Companion plants for lilies

Companions For Lilies In The Garden: Plants That Grow Well With Lilies

Lilies have been adored and considered sacred plants in different cultures for centuries. Today, they are still on of the most loved garden plants. Their deeply rooted bulbs and wide array of color and variety makes them great companion plants for many annuals, perennials and shrubs. Read on to learn more about companions planting with lily flowers.

Plants That Grow Well With Lilies

Lilies grow best in full sun, but can tolerate part shade. They should not be planted in shade gardens or surrounded by tall plants that shade them out. Most lilies like moist, but not soggy soil; too much water can make the bulbs rot.

Established lilies can be drought resistant. Good lily plant companions will have medium-light water requirements. Lily bulbs do not like to be crowded out, so aggressive spreaders and ground covers are generally not good companions for lilies.

Companions for Lilies

The following suggestions make suitable lily plant companions in the garden.

Annuals

Shallow rooting annual plants that grow well with lilies are:

  • Cosmos
  • Dianthus
  • Dill
  • Geraniums
  • Marigold (shorter varieties)
  • Pansy
  • Snapdragons (dwarf)
  • Zinnias
  • Asters
  • Moss roses
  • New guinea impatiens

Bulbs

Good bulb companions for lilies are:

  • Dahlia
  • Hyacinth
  • Daffodil
  • Tulips
  • Allium
  • Snowdrops
  • Gladiolus
  • Canna
  • Anemone
  • Liatris
  • Iris

Perennials

Perennial plants that grow well with lilies include:

  • Peony
  • Violet
  • Daylilies
  • Poppy
  • Dianthus
  • Daisy
  • Cranesbill
  • Primrose
  • Penstemon
  • Columbine
  • Aster (compact varieties)
  • Gaillardia
  • Coral bells
  • Lavender
  • Rudbeckia
  • Hibiscus
  • Hyssop
  • Coneflower
  • Salvia
  • Beebalm
  • Veronica
  • Artemisia
  • Corn flower
  • Lamb’s ear
  • Meadow rue
  • Garden phlox
  • Russian sage
  • Sedums

Shrubs

As late long as they do not provide too much shade and are planted far enough away, certain shrubs can beautifully accent lilies. Good shrub companions for lilies are:

  • Roses
  • Azalea
  • Korean spice viburnum
  • Hydrangea
  • Weigela
  • Rose of Sharon
  • Bush honeysuckle
  • Smoke bush

Be sure to give lilies plenty of space of their own, and don’t crowd them with companion plants. Lily bulbs are soft and tender, and the strong, aggressive roots of other plants can pierce these bulbs, damaging or even killing them. Lilies also will not come up in the spring if weeds or plants are too dense above the bulb. If lilies are too overcrowded or over shaded, they can be more susceptible to fungal diseases.

7 foot Lilium regale in afternoon shade

Country Farm vs. City House
Tucked into a little valley within the foothills of the Olympic Mountains, we are blessed with sub-irrigated gardens and 50 to 60 inches of rain between October and April. Yet, twenty minutes away in Sequim, annual rainfall is only 16 inches, so plants that struggle with soggy ground (Lavender, for example) are perfectly suited to Sequim, and those that enjoy plentiful moisture, bask in the extra humidity on our farm. Rhododendrons, Azalea, Vine Maple, Bigleaf Maple, Alder and Stinging Nettles are naturally abundant. Perennials, shrubs and trees usually grow taller and faster; identical cultivars of shrubs that stayed compact when we lived within the much drier city limits (19 annual inches), quickly outgrew their allotted space on the farm, so adjustments needed to be made. It is hard to believe that only 20 miles away the growing conditions can be so different.

