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How to Grow Toad Lilies for Fall Color

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


My backyard backs up to a wetlands area. In the spring, walking across my backyard is like walking on a wet sponge. I’m always on the lookout for plants that like to grow in wet soils. I was happy to learn that one of my favorite plants, the toad lily, loves wet soil.

What is Toad Lily?

Toad Lilies (Tricyrtis hirta) are a flowering perennial that is native to the northern islands of Japan, specifically Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu. Their natural habitat is shady areas along streams.

Toad lilies are hardy in zones 4 – 9. The plants have both interesting foliage and flowers. They grow 3 – 6 tall and have non-branching stems with leaves that alternate along them looking kind of like a ladder. The leaves are 3 – 6 inches long and oblong. The stems and the leaves are hairy.

The flowers look like tiny lily flowers and have distinctive spots on them. Toad lilies got their name because their flowers are spotted like toads and they like moist places, like toads. The flowers grow along the stems either singly or in groups. They are white or a pale lilac, both with dark purple spotting. They measure only 1 inch long. Bloom time is late summer through early fall.

The leaves grow alternately on the stems looking like a ladder.

The leaves grow alternately on the stems looking like a ladder.

How to Grow Toad Lilies

Toad lilies grow from rhizomes. Plant your rhizomes in the spring after your last frost. Choose a location that gets morning sun and afternoon shade or dappled shade all day. It should also be in a wet part of your yard. The plants will go dormant and may not bloom if they dry out.

Dig a hole that is twice as wide as your rhizome and 3 – 4 inches deep. If you are planting more than one rhizome, dig your holes 12 inches apart. Gently spread the roots of your rhizome along the bottom of the hole. Make sure that the top of the rhizome will be 1 – 2 inches below the soil surface. Refill the hole and carefully tamp down the soil to remove any air pockets. Water well.

Once your plants are established, you will want to fertilize them in the spring using a balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10.

Water is crucial to make sure that your plants grow well and bloom in the fall. In areas that are constantly moist, you don’t need to worry about watering. During dry spells you will need to provide your plants with supplemental watering. Signs that your toad lilies need water are the leaves developing brown spots and turning brown along the edges. In extreme cases, your plants will go dormant. Be sure to provide them with lots of extra watering until the rains return.

One of the reasons that I love toad lilies is that they bloom in the fall. If you don’t deadhead them, allowing the flowers to develop seeds, the plants will reseed themselves in your garden. If you don’t mind extra seedlings in the spring, allow the flowers to go to seed. If you do mind having extra seedlings coming up in the spring, remove the flowers before the seeds develop.

The flowers grow along the stems.

The flowers grow along the stems.

How to Divide Toad Lilies

If you allow your toad lilies to go to seed each fall, eventually you will end up with a clump that you can divide. Dig up the clump of rhizomes in the spring while they are still dormant. Either gently pull them apart or cut them apart with a sharp knife.

Dig holes 12 inches apart. They should be 3 – 4 inches deep, depending on the size of your rhizomes and twice as wide as the rhizomes. Spread the roots out at the bottom of each hole and refill the holes making sure that each rhizome is 1 – 2 inches below

In their natural habitat, the plants form large clumps.

In their natural habitat, the plants form large clumps.

How to Grow Toad Lilies From Seed

You can harvest seed from your toad lilies in the fall. It’s best to allow it to drop into your garden naturally, rather than trying to grow it yourself outdoors. If you want to grow these lilies from seed, harvest the seed and then start them indoors.

First you need to surface sow them in a container filled with pre-moistened soil. I’ve found that if I water after I plant seeds, both the soil and the seeds wash away, so water the soil before you plant. Don’t cover the seeds with soil. They need sunlight to germinate.

Then cover the container with a plastic bag and place it in your refrigerator to mimic the cold weather of winter. The plastic bag helps the soil to retain water. Check it periodically. If the soil feel dry, add some water. Keep the container in your refrigerator for 3 months.

Then take the container out of your refrigerator, remove the plastic bag and put it in a north facing window which gets indirect light. Your seeds will germinate over a period of 30 – 50 days. The seedlings will grow very slowly so be patient. You can transplant them into your garden after your last frost when they have at least 2 sets of true leaves. Space them 12 inches apart.

© 2020 Caren White


Lakshmi from Chennai on November 09, 2020:

Hi Caren White, It's a nice article and the flower looks so pretty.

Caren White (author) on November 07, 2020:

I love unusual plants. Glad you liked them.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on November 07, 2020:

It is always fun to learn about plants with which I am unfamiliar. Thanks for showcasing these toad lilies.