Winter care of lily bulbs

Updated April 17, 2017

There are many varieties of lilies, but a true lily belongs to the genus Lilium and produces fragrant, large, colourful flowers from spring through the summer. These easy-to-grow flowers are hardy and can be left in the ground throughout the winter. If you have a clay soil, you may be in trouble. Lilies are liable to drown in water logged areas due to the heavy winter rains. Caring for lily bulbs during winter requires only a few simple steps.

Leaving bulbs in the ground

Cut the lily stalks back to the ground when they turn yellow and die in the autumn. The stalks must turn yellow before cutting them off so the energy from the foliage is generated into the bulbs. This helps the bulbs produce stronger, healthier plants in the spring.

Apply a 7.5 cm to 10 cm (3 to 4 inch) layer of mulch -- straw, pine needles, hay, or chopped leaves -- in late autumn before the first frost. This protects the bulbs from freezing during a hard frost and prevents new sprouts from poking through the ground too early in the spring. New sprouts can be affected by late frosts.

Watch for shoots emerging in the spring. Remove the mulch so the shoots aren't damaged as they start growing. Leave some mulch around the shoots to help control weeds.

Cover the shoots on frosty nights in early spring to protect them. Place a layer of newspaper or cardboard, or baskets, on top of them.

Storing bulbs indoors

Cut the lily stalks back to the ground when they turn yellow and die in the autumn.

Remove the soil on top of the bulbs. Dig down only until you see the bulbs, which won't be far below the surface of the soil. Loosen the roots of the bulbs gently with a spade or garden fork. Pull them out of the ground.

Gently shake excess dirt from the bulbs. Lay the bulbs on top of the soil in the sun for one to two days until they're dry. The bulbs also can be placed in a dry, dark place to dry.

Check the bulbs for pests before storing. Dust the bulbs with an insecticide/fungicide powder to prevent insects and any fungi from infesting the bulbs during winter storage.

Place the bulbs in paper bags. Label the bags with the name of the lily variety. Store the bags in a dry, cool place until spring.


If growing lilies in a container, cut the yellow stalks back in the autumn and place the container indoors in a dry, cool place. After the last frost in the spring, put the container back outside. Insecticide/fungicide powder can be purchased at garden centres.


Do not let the bulbs get wet or they will become mouldy during storage.

Things You'll Need

  • Mulch
  • Newspaper
  • Clippers
  • Spade or garden fork
  • Insecticide/fungicide powder
  • Paper bag
  • Marker
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About the Author

Amy Hannaford teaches childbirth education classes and a healthy pregnancy series in Southern Oregon. Hannaford holds an Associate of Arts degree, a certificate in medical assisting, and has been a childbirth educator and birth doula for 20 years. She has been writing articles for Demand Media since 2008.