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How to Grow Tiger Lilies, a Cottage Garden Favorite

Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been associated with Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.


No cottage garden would be complete without the mid-summer blooms of tiger lilies. Their bright orange flowers with brown spots, distinctive recurved petals and long stamens add color and dimension to the garden.

What are Tiger Lilies?

Tiger lilies (Lilium lancifolium) are originally from Asia, native to China, Japan and Korea where they were grown as food. It was the bulb, not the flower that was eaten. They were introduced in Europe first in the 17th century but didn’t catch on. They were re-introduced in the early 19th century where they quickly made themselves at home in cottage gardens. It wasn’t long before they had made their way across the ocean to North America where they spread across the continent with the settlers who braved the wilds of the West. Thanks to the plants’ adaptability, they have naturalized throughout much of the Northeast.

Tiger lilies are a natural fit in the cottage garden. They are hardy through zone 3, are easy to grow and propagate readily either from bulbits or division. They are tall, reaching a height of 3 to 4 feet. The plants flower profusely, producing up to a dozen blossoms on each plant ranging in color from yellow to orange to red and even pink.

There is a new cultivar that has double flowers that also come in the same colors. The moment I saw it at a flower show, I had to have it. It is a real showstopper in my garden now.

A new cultivar with double flowers

A new cultivar with double flowers

Plant Tiger Lilies in a Bed by Themselves

It is not recommended that you grow tiger lilies in the same bed as other kinds of lilies. The hardiness which makes them such a good fit in the cottage garden makes them a danger to other lilies. Tiger lilies are immune to most viruses and diseases that plague lilies, especially the deadly mosaic virus. In the garden they act like a Typhoid Mary, spreading the viruses and diseases to which they are immune to other types of lilies. So grow your tiger lilies in a bed that contains no other kinds of lilies and allow them to be a star on their own.

A yellow tiger lily

A yellow tiger lily

How to Grow Tiger Lilies

All lilies are planted in the fall, a month before your first frost. The bulbs need a period of cold weather to stimulate growth in the spring. If you live in zone 9 or further south, your winters are not cold enough so you will need to chill your bulbs before planting. Place them in a plastic bag to prevent them from drying out in your refrigerator for about a month before planting them in your garden in the spring, rather than the fall.

Choose a sunny spot in your garden with well-drained soil. Tiger lilies will tolerate some shade but they grow best in full sun which is 6 to 8 hours of sunlight daily. Plant the bulbs 4 inches deep and 8 to 10 inches apart. It is recommended that rather than planting them singly, that you plant them in groups of 3 or 5.

Tiger lilies love sun but prefer to have their roots shaded. A thick layer of mulch will keep the roots cool and moist. You can also plant your bulbs amongst shorter perennials whose foliage will spread and cover the base of your lilies shading their roots.

Thanks to the weight of the flowers, the plants will need to be staked to keep them from falling over. Bloom time is early summer.

After flowering, the plants produce small black bulbits along the stems which look like large seeds but are actually immature bulbs. When ripe, they will fall to the ground and start a new plant. Or you can harvest them yourself and plant them where you want more tiger lilies. Plant these small bulbits 2 inches deep. It will take 3 to 4 years for the bulbits to grow and produce plants large enough to flower.

Bulbits growing along the stem of a tiger lily.  These are actually tiny bulbs that will drop to the ground and eventually produce a tiger lily plant.

Bulbits growing along the stem of a tiger lily. These are actually tiny bulbs that will drop to the ground and eventually produce a tiger lily plant.

How to Divide Tiger Lilies

After a few years, you will notice that your tiger lilies are not blooming well. It’s time to divide them. After the foliage dies in the late summer, mark where the plants were. Then in the fall, a month before your first frost, using a garden fork, carefully dig up the bulbs. The bulbs grow similarly to garlic with a main large bulb and then surrounding smaller bulbs that look like cloves of garlic.

Carefully separate the smaller bulbs from the main bulb and replant them, 2 inches deep and 8 to 10 inches apart. These smaller bulbs are not planted as deeply as the large mature bulbs you originally planted. The smaller bulbs will take up to 2 years before they are large enough to produce flowers. After you have separated all of the small bulbs from the large bulbs, replant the large bulbs 4 inches deep and 8 to 10 inches apart.

Questions & Answers

Question: When can I cut Tiger Lillies back for fall cleaning?

Answer: I always wait until the frost has killed the foliage to cut them down. The leaves are producing food for the bulb to survive the winter and then grow and bloom in the spring, so the longer the stems and leaves are left on the plants, the stronger the bulb will be.

© 2014 Caren White


Caren White (author) on August 01, 2014:

KL, you won't regret planting them. They grow and multiply every year. I envy you. I can't have them where I live now because the deer eat them. Sigh. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Krissa Klein from California on August 01, 2014:

Tiger lilies have always been one of my very favorite flowers. Out here in California sometimes you find big patches of them just growing wild on stream banks. Never knew they weren't native! When I have room to have a garden [someday..] I'm going to put a bunch in.

Caren White (author) on June 01, 2014:

Thanks for reading, Total. And thanks for passing on my hub. Much appreciated.

TotalHealth from Hermosa Beach, CA on May 31, 2014:

Interesting subject! I will forward this URL to a family friend who loves to toil away in her garden.

Caren White (author) on May 31, 2014:

Kind of the opposite of companion planting! Thanks for reading, Barbara. And thank you for sharing on FB!

Barbara Badder from USA on May 31, 2014:

I didn't know that you shouldn't grow them with other lilies. I have lots of Asiatic lilies. Now I'll have to check if any tiger lilies are near them.

I'll share this on my Facebook Gardening group. You have lots of good info.

Caren White (author) on May 31, 2014:

Thanks for reading and sharing, Jackie!

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on May 31, 2014:

What great information I would have never known. Thank you. Up and sharing.

Caren White (author) on May 31, 2014:

I used to grow them at my last house. I haven't had any luck growing them where I live now because deer LOVE lilies. I miss my tiger lilies. Thanks for reading and especially pinning, Peggy.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on May 31, 2014:

I used to grow tiger lilies and also day lilies that I had gotten from my grandmother. I have shared them with many people through the years. I no longer have them but have photos and fond memories tied of course to my grandmother. I did not realize that the tiger lilies can spread diseases to other types of lilies. Interesting! Pinning this to my flowers board.