Tuesday, September 10, 2013

How and When to Dig Lily Bulbs

Just a few yellow green leaves are left here.

Do you need to move lily bulbs out of the way of new construction, or have they outgrown their spot?  The best time to transplant lilies is when the leaves have turned from green to brown because at that time it is certain the bulbs have matured enough to safely dig. 

See how the leaves have mostly all turned brown in the photograph?  These bulbs have fully regenerated and are ready to go through their winter dormant period.  If dug too early in late summer, the bulb's are soft and can be easily damaged, plus it may be too small to flower next summer if they have not been enough given time to build themselves back up.

You can carefully dig when the leaves have all turned from green to yellow, but by waiting just a week or two more, when all the energy is safely stored, it will make a difference in the number of flowers produced next summer.

Don't begin digging too close to the stem or you risk cutting the lily bulb.

Carefully, position your shovel or garden fork about 4 inches away from the stem and dig down 7 to 8 inches to the side.  If you planted properly, the lily bulbs should be at least that deep, but if a clump of stems is older and overgrown, the bulbs may be closer to the surface, especially if yearly weeding has pulled away some of the soil.

Using the stem as a "handle", gently lift the bulb and root ball.  Pull excess soil from around the bulb with your fingers, or you can simply wash the bulb in a bucket of water, which is messier—but also effective.

The circle is where the stem roots are located.  The red line shows how deep the bulb was planted.  Not all bulbs will produce bulblets underground, but this bulb was only planted in the past spring, so it was still "settling in".

Use an old pair of hand pruners or a serrated kitchen knife if you have rocky/sandy soil.
Clip off the stem if it does not "fall off" easily on its own.  Green stems are still firmly attached inside the lily bulb and by yanking the stem out of the bulb, you risk damaging the center of the lily—opening up the bulb to decay and loss over winter.  Lily stems are attached by a "hook" and if the stem is too green, that hook will tear out the inside of the bulb.  Harvest any bulblets that were produced along the stem—inside the stem roots— or at the base (basal plate or bottom) of the lily and plant those separately. 

Bulb harvested and ready to plant back into the garden.

Plant back ASAP because lily bulbs do not have a hard exterior such as Daffodils or Tulips and they will dehydrate quickly if left unprotected by soil or other means.  In fall, we layer the bulbs in moist wood shavings until it is time to package and ship them to you, but without proper equipment for storage, try not to let them stay out of the ground more than a day or so.  In general, it is always best to dig the receiving hole before starting any transplanting project, even a couple of days earlier will be easier on you back and better for your bulbs, perennials, shrubs or trees. 

Related Posts:  Emergency Transplanting-Summer, Low Cost Ways to Increase your Lily Garden, Lily Companion Plants, Stem Roots, Mulching Lily Bulbs for Winter,



  1. Does one replant bulblets at 2-3 times their current size which is small or at the depth they should be when fully grown? Thanks.

  2. Yes, bulblets need to be more shallow than full sized bulbs or their stems will exhaust the bulb trying to make it to the surface. After their first summer on their own, that fall, you would be digging and setting them further (and deeper) in a permanent spot.