Bulbs

Tiger Lily: Growing Lilium Lancifolium


Tiger lily flowers

Gardening the stunning blooms of the tiger lily flower is well worth the effort. Originating in Asia, tiger lily (Lilium lancifolium, also called Lilium tigrinum) is a popular ornamental plant that’s become widespread internationally due to its vibrant image. It’s even become naturalized in parts of the United States and is seen throughout New England in the wild.

Of course, there’s a Native American character Tiger Lily from Peter Pan who became popular in the children’s story. It’s hard to find tips on growing these glorious flowers online because half the time, you’re more likely to find references to her!

There are similarities between the two. Tiger Lily’s a strong and independent character. In traditional lore, the tiger lily meaning is said to represent the fierceness and confidence of women. Some actually purport the gift of a tiger lily says “I dare you to love me!”

Good Products At Amazon For Growing Tiger Lily:

Quick Care Guide

Tiger lily flowers
Tiger lily flowers are stunningly dramatic. Source: Patti O’Shea
Common NameTiger lily, Orange Tiger lily, White Tiger lily, Pink Tiger lily, Red Tiger lily, Yellow Tiger lily, a number of cultivar names
Scientific NameLilium lancifolium, aka Lilium tigrinum
FamilyLiliaceae
Height & Spread4 feet tall, 8 inches wide
LightFull sun to partial shade
SoilRich, well-draining soil
Water1 inch per week
Pests & DiseasesAphids, red lily beetle, lily mosaic virus, basal rot

All About Tiger Lily Plants

The 'Pink Tiger' cultivar of tiger lily
Pink Tiger is a popular cultivar of tiger lily. Source: orchidgalore

The tiger lily (known botanically as Lilium lancifolium) is also known by numerous cultivar names – hybrids included. Tiger lily plants originate in China, Korea, Japan, and Russia. Today people grow perennial lilies, or lilium flowers in their gardens to add dimension and pops of color. 

Tigerlilies grow on an upright stem that tops out at 4 feet in optimal conditions and remains relatively compact at 8 inches wide. Their lanceolate leaves are bright green and about 4 inches long. Gardeners grow tiger plants specifically for their vibrant orange flowers, which have a characteristic lily shape, pronounced stamens, and reddish petals that have stark black spots. 

You may have seen pictures of the striking appearance of the tiger lily flower. Tiger lilies’ flowers grow from bulbils that sit at each of the leaf axils. Each has a bloom time of a day or two. If pollen exchanges between two plants, spent flowers produce a small seed capsule. These lovely flowers grow from tiger lilies bulbs, with different needs than herbaceous plants that grow from branching roots. If you give the bulbs a great head start and keep your lily plants healthy they will multiply. Today people are gardening tons of different types of tiger lily: purple tiger lily, pink tiger lilies, orange tiger, yellow tiger lily, and other hybrids. That’s because members of this species are striking and relatively easy to care for. The tiger lilies’ meaning is reputed to be mercy, compassion, and loyalty. It’s also tied to wealth and success.

Apparently, a Korean folk tale tells of a hermit who helped a tiger who was shot by an arrow. The hermit removed the arrow, and the tiger swore unending friendship in return. When the tiger died of old age, the hermit used his power to turn it into tiger lily flowers, keeping its beauty intact. Once the hermit himself finally passed away, the tiger lily searched for its friend. Some say it’s still searching. Like all members of the lily family, these are toxic to humans and pets. To keep them and children safe from harm, limit access to containers or garden areas these toxic plants grow in. But whether you’re seeking a fierce blossom of orange and black, or a loyal plant that might take over your garden, the tiger lily is perfect for you. Let’s bring a piece of Neverland home for you and your friends to visit and explore the world of tiger lilies!

Tiger Lily Care

Red Tiger cultivar of tiger lily
The Red Tiger cultivar is vividly red in coloration. Source: John Brandauer

Tiger lily plants are not terribly fussy, and any effort put into caring for them is worth it. Let’s talk about the basics to get you growing tiger lily flowers. You may discover wild tiger lily flowers dominating your garden site!

