Peace lilies, Canna lilies, Easter lilies, Asiatic lilies, and daylilies are just a few types of lilies commonly grown as potted or landscape plants. But very few of these flowers actually belong to the lily genus or Lilium.
We usually refer to members of this genus as “true lilies.” Some Liliums you might have growing in your garden include tiger, Easter, oriental, trumpet, and Asiatic lilies.
Routine fertilizer is rarely necessary for these so-called true lilies. Yet it’s one of the best-kept secrets for growing the biggest flowers possible! If you want to step up your lily game this year, you’ll definitely want to check out my feeding tips and picks for the best fertilizer for lilies below.
Best Lily Fertilizers
Ready to jump straight to the good stuff? Here are the two fertilizers I would recommend above all others when it comes to lilies. A very high-quality bone meal from Down To Earth and a superb water-soluble fertilizer from Jack’s Classics, when your flowering needs a kick-start.
Best Organic Fertilizer
Naturally phosphorus-rich for optimizing the flower bud growth of your lilies. An organic, slow-releasing, bone meal fertilizer is effective for up to four months.
Best Water-Soluble Fertilizer
A Water-soluble fertilizer that will help your lilies bloom bigger and better – even in depleted soil conditions. Quickly distributed into the soil so that roots can absorb nutrients faster.
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Choosing the Best Fertilizer for Lilies
All true lilies grow from onion-like bulbs. As such, they require special care and nutrition that often differs from non-Lilium varieties.
Lilies generally have no problem surviving in unfertilized soil. However, adequate access to key nutrients — either through a long-lasting organic fertilizer or frequent liquid feedings — is super important for maximum flower development.
Lily Fertilizer N-P-K Ratio
Fertilizers advertise macronutrient content using a sequence of three numbers separated by hyphens. This simple formula is called an N-P-K ratio.
Each number, in order, represents an essential nutrient:
- Nitrogen, or N, is the first number. Like any other plant, lilies need nitrogen to live. However, they have a tendency to prioritize leaf tissue over flowers when fed too much.
- Phosphorus, or P, is the most important macronutrient for blooming lilies and arguably the most important agent in any flower fertilizer. Without adequate phosphorus, your lilies’ flowers are liable to fall short.
- Potassium, or K, is the last number. This nutrient is heavily used in the cut flower industry to encourage growth and protect against disease. For home gardeners, its importance largely depends on the soil’s natural potassium levels.
Nitrogen should typically be the lowest number in lily fertilizer. In most lily fertilizers, phosphorus is the highest number. Many lily fertilizers feature potassium levels that are equal to or even above nitrogen levels.
Phosphorus and Calcium
Phosphorus is essential to root and flower development. For lilies, adequate phosphorus is directly related to healthy bulbs and large blooms.
Calcium deficiency is a somewhat common issue in lily plants. The most obvious symptom is upper leaf necrosis, or foliage that is curled, brown, and waterlogged.
Soil pH and Nutrient Uptake
Lilies are not very picky about soil pH. Like most ornamental plants, they prefer soil that is slightly acidic (an approximate pH of 6.0 to 6.5).
Note that true lilies tolerate a more alkaline soil pH than non-Liliums like calla and daylilies. Keep this in mind if growing both varieties in your garden.
Granular Vs Liquid Fertilizer
Home garden fertilizers are available as liquids, granules, and pre-measured spikes. Each method comes with pros and cons depending on the situation and personal preferences.
Fertilizer granules are my go-to for nearly all applications. They’re ideal for lilies that thrive when fed a slow, consistent stream of nutrients throughout the early growing season.
Liquid Concentrate or Spray
Since liquid fertilizers deliver the quickest source of nutrition, they’re a great option for jumpstarting your lilies in the early spring.
Be cautious relying too heavily on liquid fertilizers for your lily beds, as these fast-acting formulas can encourage vegetative growth instead of showstopping blooms.
Fertilizer granules can be incorporated into the soil immediately before planting bulbs. Over several months, the granules will release nutrients into the soil so your lilies are continuously fed.
