Get More From Your Lilies (much, much more)

Casablanca LiliesCredit: KathyRM

I love lilies. I have them in pots in my courtyard and throughout the flowerbeds between other plants. I even have a pot of them on my kitchen table right now. They have been wonderful this year and I’ve had many different varieties, including asiatics, orientals, trumpets, tree lilies, tiger lilies and even the most exotic, double rose lilies.

Lilies grow from bulbs planted in spring or fall. They never really sleep, unlike daffodils or freesias, so have to be left in the soil and watered all year round, even though they require very little water during the cold season.

If bulbs are easy to buy in your area and not too expensive, you can have wonderful flowers in the first season of planting.  If you want to increase your stocks, however, without going back to the store, or if you want more of a particular kind, then lilies are very happy to help.

From Five To Forty LiliesCredit: KathyRM

If they are content some lilies, like asiatics, multiply at a rapid rate by forming lots of baby bulbs, or bulblets, at the base of their stems. I planted about five bulbs in one pot last season and this season at least forty little stems appeared, far too many for their pot! Quite a few of the little ones produced flowers in their first season, much to my delight! Now that the plants are dying back and I can see them easily, I am digging up some of the new bulb babies and re-potting them in clusters in other pots so that they have less competition from their mothers and siblings.

Some lilies have less baby bulbs but develop bulbils along the length of their stems. Tiger lilies produce the most I've seen but many varieties add to the bulbil collection. As the bulbils develop roots of their own, they fall onto the soil but you can carefully pick them off the stems and plant them in a pot. Transplant them as they grow bigger and they will flower in two to three years, depending on the variety.Commander in Chief LiliesCredit: KathyRMAnother excellent way to multiply your lily collection, if your lilies are being miserly with bulblets and bulbils, is to “scale” them. Late summer into fall is the right time to do it and so is spring. I have a few pots with little plants that I grew from scales earlier this year. Some say put them in a plastic bag with peat moss or potting soil but I put mine straight into garden pots in the shade and they have done fine. They will flower within two or three years although very big bulbs can take longer. The great advantage of using any of these methods is that your new plants will be identical to the mother, unlike plants that grow from seeds.

Now I will show you how to carry out each of these very simple methods.

  1. Baby bulbs or bulblets
Baby bulbs nestling in the soilCredit: KathyRM

Here you can see a few baby bulbs nestling around the main plant stems. Some have already started sprouting.

Detach baby bulbsCredit: KathyRM

Detach them from the mother plant, careful not to break off the roots that have been formed.

Bulblets in pots, cover with soilCredit: KathyRM

Pop a number of them into a little pot, tucking their roots in beneath them. Cover them with more soil; not too much because babies don’t like to be too deep but they can be buried as deep as they are tall.

Propagating lilies Label your liliesCredit: KathyRM

Water them, label them and put them in the shade. Don’t forget to water them once a week or so depending on the weather but, otherwise, just leave them alone. If you prefer, you can keep them in your shade or glass house but they are very tough little chaps, depending on how cold your winters are.


     2. Bulbils

Propagating lilies, BulbilsCredit: KathyRM

Carefully detach the bulbils from the stem of the plant. This picture shows a bulbil right at the top where the flower used to be but that’s unusual. Look closely and you'll see a few others underneath. Wait until the bulbils have formed a few little roots, which will give them a good start.

Bury them in little pots, water them in and treat them just like the baby bulbs. You can leave them there for the next year or so before potting on.

      3. Scales

Propgating lilies, Bulb with baby on topCredit: KathyRM

This is a healthy asiatic lily bulb, complete with a lovely fat little baby on her head that I lifted off to plant with the other babies. Make sure the bulb is not rotting or unhealthy because otherwise it may pass any disease onto the new plant.

Scaling lily bulbsCredit: KathyRM

Carefully snap off a few of the healthy outside scales of the bulb, as close to the base as possible. I took three off this one but you can take up to six or so without damaging the mother bulb. That means that, if you have half a dozen mother bulbs, you can snap off thirty six potential plants – wonderful!

Lily scalesCredit: KathyRM Scaling lily bulbs, in bagCredit: KathyRM

For a change, I am going to put these scales into some potting soil in a sandwich bag. Shake the bag gently to hide the bulbs in the soil, and seal the bag. Don’t squeeze the air out of the bag because the scales need it.

Scaling lily bulbs, in the cupboardCredit: KathyRM

Keep your bag in a dark, warm spot in the kitchen for about eight weeks, by which time they should have developed tiny bulbs at the base of each scale.  Pot them up and put them with your other babies. As I say, in springtime I just put the scales straight into pots and they are growing well, so the choice is yours.


A couple of months later, here are 8 bulblets growing from three scales.

Scales bulblets.Credit: KathyRM

And there you have it, lots of bulbs which will bloom in a few years. If you do this each season, you'll end up with a field of lilies. How gorgeous would that be?

Dark pink rose lilyCredit: KathyRM