The Asiatic Lily (Lilium Asiatica) is a hardy, easy-to-grow blooming plant that comes in many vivid colors, from warm yellow-red to bright pink and white. It grows about two feet tall and attracts pollinators of all types, including butterflies and hummingbirds.
Below we lay out everything you need to know as a lily bulb beginner, including the plant’s history and how to care for an Asiatic lily.
History of Asiatic Lilies
Liles have been providing beauty and sweet fragrance across the centuries. One of the first written records of the flowering lily comes from China in a book dated between 453 and 536 AD, but humans have certainly revered lilies for longer than that.
We know that as early as the 2nd millennium BCE, and perhaps even earlier, people cultivated lilies for medicinal purposes. They also grew lily bulbs for food.
However, until the 20th century, we thought lilies were temperamental and far too difficult for beginner growers. It wasn’t until Jan de Graff began his lily experiments in 1938 that we began to see lily cultivation as easy. He’s responsible for the hardy and easy-to-grow Asiatic lily, as well as many other lily hybrids.
Oriental Lilies vs. Asiatic Lilies
Many confuse Asiatic and Oriental lilies, perhaps because of their somewhat synonymous names. However, the two plants are very different.
Asiatic lilies are a hybridization of several lily plants from across Asia. They are mildly fragrant, bloom early in the year, and are easy to grow.
Oriental lilies are a hybridization of a few lily plants from Japan. They are heavily scented, bloom much later than Asiatic lilies, and aren’t as easy to cultivate.
Asiatic Lily Care
Caring for Asiatic lilies isn’t difficult. These blooming plants are notoriously easy for gardeners to grow.
Still, learning how to care for an Asiatic lily correctly can prevent the few pitfalls that plague lily beginners.
The first step to excelling in Asiatic lily care is finding an ideal location to plant them. Asiatic lilies prefer well-draining soil. It should be slightly acidic with a 6.5 pH and retain enough moisture to nourish the root system without getting soggy.
Adding peat moss or other organic matter to an overly wet area can improve drainage. Simply work the moss a few inches deep into the soil before planting your lilies.
The planting location should also receive at least six hours of sunlight, preferably in the morning or late afternoon.
You can plant lilies in a pot or in the ground. By planting them in groups of three or more, you’ll create bright clusters that work well as ground cover.
Once you choose your location, you’re ready to plant. It’s best to plant lilies in early autumn or spring. By planting in autumn, you’ll expose your lily bulbs to a winter chill, ideal for growing big blooms. If you plant in spring, put the bulbs amongst short annuals to provide shade.
You should plant your bulbs about 4-6″ deep. Give each bulb 12-18″ of space and be sure to protect them from deer. Deer love to eat lily bulbs when given the opportunity.
Asiatic lilies need 1-2″ of water per week but should never sit in soggy soil. In hot and dry weather, you may need to provide extra water to keep the roots moist. A drip hose is ideal since it can provide extra water without creating sog around the roots.
You can tell your lily needs supplemental water when the top inch of soil is dry. During summer or warm spells, this could be as often as every two or three days, so be sure to check on your lilies regularly.
Fertilizing Asiatic lilies is a matter of balance. Too much fertilizer will create huge green foliage with very little blooms, but too little fertilizer is also a problem.
In early spring, you can feed your lily plant with fish emulsion, worm castings, compost tea, or nitrogenous plant food. Then, once buds appear, you should use a high phosphorus food or bone meal to ensure the blooms last. A well-fed Asiatic lily plant will have flowers that last about a month.
You can propagate Asiatic lilies from seed or leaf, but the easiest and fastest method is to propagate by division. To do this, dig up a cluster of lilies during their dormant season. Then, pull apart the bulbs ensuring each one has a healthy amount of root attached.
You can plant the divided bulbs immediately or store them in a plastic bag filled with peat moss in your fridge. They’ll keep this way until spring.
Deadheading is a crucial part of Asiatic lily care. It redirects energy to the lily’s bulb, increasing its nutrient stores and allowing for bigger blooms the next season.
To deadhead your Asiatic lily, wait until the petals drop, then cut beneath the spot where the petal stalks and stem conjoin.
During the winter, mulching your Asiatic lilies will help them grow back strong. When the weather cools, and your lily’s foliage naturally dies back, cut the dead foliage to the ground. Then, add a 4-6″ layer of straw or leaf mulch.
As winter ends and the risk of frost dissipates, you can remove the mulch. In its place, add a 2″ layer of bark mulch. The bark will help the soil retain moisture while preventing weeds.
Pests and Diseases
Asiatic lilies are hardy plants and not prone to many diseases or pests. However, there are a few to be aware of:
- Botrytis Blight: This fungal disease leads to pale and tan spots on the lily’s foliage. You can prevent it by not overwatering. If it occurs, prune back the affected area.
- Bulb Rot: Rhizoctonia and Pythium are two fungal infections that cause bulb and root rot in Asiatic lilies. They tend to occur when you overwater but can also spread plant to plant. Symptoms include dull brown rotting on lower foliage. To treat, you’ll need a fungicide.
- Aphids: The crescent-marked lily aphid, Neomyzus cicumflexus, is common to Asiatic lilies. They will damage your plant and can spread viruses. If you see these pale green creatures, you can use insecticidal soap or give your lilies a forceful spray with a hose to remove them.
Asiatic lilies have long and early blooms with mild fragrance, making them wonderful in floral arrangements.
If you’re planting them in a garden, they grow beautifully in clusters creating excellent ground cover. Or, you can use them as a bordering plant amongst other perennials.
Asiatic lilies also do well in containers, and using them as a potted plant can be a lovely addition to any patio.
Frequently Asked Questions
Before we go, let’s address a few frequently asked questions surrounding the Asiatic lily.
Yes, Asiatic lilies grow back every year. They do best in USDA zones 3 through 8, as the bulbs need a winter chill to give a big recurring bloom.
If you live in a warmer climate, you may want to dig the bulbs up a few weeks before spring. Stick them in the fridge for a week or two to simulate a chill, then replant them.
Asiatic lilies bloom for up to one month.
Asiatic lilies need at least six hours of sunlight per day to thrive.
Yes, Asiatic lilies will multiply. In optimal conditions, they can double every year.
Asiatic lilies are an ideal plant for beginner lily growers. They’re hardy and have very few potential problems. If you’re new to working with bulbs and want a plant with bright blooms to compliment your garden, the Asiatic lily is a perfect option.