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GardenSMART :: When and How to Transplant Lilies

When and How to Transplant Lilies

By Bonnie L. Grant, Gardening Know How

Lilies are a symbol of peace and traditionally represent chastity, virtue, devotion and friendship, depending upon the color. No matter the meaning, lilies are cherished gift flowers and powerhouses of the perennial garden. Flower growers know that lilies in the garden naturalize and produce more and more blooms season after season. The secret is dividing lily plants. Learn the tips on how to transplant lilies and divide them for even more of these exotic-looking blooms.

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Photograph by Nikki Tilley

Dividing Lily Plants

It doesn't matter if they are Asiatic or Oriental; lilies bring serenity and beauty to any landscape. Most bulb flowers undergo a process called naturalization over time. This is when the plant produces more bulbs, which grow and mature in the soil. The original bulbs will slowly fizzle out and either stop blooming or produce smaller flowers.

As the newly formed bulbs get older, they will become the center of the action. These need to be lifted and transplanted to make new stands of vigorous blooms. In most zones, you can lift the bulbs and separate them, then instantly plant them to overwinter in the ground. Only the coldest climes will need to store their bulbs indoors and "fool" them with a chilling period before planting outdoors in spring.

When to Move Lilies

Lilies produce from bulbs and need to be divided and transplanted in the fall for the best results. Experts say late September or early October is when to move lilies. Immediately start transplanting lily bulbs once they have been lifted.

The best time to transplant lilies will depend on your zone. Some plants will last later into the season and should be allowed to remain with foliage intact to the last possible date before frost. This way the plant can gather energy to store in the bulb for massive blooms.

A few weeks before the date of your first frost, you should have division of lilies on your list of fall chores. This doesn't have to be done every year, but you should undertake the task every 2 to 3 years for the best lily stands. If you are in doubt as to the best time to transplant lilies, dig them up when the foliage starts to yellow and proceed to separate and replant them.

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How to Transplant Lilies

Transplanting lilies is easy. Cut stems to 5 or 6 inches above the ground. Dig several inches around the patch of plants and 12 inches down. This will ensure that you get all the bulbs without damaging them with your spade or garden fork.

Gently separate each bulb and its attending bulblets, which are tinier versions of a bulb. At this time you can cut the stem to just above the lily bulb. Work quickly so your bulbs do not dry out. The best time of day is morning when temperatures are cooler and the soil and air contain some moisture.

Plant the larger bulbs under 5 to 6 inches of soil, while the baby bulblets should be planted under just a few inches of soil. Apply organic material several inches over the planting zone to insulate the bulbs for winter.

Lilies look best in clumps. To achieve the effect, plant bulbs in groups of 3 or more. Space the bulbs 8 to 12 inches apart. In spring, remove the mulch material as soon as you see shoots poking through.


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