It’s also easy to side-dress established lilies with granules. There’s less waste than when fertilizing with a liquid fertilizer since you can apply granules immediately around the bulbs.
While I tend to steer clear of spikes for large perennials and trees, they are actually quite easy to incorporate into a full bed of lilies. Be sure to space the spikes according to the manufacturer’s directions between the lily bulbs for even nutrient distribution.
I recommend using fertilizer spikes in place of slow-release granules whenever run-off is a problem.
Organic vs Synthetic Fertilizers
Organic fertilizers contain nutrients from organic sources like plant and animal waste. Synthetic fertilizers source their nutrients from inorganic materials like minerals and gasses.
Organic fertilizers tend to contain lower N-P-K ratios and higher levels of micronutrients. They also tend to release nutrients into the soil at a slower rate than synthetic fertilizers. These factors can be very beneficial for lilies, which produce the best flowers when given a steady but moderate dose of nutrition.
Best Lily Fertilizer Reviews
Feeding Lilium plants shouldn’t be more than a blip on your garden maintenance radar. Don’t let the fertilizer selection process stress you out!
There are plenty of great formulas out there to support healthy growth and stunning flowers. These are just a few of my personal favorites and how I would utilize them for new and established lilies.
Best Organic Fertilizer
- Slowly delivers nutrition to new and established lily bulbs
- Great source of phosphorus and calcium
- Does not provide all macronutrients
A bone meal is an example of an organic fertilizer that releases nutrients into the soil very slowly. It’s the perfect supplement for newly planted lily bulbs and can also be used to feed these plants throughout their lifetimes too.
This bone meal from Down to Earth is packed with phosphorus and calcium to support long-term lily health. It also contains a small percentage of nitrogen to support the right acidity levels in soil but not enough to trigger premature or excessive growth.
How To Use: Mix in 1 tablespoon per hole when first planting lily bulbs. Side-dress around lily plants with up to ½ cup as needed throughout the growing season.
Best Water-Soluble Fertilizer
- Specifically developed to encourage flowering
- Safe to apply on a frequent schedule
- Not a slow-release formula
The N-P-K ratio of this Jacks Classic fertilizer is balanced enough that it can be used for a variety of purposes around the garden. However, it truly excels when used at the time of budding thanks to the high ratio of phosphorous.
Since this is a water-soluble formula, it can be applied directly to the soil or as a foliar spray. Its 10-30-20 NPK also helps to enhance nitrogen levels in soil, encourage larger blooms and protect against pests and diseases.
For the best results, combine with a slow-release or organic fertilizer applied at the very start of the season.
How To Use: Apply 1 tablespoon per gallon of water during routine irrigation every 1 to 2 weeks during the budding period.
- Made with 100% bone meal from domestic sources
- Organic source of nitrogen, phosphorus, and calcium
- It May give off a strong odor
Here’s another organic bone meal fertilizer that will encourage healthy bulbs and flowers in your ornamental lilies.
This formula from Espoma contains slightly more nitrogen and slightly less phosphorus and calcium when compared to Down to Earth’s Bonemeal granules. I just got slightly better results with my first choice in terms of overall health, flower size, and how long my lilies bloomed.
How To Use: Mix 10 pounds per 100 square feet of soil to prepare an entire garden bed for planting lilies. For established plants, side-dress with 1 teaspoon of fertilizer mixed into the soil around each lily bulb.
- Contains beneficial microbes to support native soil health
- Can be applied as a granule or as a liquid
- Can have an unpleasant odor
I really like this organic Dr. Earth fertilizer because it delivers a combination of quick- and slow-release nutrients to promote blooming.
While this is mainly intended as a granular formula, the packaging also includes directions for turning it into a fertilizer tea. Personally, I’d take advantage of this liquid version at a budding time to ensure your lilies get an ample dose of nutrition when their flowers are forming!
How To Use: Before planting, incorporate ½ cup of fertilizer per ½ cubic foot of soil into the garden bed. To feed existing lilies, side-dress with approximately 1 tablespoon per bulb.