You need to consider not only your official USDA Hardiness Zone, but also in what ways your garden differs from your neighbors or immediate region – wetter, drier, colder, hotter – and plan accordingly when choosing companion plants for the lily garden.
Rule #1: Avoid vigorous annuals, perennial or vines
Lilies are not like tulips, they do not have a hard outer shell, so crabgrass and overly enthusiastic plants can actually penetrate the softer lily bulbs. We’ve found bulbs with white root grass growing through a bulb that we could actually pull from side to side like dental floss – very entertaining – but not a good thing. Traditional “ground covers” that form thick mats in an attempt to reduce weed germination are death to lily bulbs because they are unable to penetrate the underground tangle of roots. Not only are the thick lily sprouts tender, but the surrounding foliage is a good hiding place for slugs and snails. Look for plants that grow from a crown and do not spread very quickly and be cautious of well-meaning neighbors who offer to share a plant because they have “too much”.

Alstroemeria aurea in southern Tasmania, Australia – JJ Harrison

Dianna still insists that she moved out of the city house to get away from Alstroemeria aurantica, which expanded exponentially in the drier hilltop soil, trying to choke out the lily bulbs in the front yard and shooting extremely viable seed up to 15 feet away. One neighbor saw the ripped out plants being stuffed into trash bags for the landfill and begged a few.
We warned him… Oh yes, we warned him.
Three years later he called to say that his “attorney would be contacting” us. (Smile.)
Wouldn’t you know, those pesky roots found a blemish in his foundation, and there for everyone to see was a very healthy blooming Alstroemeria emerging from a crack in his basement studio. Live and learn, and ask your neighbors about the better behaved plants when you move into a new home – plus the “weedy” ones that may be considered a local blight.
Rule #2: Check height and sun requirements
Perennials and Annuals should not be greater than 2 feet tall if your lily stems average 3 to 4 feet. If surrounding perennials grow too tall the lilies may have too much shade on the lower portion of their stems and air circulation could be compromised – risking Botrytis (fungus) in certain years. An exception would be plants with lacy foliage like annual Cosmos or wide branched shrubs where light and air are not impeded. Taller growing lilies, such as Trumpets, can be a good background plant next to a fence with taller perennials or shrubs in the front, Lilium regale is the classic lily for backgrounds, growing 6 feet or more in height when established. Some “shade” plants that are diminutive in stature may do well actually being shaded by taller growing lilies, but in general, Annuals, Perennials and smaller shrubs should be rated “Full Sun” or “Part Sun” in order to grow normally together.

Grape Hyacinth (Muscari) Copyright (C) 2005 Raffi Kojian

Just remember Rule #1 and do not crowd other plants in too close to the lily stems, give them room to seek the sun as the sprouts emerge. Ideally, the lilies should be a foot or so tall before the surrounding annuals and perennials have gained very much height. You can closely plant smaller, earlier blooming bulbs near to the lilies, but keep in mind that it will be more difficult to dig and divide the lilies later. The ripening foliage of Crocus, Squill (Scilla) Grape Hyacinth (Muscari) possibly covering the emerging sprout tips may lead to fungus concerns in areas with heavy spring rainfall. This is rarely a difficulty in drier climates, but here we keep the area surrounding lily stems clear of both foliage and mulch. Just a light sprinkling of sawdust shavings (what is in your bag when we package the lily bulbs) marks their location and make it easier to not accidentally step on sprouts while spring weeding.
Rule #3: Consider water requirements

‘Golden Eye’ Rose in our front yard last summer.

