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When to divide lily bulbs?

Posted by philly_gardener 6 PA (My Page) on
Thu, Apr 17, 08 at 11:59

I planted some oriental lily bulbs I bought from Costco in spring 2006. Now two years later this spring I can see in addition to the bigger sprouts, there are may be 10 - 15 smaller sprouts that have come up next to the bigger sprouts.

From what I read on the web, I know I should dig up all the lily bulbs, and take the "scales" off the main bulb, and plant them separately.

My questions are:

1. When is the best time to divide? Should I do it right now, or wait till September or October? I live in north of Philadelphia, zone 6.

2. How deep should I plant the baby bulbs based on its size?

3. Does variety matter? I have two types of lilies, one of them I believe is Stargazer (only 2 - 3 ft tall), and the other one has white flowers (3 to 4 ft tall). I can divide in the same way, right?

4. Can I expect the baby lilies to bloom next summer (2009)?

Thank you all!

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: When to divide lily bulbs?

Although spring division is possible it's best to wait until fall when the foliage has yellowed or ripened. Lily bulbs are usually planted at a depth 2 to 3 times the diameter of the bulb.If it were me , I wouldn't divide yet this year, unless the stems are really crowded. I would give those babies a little more undisturbed growing time. Also, you mentioned scaling of the mother bulbs. There's no need to do so unless you want to try to get lots more babies. When you take scales from the mother bulb you're cutting down on the size and number of flowers it will produce. Scaling is usually used to propagate those varieties of lilies that are slow to reproduce on their own, example, martagons.

RE: When to divide lily bulbs?

  • Posted by hld6 z7 MD (My Page) on
    Sat, Apr 19, 08 at 12:16

Hi Philly Gardener,

Just to clarify, the little lily plants you are seeing come from "bulblets" either offset from the main bulb or from last years stem (lilies may make either to a more or less extent depending upon the type).

As Hostaholic has told you, scaling is a method to propagate bulblets from the main "mother" bulb if you want to make a bunch of them. But then, it sounds like you have plenty of "lily babies".

If the bulblets you have are "stem bulblets" they would be relatively close to the surface and fairly easy to get out carefully with your fingers if you wanted to place them somewhere else now. If however they are offset from the main bulb digging them up now would disturb your main bulb and probaly damage them so you would want to wait until late summer/early fall in that case.


more questions

Thank you for all your help!

I already have the baby lilies, today I counted maybe 20 of them, some are 3-4 inches tall, some just 1-2 inches tall. The mother lilies (planted in spring 2006) are already at least 1 foot tall.

So now my question is how best to move the existing baby lilies to a different place?

How can I tell whether the baby lilies are stem bulblets or not by their look? Or the only way to find out is to carefully digging up one to see how deep the bulbs are?
If I wait till fall to move the baby lilies to a different place, will the baby bulbs easy to spot? I mean will they be too tiny to see?

Also it seems that every year, there are more baby lilies came out. If I dig the previous year's baby lilies in the fall, will I disturb this year's new stem bulblets? like burying the new tiny stem bulblet born in 2008 too deep without knowing about them?

RE: When to divide lily bulbs?

  • Posted by hld6 z7 MD (My Page) on
    Tue, Apr 29, 08 at 2:06

You can dig around some now carefully with your fingers. If a stub of the old stem is left that will help you find where the bulblets are. But if you find you are "digging to China" while following a baby stem then that means they are offset from the base of the mother bulb.

If you wait, you can make it late summer/early fall when the main bulb's leaves first start to yellow. The "babies" should still be visible (and after a seasons worth of growth,hopefully larger than now). Though if you dig up the whole clump it won't matter if the stems aren't visible since even the small bulbs should be readily seen near the main bulb. (The smallest will be the size of a pea and others will be more the size of a marble - with a leaf attached to them. So they should be easy to spot.)

And when you plant the bulbets, don't plant them deep like you would a mature bulb. As they develop roots and grow larger they will pull themselves deeper into the soil to the depth appropriate for their size.


Thank you for your help!

Thank you for your help! I plan to dig out a few this weekend, then more ater the summer ends.

RE: When to divide lily bulbs?

My Star Gazer Lillies have been growing in a whisky barrell for several years and I have never transferred then. The bloomes were not as big as they were last year. What should I do? They have already bloomed for this year.Thank you for your assistance. I am not sure of my zone upper GA.

RE: When to divide lily bulbs?

Wait until the stems/leaves have turned yellow in late summer /fall to dig, divide and replant.

RE: When to divide lily bulbs?

And recharge that barrel with new soil if you're going to replant in there. If you have some little baby bulblets, just cover those with an inch or so--they'll pull themselves down over time. Water in real good once to get the air out and your done. Don't fertilize until next spring.

RE: When to divide lily bulbs?

A couple more 'pointers' I forgot to mention: When you're ready to replant, cut the main stems back to about 3 inches above ground. Then replant to the same depth using the old stem as a guide. Do not twist or pull this stem out as this may damage the bulb and next years new stem growth. Stargazers like dapled afternoon shade and are often seen in patio barrels such as yours. Did you know there's a small version of a Stargazer (look alike) called 'After Eight'? Its a stocky plant with more dense folliage--gets about 15--16 inches high. Perfect for patios and borders!

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