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How Deep to Plant Lily Bulbs [5 Lily Planting Steps]

Lily bulbs should be planted 8 inches (20 cm) under the soil surface. As a rule, plant the bulbs at a depth that is 3 times the height of the bulb. This may be a little under or over 8 inches, but it will ensure your lilies get the nourishment they need and grow properly. 

Lilies are partial to deep planting because it encourages them to develop their stems and send out roots in various directions to stabilize the plant. Loosen the soil to a depth of 1 foot (30 cm) before you plant the bulbs. This makes it easy to hit the right depth when you’re digging. Then, you can easily pack the soil into place once the bulbs are properly positioned.

How deep to plant lily bulbs

5 Steps to Plant Lily Bulbs

Lilies thrive best when they are deeply planted in well-prepared soil. This applies to basically all popular lily varieties, including oriental lilies, Asiatic lilies, and trumpet lilies. In order to get the latest summer blooms from whatever lily variety you wish to plant, follow this simple 5-step system:

Prepare Your Soil

When planting lily bulbs, make sure the soil is 12 to 15 inches (30–38 cm) deep. Lilies have root systems that need to spread out and down in order to get nourishment. So, if you’re planting lilies in a pot or a raised bed, make sure the container is deep enough.

  • Plant lily bulbs in soil that is at least 12 inches (30 cm) deep.
  • Do not plant lilies in a pot or raised bed shorter than 12 inches.
  • Lily roots require space to spread out and down.
  • Loosen garden soil to a depth of 12 inches to allow for proper lily root growth.

If you are planting your lilies in the ground, loosen the soil a bit before you begin planting. Use a shovel or garden rake to loosen the soil in small garden beds. In larger areas, consider using a rototiller. Make sure to loosen the soil down to a depth of 12 inches (30 cm) so your lilies can develop a network of healthy roots. Loose soil will also make the following steps in this process easier. 

Plan Your Planting Layout

Plan to plant your lilies 8 to 18 inches (20–45 cm) apart. This spacing allows any type of lily you’re growing to thrive. If you’re planting lilies in a garden bed, it’s a good idea to measure and mark the location where you will plant each lily bulb. You can use a stick or other small indicator to show where each bulb will go.

  • Mark your garden bed where you plan to plant each lily bulb.
  • Lily bulbs should be planted 8–18 inches (20–45 cm) from one another.
  • Bulbs that are planted too close together will struggle and may not produce flowers.

Planting lily bulbs closer than 8 inches (20 cm) should be avoided. If lilies are planted too close to one another, they will compete for water and nutrients. This can lead to both plants struggling and failing to bloom. So, allow space for each lily plant to flourish.

Soak Before Planting

You should soak your lily bulbs before planting. Lily bulbs do not have the same protective coating that many flower bulbs have, which means they can dry out quickly. For this reason, it is wise to soak your lily bulbs for 2 hours before planting.

  • Soak your lily bulbs in water for 2 hours before planting.
  • Soaking lily bulbs helps prevent the bulbs from drying out.
  • You’ll get a higher success rate for your lilies if you soak them before planting.

If you don’t soak your lily bulbs, it doesn’t automatically mean that your flowers will fail to thrive. However, there is no downside to soaking lily bulbs. So, it’s a good idea to boost your success rate by leaving your bulbs in a bucket or bowl of water for a few hours.

Plant Your Bulbs

Use a small gardening trowel to dig a hole for each lily bulb. Plant each bulb at a depth of 8 inches (20 cm). Then, make sure you have at least one-half inch (1 cm) of soil available to cover each bulb. Make sure your lily bulbs are planted with the pointy end facing up.

  • Plant each lily bulb at a depth of 8 inches (20 cm).
  • The hole for each lily bulb should be 3 times deeper than the bulb is tall.
  • Plant bulbs with the point facing upwards.
  • Cover the bulbs with ½-inch (1 cm) of soil.

