What are Tree Lilies?

Looking like lilies on steroids, tree lilies produce towering stems that are capable of carrying up to thirty, dinner plate sized blooms in summer. Apart from their dramatic good looks, the flowers possess an intoxicating scent that makes spending time outside a true sensory experience.

The huge flowers of Tree Lily Honeymoon are richly scented

Tree lilies reach great heights which is quite remarkable, considering they are grown from bulbs. In their first season stems are likely to reach 4ft or so, with branched stems bearing flowers from mid-summer to the first frosts. They’ll get even higher in their second year and are capable of reaching 6-8ft when established, depending on variety.

Line a path with a border of tree lilies and enjoy the scent as you walk through the garden

A little bit of history

Lilies are native to parts of Europe, Asia and North America, but this family of behemoths are not found in the wild. They are actually the result of many years of careful plant breeding. The first were developed in the USA during the early 2000s by crossing tall, heavily scented Oriental lilies with equally potent trumpet lilies of a similar stature.

The rich buttery yellow flowers of Tree Lily ‘Honeymoon’

There are scores of different ones available with exotic flowers in shades of white, yellow, pink and red. Some have petals that are striped, edged or spotted with a contrasting shade, creating a two-tone effect. Among the head turners are ‘Eldoret’ with its sunny yellow blooms and ‘Palazzo’, whose flowers are a reddish pink. ‘Honeymoon’ is a stunning choice with buttery yellow flowers and a rich scent.

Where to grow

Tree lilies will thrive in sun or partial shade, and do best in a position sheltered from strong winds. Taller varieties are ideal against walls, fences or planted at the back of schemes, while shorter forms can be used to punctuate beds and borders. They also look great in exotic displays or grown as a flowering screen to delineate part of a garden.

How to plant

It’s best to plant tree lily bulbs deeply to protect them from frost over winter and sun in summer. Use a trowel to dig holes that are three times the length of the bulb – if you have clay soil, sprinkle some horticultural grit in the bottom to improve drainage and prevent bulbs from rotting. Give plants plenty of room to grow by spacing bulbs 20cm (8in) apart.

Growing in pots

Tree lilies are great in containers, enabling you to place them in a prominent position on a patio, deck, terrace or similar hard surface. Due to their size you need to use a large pot – not only will it provide stability in windy weather but it creates an aesthetical balance that’s easy on the eye. A single bulb is fine in a 25cm (10in) diameter pot, while three will make a dramatic statement in a 45cm (18in) diameter container.

When planting in containers, use good quality multipurpose compost – for the best results, mix in some controlled release fertiliser granules to keep plants going for the next few months. Bulbs should be planted at the same depth as those in the ground, but can be placed a little closer together when planting in groups.


Water and feed plants regularly during the growing season. Remove individual flowers as they start to fade to prevent seed heads forming and in autumn, cut the main stem to ground level when it turns brown. Insulate bulbs from frost by covering with a 7.5cm (3in) mulch of garden compost or leaf mould. Move plants in pots into a greenhouse, shed or front porch.

Although tree lilies grow way higher than other types, they generally don’t need staking if grown in a sheltered spot because the robust stems are up to 5cm (2in) thick. However, if plants start to bow under the weight of blooms or are not grown in a protected spot and sway in windy weather, then shore up with a stout stake.




Martyn Cox

About Martyn Cox

Martyn Cox aims to maintain a small city garden on the south coast, while his two dogs (a Sprocker Spaniel and chocolate Labrador) try to thwart his best efforts. Gardening columnist with The Mail on Sunday, he’s the author of ten books and gardening guest for Richard Jackson at QVC. A trained horticulturist and black belt in karate, Martyn was formerly on the staff at BBC Gardeners’ World, Amateur Gardening, Horticulture Week and Gardenlife magazine.
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