Lily bulbs are drought tolerant, they store moisture within the leaf-like, overlapping “scales” that make up the bulb and thus do not need watering until the soil is dry one or two inches below the surface. Plants like Astilbe and Iris ensata need more moisture than lilies to grow well, so place those in wetter locations, away from the lily bed. Also please do not plant lilies within the range of an automatic sprinkling system for lawns that is on a fixed schedule. Lawn grass is more shallow rooted and it requires more frequently applied moisture to stay green all summer.
Roses, Peonies, Daylilies, Poppies, (both perennial Oriental types and annual types like our Purple Poppies) can be deep rooted and coexist quite happily with lily bulbs. If you water deeply on a less frequent schedule, your shrubs and trees will usually send roots down to a deeper level, providing a measure of protections against times of short term drought and save money on your water bill.
Dianna’s Recommended Plants – How many do you already grow?
ANNUALS Alyssum (Lobularia) Cosmos – ‘Sonata Series’ is very compact Dahlia – choose varieties that only grow 12-14 inches tall or use as backdrop Dianthus barbatus ‘Wee Willie’ – plus other shorter growing cultivars Dill – herb with lacy foliage and can’t have too much of this when its time to make pickles Geranium (Pelargonium) – many named cultivars, take your pick Marigold (Tagetes) – short varieties are best Nigella – “Love in a mist” has lacy foliage and pretty pink, white and purple flowers Pansy – great in coastal areas Papaver (Poppies) – deep rooted, so will not overrun the bulbs, but some grow quite tall Penstemon – choose shorter growing cultivars Primroses (Primula) – great in coastal areas Snapdragons (Floral Showers Series) – old standard types can overwhelm if planted too close Violets (Viola) – great in coastal areas Zinnia – choose shorter varieties please
BULBS – all bloom much earlier than lilies and go dormant in summer Snowdrops (Galanthus) Grape Hyacinth (Muscari) Narcissus – choose tiny varieties Species Tulips – not the tall hybrids

PERENNIALS Alchemilla erythoropoda (Lady’s Mantle) – compact form Aquilegia (Columbine) – all forms, I love ‘em! They seed freely and have great foliage. Aster (Alpinus and Wood’s Series) – both compact Aubrieta – blooms early and tends to be evergreen, making dense cushions of flowers Bellis Daisy – blooms in spring, not extremely long-lived, but can reseed Campanula carpatica – avoid C. persicifolia, it even self-sows in our gravel driveway Gaillardia ‘Arizona Sun’ – needs well drained soil when dormant, I lost mine last winter Hemerocallis (Daylily) – short varieties, plant at least 18” from bulbs – they will spread Heuchera (Coral Bells) – plant at least 12” – 18” from bulbs, makes dense clumps Peony – keep lily bulbs at least 24” away from peonies which do not need dividing Papaver – (Oriental poppies) – plant bulbs at least 24’ away from the clump Primula (Primrose) – likes moist soil in spring, probably best in coastal areas Pulstatilla – attractive seed heads follow spring flowers, well behaved here Saxifraga – not the “mossy” types that need moist shade Violets – watch the reseeding
SHRUBS – plant bulbs at least 24” away Roses – choose Miniatures, Hybrid Tea or shorter growing Rugosa types, depending on your climate Hardy Fuchsia – lovely in coastal areas as a backdrop Azalea – the bright orange really cheers up our rainy days in spring and some have nice bronze edged foliage in summer Barberry (Berberis) – Need a thorn barrier? Cultivars with purple pink leaves are my favorite. Lavender – likes it hot and dry for best flowers, so plant just outside of sprinkler systems or uphill of lilies in a rockery
These are just some of our favorites, and bear in mind that some cultivars may become weedy or not be advisable for your local area – so be sure to check with a knowledgeable neighbor or extension service.
Do you have other recommendations that you would like to share?
Please add a comment in the box below and mention in what USDA Hardiness Zone you are located or the general area you live.
(Your experience may be just the news another gardener was waiting to read.)

Planting Oriental Lilies

Oriental lilies have colossal blooms that crown tall, graceful plants. Blossoms come in white, pink, yellow, or a combination of these colors. Some even sport stripes or spots. They all look elegant in the garden or in arrangements. Just give them what they need, and they’ll thrive.

Oriental Lilies Planting Guide
Oriental lilies prefer rich, moist, well-drained soil. If you have soil with lots of sand or clay, you can improve it by adding organic matter such as peat, leaf mold, or composted manure. Work this into the bed so it’s about a foot deep and the soil feels loose.

“Drainage is more important than fertility when growing lilies,” advises Birmingham gardener Weesie Smith. She recommends mixing in Gran-I-Grit (a crushed granite product used as a supplement to feed chickens) to loosen the soil and improve drainage. It comes in three grades. Use the 1/16-inch granite particles (called Starter grade) for soil preparation. The coarser 1/4-inch granite particles (called Developer-Layer grade) help deter voles, which love the bulbs. Look for it at your local feed and seed.