- Pre-measured spikes are extremely convenient to use
- Amends the soil with beneficial bacteria and fungi
- Tend to deliver nutrients unevenly
You’ll have a hard time finding fertilizer spikes specifically advertised for use on Liliums. But with nutrients meant to support flowering ornamentals, these Jobe’s Organics spikes are a viable alternative.
The relatively low N-P-K ratio means that lily bulbs planted close to the spikes won’t be at significant risk for overfeeding. These fertilizer spikes also release proprietary microbes that help break down organic matter and improve soil quality.
How To Use: Drive fertilizer spikes 2 inches below the soil’s surface — each package comes with a plastic cap to protect the spikes during driving. Evenly space spikes at least 10 inches away from lily bulbs.
- Designed to support natural soil microbes
- Available in an easy-to-apply package
- High nitrogen content increases the risk of fertilizer burn
With a slightly higher nitrogen ratio, this Miracle-Gro granular fertilizer is a great option for lilies that tend to be heavy feeders. If you would describe your garden soil as very sandy or low in organic matter, I’d give this feed a try!
Use this formula early in the growing season, when your lily plants are consuming nitrogen to produce tall stems and healthy leaves. You may wish to taper off in favor of a higher-phosphorus formula when buds start to emerge.
How To Use: Apply approximately ½ cup per 10 square feet directly to the soil. Be careful not to place granules in direct contact with stem or leaf tissue.
How to Fertilize Lilies
Fertilizing the soil before planting your lily bulbs will give them an excellent start in life. You can do this by incorporating a rich organic fertilizer (e.g., bone meal or aged manure) into the soil at the time of planting.
Feed existing perennial lilies by applying a liquid, side-dressing with granules, or inserting spikes into the surrounding soil. Follow the measurement guidelines provided by your fertilizer manufacturer.
Strategically applying a high-phosphorus fertilizer as soon as flower buds appear may encourage bigger and longer-lasting flowers.
Continue fertilizing up to 1 ½ months after lilies have flowered. Lilies and other bulb perennials use the time after flowering to store as much energy as possible for the coming winter. (For this reason, you should never cut back lily leaves before they have died back on their own!)
Avoiding Lily Fertilizer Burn
Fertilizer burn is a common problem among ornamental Lilium varieties. It’s very, very easy to overdo it if you’re not careful.
Fertilizer burn-in lily plants can appear as:
- Yellow or brown foliage
- Curling leaves
- Damaged bulb tissue
Excess nitrogen is the most common culprit of fertilizer burn. Pay close attention to the N-P-K ratio of your chosen fertilizer.
When to Fertilize Lilies
Lilies consume the most energy in the spring and early summer as they produce stems, leaves, and flower buds. Since different varieties grow at slightly different times, the rule of thumb I follow is to start fertilizing when shoots appear in spring.
How Often to Fertilize Lilies
When using organic or slow-release granular fertilizer, the general advice is to feed twice per year. These applications should occur once in early spring and again in late summer or early fall.
If using a liquid formula, I recommend fertilizing every 2-3 weeks after planting or alternatively, following the manufacturer’s directions.
Verdict: Best Fertilizers for Lilies
If you’re on the hunt for jaw-dropping flowers that don’t need constant care, a member of the Lilium genus is a great candidate! In fact, selecting a fertilizer to feed your lily plants is often the hardest part.
For lilies that are already happy in their existing soil, Down to Earth Organic Bone Meal Fertilizer 3-15-0 is a nearly foolproof way to deliver bloom-boosting phosphorus. I recommend this bone meal formula for both new and established lily bulbs.
With high levels of all macronutrients, Jack’s Classic Blossom Booster Fertilizer 10-30-20 is an incredibly versatile food for lilies (and other ornamentals).
FAQ’s Fertilizing Lilies
Do Lilies like Epsom salts?
At its core, Epsom salt is little more than a source of magnesium. If a recent soil test indicates low magnesium in your garden beds, applying Epsom salt can help. Otherwise, Epsom salt is more likely to do harm than good.