How To Fertilize Lilies When & How Much

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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.

Lilies are fairly hardy and don’t require a lot of fertilizer. In fact, too much nitrogen can result in weak stems, and in hot, wet climates can also result in bulb rot.

A balanced granular fertilizer with an NPK ratio of 10-10-10 is a good choice for lilies; this provides a mix of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium to promote overall plant health and growth at a slow rate. 

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.

Avoid overfertilizing, which often shows as brown tips, yellowing leaves, or drooping. If a mineral crust forms on the soil’s surface, flush the soil thoroughly with water and stop feeding until the next growing season.  

However, a slow-release fertilizer may only need to be applied once per year. Use caution with liquid fertilizers, which are quick-acting feeds that can encourage too much leafy growth and stunt blooming. 

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 a 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 recommended and should benefit almost any plant, especially those with bulbs, corms, tubers, or rhizomes.


Lilies generally don’t need a lot of water, so only water if required. Asiatic lilies, Trumpet Lilies, Peace Lilies, Water Lilies, Canna Lilies,  and Orienpets flourish in hot, dry climates as long as they have enough water up to flowering time.

Depending on your USDA number, that will vary by a few days to a few weeks. 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 starter 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 and closely spaced your plants are. A good compost soil will give all the “organic fertilizers” lilies need.

Ideally, pick a spot in your garden with good drainage and plenty of sunlight. Lilies need a well-drained planting medium, such as sand or other porous soil. 

Nutrients added at this time often simply sit in the soil. And a buildup of mineral salts from excess fertilizer can damage roots and impact a plant’s ability to take up water.  

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.

Liquid synthetic fertilizers are typically stronger than granular organic formulas and are easier to overapply. 

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 are fewer nutrients available per plant.

Make sure you keep your mulch slug-free! They would love to munch on your emerging lily shoots. 

In general, it’s better to use less fertilizer and risk fewer blooms or smaller plants than to overdo it. A suitable liquid fertilizer designed for houseplants is available at Perfect Plants Nursery in eight-ounce bottles. 

For example, if you are using a water-soluble fertilizer, it may need to be applied every few weeks during the growing season.

Too much fertilizer can burn your plant, and recovering 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:

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