The roots should not be allowed to dry out -but don't confuse moist with waterlogged. They can be overwatered in containers and if the lower leaves turn brown and start to fall off, this is usually causing the problem. A layer of mulch also helps protect the stem roots just below the surface of the soil.

Beware of aphid attack. Aphids carry virus disease and unknowingly pass them on. Get rid of the dastardly critters as soon as they appear or use a sustemic insecticide at the time of planting.

To force plants, move the containers to 64-69°F when shoots appear, and repot them in the fall. 

The advantages of growing lilies in containers or pots are numerous. Lilies have a royal appearance and feeling about them, whether in containers or in the garden, they add instant beauty and grace to outside areas. I containers, they can quickly be moved into or out of shade or to shelter during high winds. They can be seen in the garden, patio, or deck to create great effects, and once finished flowering disappear from sight into what seems to be obscurity.  They are only building for the next year's show...and what a show it will be!

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