Planting Tiger Lily

When it comes to tiger lilies, plant tiger lily bulbs in the garden or in containers in spring or fall. Choose a site in full sun with partial afternoon shade, or a container that’s at least 10 inches deep. Dig holes about 2 to 3 times the size of the bulbs. In warmer areas, work on the deeper side to protect bulbs from the heat. Mark where you’ve placed them. Save the extra bulbs, and  store them in a cool, dark place for next season. 

Sun and Temperature

Orange tiger lilies thrive in full sun conditions. In hotter climates, they tolerate partial shade, especially during the heat of the afternoon. Give them 6 hours of sunlight in your garden daily. Tiger lily plants thrive in USDA hardiness zones 3 to 9. The leafy parts of your plants won’t survive temperature extremes but the bulbous roots allow blooms to emerge again in spring. They’ll tolerate cold down to 25°F. 

Water and Humidity

Established tiger lily plants are drought-tolerant and survive in arid climates, provided they get 1 inch of water per week. Younger plants require more water until they’ve matured and spread their roots deeply. Extra moisture spurs larger plant growth, helping roots form easily in the growing season. Mulching with peat moss, sand, or straw mixed into the garden soil during hotter and drier times of year helps keep the roots cool and appropriate moisture in the soil. Use soaker hoses or drip irrigation to water. Cut back on watering your garden when summer and winter arrive, as these are dormant times for the tiger lily plant. 

Soil

These plants like rich, well-draining soil. While they tolerate moisture that stays in compost-rich soil, they don’t like wet feet. Sandier soils are fine for these plants. They grow in clay soil as well, but it takes them longer to become established, and drainage will be a problem. Add a little compost and agricultural sand to improve drainage if poor soil is present. The optimal pH for growing tiger lily flowers is 5.5 to 6.5.  

Fertilizing

Yellow Tiger variety of tiger lily
The Yellow Tiger cultivar is a deep goldenrod color. Source: Property#1

Tiger lilies don’t need much fertilizer. An application of compost around the base of the plants two times a year provides all the nutrition they require as their bulbs form clumps throughout the garden bed. If you want to encourage more tiger lily flowers, use a liquid 5-10-5 fertilizer in late spring and late fall.

Pruning

As summer eases towards fall, your lilies will die back. Cut back the stalks when all the leaves yellow. Remove them to the ground, and allow the plant to go dormant for the winter. Annual pruning prevents future plant diseases in your garden and reduces pests. When spring comes again, divide your tiger lilies before new shoots form, or allow them to come back on their own. If you live somewhere with sub-freezing temperatures during winter, spread 2 to 3 inches of mulch overtop. This protects the bulbs. Dormant bulbs may experience damage if they repeatedly freeze and thaw, though.

Repotting

If the potted lily you are gardening has stopped producing blooms, it might not have enough room for its roots to grow. At this point, repot it into a larger pot, or divide it in the spring or fall into multiple pots for more flowers in your garden. Plant tiger lilies at the same level of soil they were planted before. Give them well-draining soil that’s rich to provide plenty of nutrition.

Tiger Lily Propagation

Propagation is possible in your garden by bulbil or by division of the roots. Do this during the spring before new growth appears. Dividing them in the fall in warmer climates is possible as well. Bulb division requires digging up the plant carefully when it’s dormant and gently separating individual bulbs. Replant them separately with the pointed side aimed upward. Bulbils form along the stem of the plant at leaf axils. Carefully remove these and pot them as if they were bulbs to grow a new plant. They’ll take an extra year of time to form a tiger flower, so it’s a slower process. Most tiger lily species are aggressive spreaders. Divide your plants every couple of years so they don’t take up space in your garden beds. Pot them and give away divided plants to friends, or compost them. Keep them contained to have healthy, happy blooms in your garden.

