When should you move lily bulbs?

Updated February 21, 2017

The genus Lilium contains over 100 naturally occurring species and many more hybrids that have been developed for commercial production and the home garden. Some members of this family can reach heights of nearly 1.8 metres (6 feet), with the stunning trumpet-shaped flowers held at the top of the foliage. Most lilies bloom from late spring through to the end of summer. Some common varieties include the Stargazer Lily, Lemon Lily, Rubrum Lily, Annunciation Lily, Royal Lily, Casa Blanca Lily, Easter Lily and Bamboo Lily. As with many other bulbs, you must dig up and separate lilies in the autumn -- but not every year.

Autumn dig

After your lilies have finished blooming, it's wise to dig them up and separate them periodically -- some experts say to do this every three to five years, or when large clumps form at their base. September until October are the best months to undertake this gardening chore. Lilies also produce "bulbils," which are small bulb-like structures that can form a new plant. Pinch these off in early autumn and plant them in pots if you want to make more lily plants.

Spring action

If you didn't find the time to dig up and move your lilies in the autumn, you can successfully move them in late winter or early spring. Dig up your bulbs as soon as you can work the ground and then plant them in pots that you place in a cool, dark place such as a shed or garage. Keep the soil moist. When sprouts begin to appear and the weather warms up, move the pots outdoors or transplant your young lilies to an appropriate spot in your garden.

Best time

Because bulbs such as lilies require a period of winter chill, you can expect the best flower production in the spring if you plant or move your bulbs in the autumn. If you plant them or move them in the spring, expect to get some flowers later in the year, but this blooming season will be shorter than for bulbs planted in the autumn.

Avoiding disease

If you plant your lilies in a spot where they receive good air circulation, you can usually avoid the fungal disease botrytis, to which they can be prone. Also, plant bulbs about 15 cm (6 inches) from each other -- this permits airflow between the plants' leaves, which will allow them to dry out more quickly. If brown spots begin to appear on lily leaves, especially during long spells of wet weather, you can treat your plants with a commercial fungicide, available at local nurseries and garden centres.

Hints and tips

Although lily bulbs are normally hardy, new growth can be nipped by frost. Cut off affected leaves and hope for warmer weather when the new growth appears. Lilies are low-maintenance flowering plants that only need fertiliser if they grow in poor soil. Fertilise with a balanced fertiliser for flowering bulbs -- do this when you first see growth at the soil line. Repeat one month later, but do not apply fertiliser when plants are forming flowers.

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About the Author

Barbara Fahs lives on Hawaii island, where she has created Hi'iaka's Healing Herb Garden. Fahs wrote "Super Simple Guide to Creating Hawaiian Gardens" and has been a professional writer since 1984. She contributes to "Big Island Weekly," "Ke Ola" magazine and various websites. She earned her Bachelor of Arts at University of California, Santa Barbara and her Master of Arts from San Jose State University.