Plant lily bulbs in a location with filtered sunshine. Avoid areas that are windy and receive hot afternoon sun. Set them twice as deep as the height of the bulbs. If you are using plants purchased in containers, set them out so the top of the potting soil will be level with the surrounding soil. Add a layer of mulch to help keep the bulbs cool and conserve moisture.

Support Oriental Lilies with Stakes
Oriental lilies sometimes need a little extra support because they tend to get a bit top-heavy when in bloom. Summer rainstorms and wind can toss them about. ‘Casablanca’ and ‘Stargazer’ can reach 4 to 5 feet tall. Use bamboo stakes tied with raffia to keep them from toppling. For a more natural look, use branches cut from your yard. Or choose a lower-growing selection such as ‘Mona Lisa,’ which grows less than 2 feet tall.

As the blooms begin to open, take care not to let their pollen stain your clothes. If you plan to use some for arrangements, remember that it’s always best to cut stems just as the flowerbuds are opening early in the morning, while it’s still cool. A few stems are all you will need for a beautiful bouquet. If you prefer to keep your flowers in the garden, gently remove blossoms as they fade to encourage blooming and to keep plants from using all their energy producing seeds. Once the leaves and stems turn yellow and wither, cut the plant back to the ground.

Planting Oriental Lilies
Plant Oriental lilies in groups of three or five for more impact. Frances Parker, a garden designer in Beaufort, South Carolina, likes to use them in shrub borders. She says, “Working them in between your shrubs can help support them and also camouflage the foliage after the lilies have finished blooming.”

Place them toward the middle or back of your flowerbed. Good companions include summer phlox, cleomes, montbretias, and salvias. Frances prefers selections of anise-scented sage such as ‘Black and Blue’ and ‘Argentine Skies.’

But even more appealing than this lily’s blooms is its perfume. She says, “I love Oriental lilies because their fragrance is fabulous.”

Oriental Lilies to Try

Sources

What Kinds of Flowers Go With Lilies?

red lilies image by Francois du Plessis from Fotolia.com

Liles are a symbol of purity and innocence. In an arrangement, lilies look great by themselves or with smaller, filler flowers and greenery. Oriental lilies and calla lilies are considered form flowers because of their large, uniquely shaped flowers. To create a balanced arrangement, pair lilies with other form flowers, mass flowers, filler flowers and more delicate flowers and greenery.

Pairing Lilies With Form Flowers

Pair lilies with other form flowers as long as the arrangement stays uncrowded. Form flowers are the focal point in an arrangement because they have a distinctive eye-catching look. Lilies, tulips, irises, orchids and hyacinths are form flowers. Bright-colored oriental lilies paired with dark purple irises make an attractive arrangement because the dark color tone of the iris allows the lilies to pop. Fill in around the lilies and irises with filler flowers and greenery. Yellow calla lilies paired with white oriental lilies creates a striking arrangement that would be ideal in the foyer.

Pairing Lilies With Mass Flowers

Liles go nicely with a variety of mass flowers such as roses, daisies, lilac and aster. Mass flowers are large, flat flowers that add weight to an arrangement. Pair oriental lilies with oxeye daisies, and fill in with alstroemeria to create a full arrangement that would be an excellent birthday gift for a loved one. Pairing white calla lilies with red or pink roses makes a stunning and romantic display.

Pairing Lilies With Filler Flowers

Filler flowers are those that take up space or help to blend flower colors. These flowers typically are small and have branching or clustered flowers. Baby’s breath, statice, goldenrod, wax flower and heather are examples of filler flowers. To create a classic arrangement, mix a few oriental or calla lilies with baby’s breath and greenery. Use this arrangement at a wedding as a bouquet or use single lilies to make boutonnieres.

