How To Fertilize Lilies – When & How Much

There are two main questions to answer anytime you think about fertilizing lilies: when, and how much?

Neither answer is very complicated, but unfortunately, it can’t be answered very specifically in a general article, since it depends on many individual factors. Follow the directions on the package for that.

Still, there are some guidelines that will give your lily bulbs all it needs to grow big and strong with hot pink flowers like this.

As a first approximation, you can go with no lily fertilizer at all. If you have average well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter, lilies will do well getting all they need and producing the rest themselves. But a bulb booster fertilizer can help.

Ample sunshine and a bit of water allow their foliage to provide energy and their roots to supply the bulb or tubers underground. That feeds the rest of the plant.

The bulb concentrates sugars sent up through the stalk to produce beautiful blooms.

If your plants don’t flower one year (yet have ample sunshine) or produce fewer blooms than you want, consider adding a small amount of lily bulb food just before flowering season. Many like to incorporate bone meal into the soil. Also, check the n-p-k ratio of fertilizers you would apply for the best results.

What Plants Benefit From Bone Meal?

Question: Steamed bone meal is often advised, especially in the planting of bulbous plants. Can you tell me how I can best use bone meal in my fall planting – the quantity, and on which plants? MD, Tennessee

Answer: Steamed bone meal is an excellent, slow-acting, organic fertilizer carrying about 20% phosphorus and 2% nitrogen. Five pounds per 100 square feet, applied in the early spring, is the average amount used. It is safe to use, and where a quick acting fertilizer is not required, it is to be recommended and should be of benefit to almost any plant, especially those having bulbs, corms, tubers or rhizomes.

That will vary by a few days to a few weeks depending on your USDA number. Colder regions (represented by a lower number) usually see early spring warmth a little later than warmer areas (higher numbers).


Gardens in colder regions can also benefit from lilies that bloom at different weeks of the sunny seasons.

Asiatic lilies, for example, are hardy in zones as cold as 2 and flower early to mid-season. Martagons may not bloom at all the first few years after planting.

Easter lilies, by contrast, bloom in mid-summer. Yes, that is a little odd, considering the name. Isn’t gardening fun? They bloom in spring, around Easter, only when forced through special techniques.

Consider those season/blooming characteristics when deciding when to fertilize.

As a general rule, if you add a strater fertilizer it is best to lay it down just as the shoots are emerging from the ground. That gives the plant ample time to absorb the extra nutrients and incorporate them in order to give you the best possible flowers.

How much to add depends (apart from soil type, as we saw above) on how large your plants are and how closely spaced. A good compost soil will give all the “organic fertilizers” lilies need.

Oriental lilies, for example, often reach heights of 3-6 feet. Asiatics are a bit smaller, from 2-5 feet, typically. The taller the mature plant, the more fertilizer is required.

Related: Growing Fragrant Stargazer Lilies | How To Grow The Blood Fireball Lily

Taller plants tend to have larger bulb circumferences and correspondingly larger bulb volumes. The bigger the bulb, the more fertilizer they can profit from.

Likewise, if you plant your lilies closer together, they will require a bit more fertilizer than if spaced widely apart. Common sense explains why.

More earth between plants means more nutrients available to each individual lily as their roots spread and seek out what they need. If more plants are drawing from the same soil, there’s less nutrient available per plant.

In general, it’s better to use less fertilizer and risk fewer blooms or smaller plants than to overdo it.

Too much fertilizer can burn your plant and recover from that, like recovering from too much water, is much harder than compensating for too little.

As a rule of thumb, a 10-20-20 mix of slow-release fertilizer is best to keep your lilies in peak condition. For large plants with lots of blooms, a second application just before flowering is fine.

More on Tiger Lily Bulbs:

JOIN Our FREE Plant Care Newsletter 

By entering your email address you agree to receive a daily email newsletter from Plant Care Today. We'll respect your privacy and unsubscribe at any time.