How to Safely Dig out Lilies?

Garden Lilies or Lilium is one of my favorite flowers. They are easy to grow and easy to maintain. You can choose among 100s of different varieties. The color, pattern, and shape variations in the Lilium family are very diverse. Even a single species can have multiple color variants. Once grown and established, lilies can divide and multiply on their own until the entire available space is occupied with new bulbs. This is the time when you need to separate them and allow proper room for new growth. Today we will discuss the same topic- How to dig out lilies? It requires a little knowledge and a lot of care. Don’t worry it’s not that difficult as it sounds.

You can grow lilies anywhere in USDA Agricultural zone 3 to 9. Though Different Lilium varieties prefer slightly different climatic conditions, Still you can grow them easily with little acclimatization.

Lilies can grow from their seeds as well as bulbs. Professional gardeners usually prefer bulbs grown lily plants to maintain consistency with flower quality. Plants grown from seeds take longer to reach maturity. They also require more care throughout their growth period. After all of these efforts still, you can guarantee that the bloom will match its expectation. It is also possible that seed-grown lilies may never bloom or may have inferior flowers.

Therefore we always prefer Lili bulbs to grow a new plant. And whenever they get clustered in a small space, we have to divide and separate these bulbs.

pink lily-How to Safely Dig out Lilies
How to Safely Dig out Lilies?

Check out my previous post: How to Divide and Grow Oriental Orange Tiger Lily?

Can I Dig up and move lilies?

Yes, We can dig up and move lilies from one spot to another. Usually, this is done at the end of the flowering season. The Lili plant will die back on its own at the end of the season. This is the time when you should dig out the bulbs and store them for next season.

Sometimes you can also dig up and move live Lilium before blooming. It is done mostly to separate the plants or just for transplantation. This is a more delicate job than getting out the bulbs. These live plants require roots properly intact to continue their growth and bloom.

It is a little difficult task still possible. In fact Plant sellers always separate live plants a couple of months before spring and transplant them in new containers. This helps them to earn more for individual plants.

Check out my favorite Lily bulbs on Amazon.

Do Lilies have deep Roots?

The root length of different Lilium varieties differs a lot. On Average, a Lili plant can have  0.5 to 1.5 feet long roots. Smaller bulbs will have fewer roots and those are shorter than others.

Most lilies will have a central fibrous root system that supports the bulbs feeding the plant throughout its lifecycle. Other than that, lilies can also develop extended roots during the blooming season to nourish the plant abundantly.

The overall rootball size is more important than individual root length. If you are planning to dig out these bulbs then make sure the bulbs remain safe, no need to worry much about the root extensions.

We should consider the root ball size like 3 times that of the main bulb. Suppose if the central bulb is 3 inches in diameter then consider the root ball will be 9 or 10 inches in diameter. This is always a safe assumption for the Lilium root and bulbs.

Therefore if you want to dig out a blooming lily bulb that is at least 3 or 4 inches big. Then make a trench of 12 or 15 inches diameter from the central bulb. Mark 6 or 7-inch distance from the central bulb and dig out the root ball carefully.

Dig out Lilies
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Also read: When to Plant Bulbs in Greenhouse?

When Should I dig up my Lilies?

You should dig up lilies only when the foliage becomes dry and the plant dies back to the ground. This usually happens from Late August to November depending upon the Lilium variety and your local climatic condition.

Proper timing this task can help you in saving more of those bulbs and also get blooms earlier next season. Too early or late dining is harmful to the bulbs.

So let the foliage and the plant dry and wait for it to fall. Otherwise, the bulbs will not get enough time to grow and mature. Early dug bulbs won’t bloom in the plantation year.

On the other hand, if you wait too long then the bulbs start to root and sprout underground during fall. Digging out Lili bulbs during their active growth is not healthy for the plant itself.

Therefore dig out your lilies when the plant completely dies back to the ground and the bulbs are still in a dormant state. You must dig the bulbs out before they wake up from their seasonal dormancy.

Check out: How to Grow a Charity Plant, Jacob’s Ladder Plant?

How to Dig out Lilies safely?

  1. Mark and Clean the area of 3 to 4 times the size of the central Bulb. If the central bulb seems to be 3 inches wide then clear a 10-inch area around the plant.
  2. Make a trench on the circumference of this clear area. Loosen the soil up to 10 inches deep and remove the topsoil for comfort.
  3. Push a trowel gently below the root ball and tuck it out of the soil. Slowly slide down below the bulb to prevent any damage.
  4. Brush off extra dirt from the bulbs and clean it for storage.
  5. Detach new very small or flattened bulbs from the main bigger lily bulb.
  6. Also, look out for any sign of decay or infestation. If the bulbs feel squishy on touch then it is bad from the inside. just throw it in the garbage bin.
  7. Next sort the bulbs according to their color and size. Bigger bulbs will bloom first after plantation. The smaller one will take a couple more years to bloom. Sorting bulbs according to their color will help in identification during sowing. If you are a plant seller then this will help you in determining the bloom color during the sale.
  8. Lastly, clean the bulbs with water and fungicide solution. Then dry them in partial sunlight for a couple of days. Make sure no water is left on the bulbs. Again Treat the bulbs with fungicide and store them in cool dark well-ventilated storage racks.
  9. Keep the bulbs in the store until fall or spring depending on the variety. Finally, bring them out for sowing and continue with the cycle. Make sure the Bulbs are healthy before plantation. Sometimes properly stored bulbs can also get damaged due to natural factors. Still, you will succeed in saving more than 90% of lily bulbs.
  10. Prepare good soil mix and grow them individually in their respective plantation season.

Final Words

It is really easy to dig up lily bulbs. You only need to be careful with the tools like trowels that can damage the bulbs. Slowly slide the trowel beneath the bulb base. Then gently pull the entire cluster out of the soil. Next, wash and clean off the dirt. Dry out the Lilium bulbs and store them in cool dry storage areas. That’s it. There is not much to do other than treat these bulbs with a fungicide to prevent fungal growth.

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Good luck and Keep Gardening!


Hi, My name is Sukant. I am an I.T professional. Gardening for me is not just a hobby, it's a way of living life with nature. My Ancestors were Commercial farmers: So I personally feel attached to the green. I am not an expert, I'm here only to share my gardening experiences. It's always Refreshing.

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