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Growing lilies in pots – the complete guide
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Lilies are a wonderful flower to have and as a perennial, if you take good care of them they will come back year after year. The nice thing about Lily’s is that almost all of them will grow very effectively in containers although there are certain varieties that just need a little bit of extra support.
Best varieties for containers and pots
The pixie series offers very small cultivars that get no more than 50cm in height. Other short growing options include the Asiatic hybrids that reach about 60cm in height. Of course, you can pick slightly larger options as long as you, again, give it a support system to help it stand upright, this could just be some canes and strong but as the stems are usually very strong on even taller varieties, they only need minimal support.
Planting lily bulbs in pots
Once you have decided on the variety you want to grow, plant them in Autumn. If you are going to grow from bulbs as most people do, you can plant them in the spring. You can also buy containers with lilies already growing in summer if you miss out on planting the bulbs.
Once you have your containers, you should fill the bottom with broken crockery, gravel or grit to help with drainage. 5cm of drainage material should be put at the base of any pots prior to adding any compost. If you are going to put your plant in a plastic container you might not need to add this drainage, as you can typically drill more holes through the bottom of the plastic to help with drainage.
Plant lilies 4-6 inches deep with 5cm between each bulb
When picking different containers find those that are very deep. The varieties mentioned above will produce routes from the base of their bulb and from the stem directly above the bulb so they need deeper containers than most. The regular lilies that only produce roots through the bottom need a depth that is equal to the full height of the bulb. Bulbs need to be planted with the basal plate facing downward and the pointed tip facing upward. It’s recommended that you have the bulbs in hand when you search for a container so that you can judge appropriately how many bulbs you can fit in the pot, ideally, you want 5cm of space around each bulb. As a general rule lily bulbs should be planted around 6 to 6 inches deep with oriental lilies being planted slightly deeper than the Asiatics varieties
Choosing the best compost to grow them in
Multipurpose compost is perfect. You want something that is not too dense, and can be offset by adding 20% Horticultural grit to help with drainage. There are very specific lilies, Lilium. auratum and Lilium speciosum, which do not like lime so those should be planted in ericaceous compost only but most lilies will be fine in normal multi-purpose compost.
No matter the variety, lilies will eat a lot and regularly so add some controlled-release fertilizer when you plant them.
After you have planted it’s important to add a high potassium liquid fertilizer every 2 weeks during the summer such as Chempak Rose Food. You also want to make sure that your compost remains moist all the time but never too wet or waterlogged.
Forcing the Bulbs to grow indoors
To expedite flowering, as soon as you notice shoots, you can move the plants indoors where the temperatures are around 20 degrees Celsius. This is called forcing the bulbs and will bring them on much quicker which is perfect for growing them indoors.
If you want to grow your Lily indoors, there are specific bulbs that can be forced into flower for displays inside and these include those Asiatic hybrids as well as Lilium auratum, Lilium. longiflorum and Lilium speciosum. If you decide to grow these varieties you will need to keep them in a cool environment that mimics the natural winter chill to which they would otherwise be exposed in order for them to flower. Forcing a lily to flower means you have to bring the container back into the warmth of either a heated greenhouse or your house about six weeks after you planted the bulbs.
After flowering the dead flowers should be removed as should the seed pods, it’s important not to leave the seed pods on as this can affect how well they flower the following year. Don’t remove the stems until they have turned yellow and brown in autumn.
Once the foliage dies down you can transfer the bulbs to your garden or repot them in Autumn with new compost. The larger containers might be suitable for growing your Lily a second season but you should still replace the top 5cm of compost with new compost if you’re going to keep them in the same container but it’s better to replant them again.
Caring for potted lilies over winter
Store potted lillies in a cold greenhouse or shed
When winter approaches you should keep your containers in a cool area with protection against frosts such as a cold greenhouse or shed.
If you live in southern England or you don’t have a greenhouse you might be able to leave your plant outside in it’s larger container and protected against winter cold by wrapping it with horticultural fleece or bubble wrap. Up north where temperatures are particularly cold, it’s better to move them into a shed or greenhouse for winter.
Leaving them outdoors
If you are going to leave them outside, you should move the containers under a shaded area against a wall where they will be protected against serious rain and waterlogging.
It’s important to note that lilies typically need cool winter weather so that they can go into dormancy and then flower effectively the following season. If you bring them inside your home the temperatures are typically far too warm and will hinder the flowers you get which is why it’s important to simply protect them outside or move them into a greenhouse if possible.
The biggest issue you’re going to face in terms of pests and problems is the Red Lily Beetle and their grubs which can stip all the foliage from your Lillies and will even eat the buds and flowers. You can find it typically in April and May and you should remove it and kill it immediately by hand when you spot them. You can also apply commercial products to help control them but these are more effective against the grubs than the adult beetles. Keep your eyes peeled for slugs and snails as well.