Tiger Lily Flowers and Blooming

This section is dedicated to a quick list of questions and answers related specifically to producing tall lovely flowers you’ve no doubt seen an image of in gardening magazines. 

  • How many times will a tiger lily bloom? Annually, tiger lilies bloom up to 10 flowers per stalk. 
  • Do tiger lilies bloom more than once? Even those in colder climates will produce flowers in succession throughout their blooming season.
  • What do you do with tiger lilies after they bloom? They make great cut flowers for arrangements, saving you a trip to the florist’s shop. Use annual pruning time to divide and plant more in your garden. See the propagation section to determine how to move them around the garden.
  • What month do tiger lilies bloom? The tiger lily flower makes an appearance in mid to late summer, often in July. If mid and late summer has passed, that’s a sign to wait to grow tiger lillies until next season.
  • Why did my tiger lilies not bloom? We’ll talk more about this in the Growing Problems section (no doubt!). The culprit of issues with garden tiger lilies is poor drainage. 

Troubleshooting

White Tiger cultivar of tiger lily
White Tiger has just the faintest blush of yellow on its petals. Source: Sarah Braun

Gardening this plant is fun, as you may have gathered from the last section. But there are a few issues that could arise when working with this plant. 

Tiger Lily Growing Problems

If you’re gardening potted tiger lilies, don’t leave them in standing water. Overly-wet soil leads to optimal disease conditions. Check the soil with a fingertip and water when it feels dry. Without proper drainage, you may have trouble obtaining blooms. In this case, wait for fall, and gently remove the bulb with attached roots, then add some agricultural sand. Plant the bulbs into the garden, and they’ll bloom bright orange tiger lily flowers next year. 

Pests

Aphids are a common garden pest. Control them with neem oil. They transmit plant diseases to the rest of your garden during feeding. Because lily can host other plant diseases, keep aphids at bay. Plant plants that beneficial insects enjoy – ladybugs in this case –  to attract them to your garden where they’ll thrive on an aphid diet. Establish these around your lilies before they bloom in summer and the likelihood of attracting beneficials increases.  

The red lily beetle dines upon the leaves of lily species. Small holes in the leaves are a sign the beetle is present in your garden. While it’s still not widespread in the U.S., it’s at risk of becoming so if not kept under control. Avoid this pest by regularly spraying your plants with neem oil. Neem repels adults and kills larval and egg stages of the beetle. Spinosad sprays have also shown effectiveness in killing adult lily beetles.

Diseases

Tiger lilies are a known carrier of lily mosaic virus. The first sign of this disease is yellowed streaking on the leaves of your plant. Note that while this mosaic virus doesn’t harm in most cases, infected ones can transmit it to other lilies nearby, especially if aphids are present in summer. Keep your plants away from other lily species for this reason.

The biggest plant disease that impacts tiger lilies is basal rot. Present in warm, moist soil, often in the heat of summer, this causes bulb rot and can be catastrophic. One sign basal rot has set in is a mushy and browning stem. Prevent this by providing excellent drainage in the soil and not overwatering during the summer months.

Frequently Asked Questions

Pink tiger lily
A closeup of the center of a pink tiger lily. Source: quacktaculous

Q: What is special about the Tiger Lily?

A: It’s a plant that has many meanings, and looks great in the garden. 

Q: Do tiger lilies come back every year?

A: Yes. They are perennial. 

Q: How much sun does a Tiger Lily need?

A: Full sun to partial shade.

Q: When should tiger lilies be planted?

A: Plant them in spring or fall. 

Q: Can you grow tiger lilies indoors?

A: Yes. They need lots of light indoors, though. 

Q: What does tiger lily smell like?

A: They have no smell at all. 

Q: What is the difference between a tiger lily and a daylily?

A: They’re different species and tiger lily plants face downward rather than upward like daylily plants.

Q: Are tiger lilies invasive?

A: They can be if they aren’t controlled. 

Q: How tall do tiger lilies get?

A: Up to 4 feet tall.

Related Categories
Products in this article