Perfume Your Garden with Lilies

Lilium, Orange flower

Lilies are an aromatic garden favorite, but surprisingly, some plants with “lily” in their names are not actually lilies. Most notable are day lilies, canna lilies, peace lilies, water lilies, and lily-of-the-valley. These flowers don’t grow from large, scaly bulbs like true lilies belonging to the genus Lilium. The most popular true lily species include Orientals, Asiatics, and Orienpets. By planting combinations of early, midseason, and late varieties in your garden, you can enjoy a sequence of blooms from spring to fall. 

The first lilies to appear in spring are Easter lilies (Lilium longiflorum). They are commonly grown indoors for the holiday and forced to bloom in March or April. After their flowers fade, try planting outdoors and, hopefully, they will bloom the following year. 

Asiatic lilies, typically the first garden bloomers, appear from May to June. They are the shortest lily, usually growing just 2–3 feet high, but some hybrids can reach 6 feet. They are easy to grow if you avoid areas with standing water. Although breeding has eliminated their fragrance, they are admired for dramatic blooms in assorted colors ranging from peaceful pastels to torrid tropicals. 

For fragrance, you’ll want to plant Oriental lilies with their unforgettable scent. I immediately recognized the fragrance last summer after fueling my car at a truck stop. Walking inside to pay, I was greeted by the Oriental lily’s spicy scent emanating from a small bouquet tucked in a corner near the fast-food tables. To my pleasure, an employee had brought flowers from her garden to share with customers, and the fragrance filled the room. Orientals are slower growing and will bloom mid-summer in your garden. 

Tiger lilies, another mid-summer bloomer, boast bright orange blossoms with notable black spots. They are an easy-to-grow perennial, requiring little maintenance, but they bloom best with 6–8 hours of sunlight. They flourish in Colorado because they are drought tolerant. As a bonus, they are a recognized pest repellent. 

Trumpet lilies bloom mid-to-late summer, grow multiple trumpet-shaped flowers per stalk, and have a sweet scent. Although excellent pollinators, the Department of Agriculture lists the vine as an invasive weed, so you will want to grow these in an area you can keep under control. 

When planting lilies, loosen soil to a depth of 12 inches, dig a hole three times as deep as the bulbs are high, and place them pointed side up. Space bulbs a distance approximately three times the bulb’s diameter. Group at least three to five bulbs together to create a showy display. Water thoroughly after planting and weekly thereafter. 

Lilies bloom only once. After flowers die, remove the unsightly stems. This prevents plants from wasting energy to make seeds. But don’t remove leaves or cut stalks. These are needed to nourish bulbs for next season. Mulching before winter will delay ground freeze and keep roots growing. Every three to four years, as new growth begins in the spring, you can increase the number of flowers in your garden by gently lifting bulbs from the soil, dividing the clumps, and replanting. 

NOTE: Lilies are extremely toxic to cats. Click here to read an article from the FDA to learn more. 


Master Gardener Vicki Spencer has an eclectic background in conservation, water, natural resources and more.

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