Methods of Lily Propagation

byMelody Webster


Lilies are perennials that can be propagated by both sexual and asexual means.Sexual means involve seed, and asexual means can include bulbs, scales, and tissue culture, as well as other methods.There is also future work needed in the area of lily propagation.


The genus Lilium includes less than 100 species that grow from bulbs.Lilies are monocots, and they grow throughout the northern hemisphere.Most lilies produce very beautiful flowers, which is the main reason they are used in gardens and landscapes in much of the world. Lilies prefer sandy or loamy, well-drained soil. There are several ways to propagate lilies.

Methods of Propagation:

Sexual: Lilies can be propagated by seed, and sometimes this is the only way to achieve real success in propagation. The flowers are hermaphroditic, so plants can self-pollinate. When grown from seed, lilies take two to six years to reach the flowering stage. 

There are three different groups of lilies when it comes to seed germination. Immediate seed germinators are fairly easy to propagate from seed. This group includes most of the commercially important species. Another group is the epigeal slow seed germinators. These germinate slowly and erratically, but the procedures to propagate them are the same as for the immediate germinators.The hypogeoal slow seed germinators are very difficult to propagate.These seeds require three months of warm conditions, in which the root grows and a small bulblet is produced, followed by six weeks of cold treatment, and then another warm period, in which the leaves and stem begin to grow.

To propagate from seed, sow the seed in pots in the late winter or early spring in a cold frame.Seeds should be treated with a fungicide to prevent the fungal disease Botrytis.Within two to four weeks, the seed should germinate.Make sure to sow the seed thinly and use a fertile medium.When they reach their dormant stage, divide the young bulbs.Put two or three in each pot and grow them there for another year or more before planting them outdoors in their permanent places.Always move the plants when they are dormant. 

Asexual:The easiest method of propagating lilies asexually is division.Simply separate younger plants and bulbs from the older ones in the fall, and replant them. 

There may also be bulbils, bulblets, or offsets growing from the parent plants.These can be removed and replanted to produce a new plant.

If no offsets are present, the lily can be propagated by bulb scales.To propagate by this method, remove scales from the main bulb and clean them of dirt or rot.Then place the scales in a plastic zip-lock bag about two-thirds full of moistened sphagnum peat moss.Shake the bag gently to cover the scales, then zip it closed.Store the bag at room temperature.In a few weeks, small bulblets should begin to form on the scales.When these develop roots, they can be gently removed and planted.
Micropropagation has been researched for lilies, and can be done from bulb scales or pedicels.Some types of lilies can also be propagated from leaf cuttings.
Future Work Needed:

Research in the future will concentrate on breeding a lily that is more easily propagated and flowers easily, with a short forcing time and long life.Work should focus on producing a lily that has a genetically controlled height, low nutritional requirements, and is resistant to pests, but also has a wide variety of flower types and colors.Some methods of propagation deserve further research as well, including propagation by seed and in vitro propagation.These methods may make it easier to propagate greater numbers of lilies.

Literature Cited:

Dole, John M. and Wilkins, Harold F.Direction of Lilium Research.ISHS website.13 April 2002.

HartmannKester, Davies, and Geneve.Plant Propagation:Principles and Practices.London, Prentice-Hall, Inc, 1997.

Swoszowski-Tran, Kristin.Scaling a Bulb.Mid-Atlantic Lily Society website.2001.13 April 2002.