Planting lilies in soil that has already been loosened will make digging easier. Press the soil into place around each bulb, but do not pack it down until it becomes hard. The soil should be firm enough that it won’t wash away from the bulb, but not so hard that it prevents healthy root development.

Water and Watch

Immediately after planting your lily bulbs, water the soil until it is moist but not swamped. Continue providing regular water. It will take 2–3 weeks for your lily bulbs to sprout through the surface.

  • Water the soil to dampen it after planting your bulbs.
  • Lily bulbs require 2–3 weeks before they sprout.
  • Monitor your lily bulbs to make sure they are not uncovered or dug up.

Keep an eye on your lily bulbs for the weeks prior to sprouting. If rainfall or watering washes away dirt and uncovers the bulbs, recover them. If you see evidence that squirrels, rabbits, or other animals have been digging in your garden and disturbing your bulbs, you may need to replant your bulbs or replace bulbs that have been eaten.

Can You Plant Lily Bulbs Too Deep?

It is possible to plant lily bulbs too deep in the soil. Never plant lilies deeper than 8 inches (20 cm). Although lily bulbs prefer deep planting, make sure you don’t overdo it. If you plant your lilies too far under the ground, they may never break through to develop into a full flower. Of course, always pay attention to instructions regarding specific varieties that may have slightly different depth requirements.

  • Stick to 8 inches (20 cm) deep as the cutoff point when planting lily bulbs.
  • In clay soil, plant lily bulbs at a depth of 6 inches (15 cm).
  • Always pay attention to variety-specific instructions when planting your lilies.

In clay soil, lily bulbs should not be planted more than 6 inches (15 cm) deep. Planting deeper in clay soil results in stems that cannot break through the surface and grow into flowering plants. By planting lilies at a shallower depth in clay-rich soils, you’ll get far more blooms through late summer.

What Happens if You Plant Lily Bulbs Too Deep?

If your lily bulbs are planted too deeply, they may fail to sprout at all during the growing season. Additionally, lily bulbs planted more than 8 inches (20 cm) deep will produce fewer flowers, or no flowers at all. In other words, your lilies will feature more stems and leaves than anything else. If your goal is to have beautiful-looking flowers, avoid planting your bulbs excessively deep.

  • Lily bulbs planted too deep may fail to emerge above ground.
  • If you plant your bulbs too deep, you may end up with more leaves and stems than flowers.

Ultimately, it is probably better to plant lily bulbs a little too deep than to plant them too shallowly. Deep planting will prevent the bulbs from being dug up by squirrels or other garden scavengers. Deep planting will also prevent the bulbs from being uncovered by heavy rains. As long as you stick to the 8-inch depth rule, your plants should do great.

What Happens if You Don’t Plant Lily Bulbs Deep Enough?

If you don’t plant lily bulbs deep enough, they will develop immature “stem roots,” which will cling to the side of each lily stem. At first glance, many gardeners don’t recognize what is actually happening, because the stem roots look remarkably similar to larvae from insects or other garden varmints.

  • Lily bulbs that are not planted deeply enough will develop immature root systems directly on the surface of their stems.
  • Lily bulbs planted at an inadequate depth will not get the required nutrients they need to thrive.

Immature stem roots not only ruin the appearance of your lilies, they also make them unhealthy because they are technically growing into each other. Also, if bulbs are not planted to an adequate depth, they won’t have access to the nutrients they need, which eventually leads to flowers that fail to thrive or even dying plants.

How Deep Should You Plant Lily Bulbs?

When planting your lilies, you should follow these quick rules:

  • Loosen the soil to a depth of 12 inches (30 cm) before you plant your lily bulbs.
  • Plan to plant lily bulbs 8–18 inches (20–45 cm) apart.
  • Soak your lily bulbs in water for 2 hours prior to planting.
  • Plant your lily bulbs 8 inches deep (20 cm).
  • Water your bulbs after planting.

By planting your lily bulbs at the ideal depth, you’ll get the best results. Then, you can enjoy the sweet fragrance of lily blossoms throughout the summer.

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