Pairing Lilies With Delicate Flowers and Greenery

Delicate flowers such as alstroemeria, lily of the valley and button mum can be used to help soften the hard edges of lilies. Yellow alstroemeria paired with yellow oriental lilies creates a sunny arrangement that is sure to brighten someone’s day. Greenery is used to balance flowers, help colors pop and take up space. Calla lilies look wonderful by themselves, but they can be paired with palm leaves for a striking and modern arrangement.

Great Companion Plants for Lilies

Lilies make perfect partners with other plants and help create strikingly beautiful combinations in the garden. Since Lilies appreciate some shade around their roots while keeping their foliage and ravishing blossoms in the air and sunshine, they welcome the company of neighboring plants such as annuals, perennials, bulbs, grasses or shrubs. However, a few rules need to be respected to ensure your Lilies will thrive.

  • Choose shallow-rooted companions: Lilies do very well in the company of shallow-rooted plants, which also help to keep their roots cool. Most annuals have shallow roots. On the perennial side, Peonies, Irises and Columbines are examples of shallow-rooted plants that will look lovely with your Lilies.
  • Choose low-growing companions: Do not plant tall plants next to your lilies as they will shade the plants and reduce the production of Lily blooms.
  • Underplanting your Lilies with a succession of flowers will reinforce the beauty of their spectacular blooms and extend the flowering season of your mixed border. Start with low-growing spring bulbs such as snowdrops, crocus, grape hyacinths, scillas, anemones and narcissi. They will provide color to your borders at a time when your Lilies are not at their best. Many shrubs are exciting in the springtime period, especially before the majority of the Lilies comes into flower. These Lilies will ensure a new revival in these garden locations later in the season. Chrysanthemums and Asters will provide late-season color and hide the base of your Lily stalks as they begin to decay.
  • Lilies do not like too much competition and need a lot of space to mature properly. It is recommended to surround them with plants that are not too aggressive or invasive. Don’t crowd them too close to these plants.
  • Make sure you maintain good air circulation to prevent fungus diseases such as botrytis.
  • There is a wide range of companion plants that will bring out the best qualities of your Lilies and share their space with a serene balance. Make sure you select any ornamental grasses, perennials, annuals or shrubs that have the same growing requirements as your Lilies. Most Lilies do best in full sun and well-drained soil, but some varieties prefer partial shade. Most Lilies do well in slightly acidic soil and very alkaline soils would preclude some of them.
  • Texture, color, and form are also important in the selection of companion plants. Because of the colors Lilies generally possess (yellow, pink, orange, red and white, with all the possible colors in between), blue and purple-flowering perennial plants make favorite neighbors (Salvia, Echinops, etc.). Plants with gray foliage (Artemisia, Stachys byzantina, etc.) or deep green ferns can accent the beauty of LiLies effectively.
    Lilies always provide an effective contrast against brown-leaved shrubs (Corylus maxima ‘Purpurea’, Cotinus coggyria ‘Royal Purple’) or blue-flowering shrubs (Caryopteris clandonensis, Hibiscus syriacus ‘Coelestis’ and Ceanothus ‘Gloire de Versailles’).

With such a multitude of companion plants to pair your Lilies with, you are sure to find several combinations that will enhance your landscape and please your eye!

  • Great Companion Plants for Asiatic Hybrid Lilies
  • Great Companion Plants for Trumpet Hybrid Lilies
  • Great Companion Plants for Orienpet Hybrid Lilies
  • Great Companion Plants for Oriental Hybrid Lilies
  • Great Companion Plants for Martagon Lilies

Lilies

Lilies

Lilies are among the truly great garden plants. Their beauty, diversity, extended season of bloom, exquisite fragrance, graceful stature, and reliable disposition reflect the fruits of hundreds of years of selective breeding in the genus Lilium. Your garden should not be without Lilies, whether you manage acres of mixed borders or a few pots on a city balcony. Lilies prefer cool soil, which argues for shade at their feet from low-growing companions such as Ferns, Geraniums, or Hellebores. Shipped as bulbs.

Oriental and Orienpets Lilies
Oriental Lilies are best known for their perfume and late-summer bloom. Crimson-and-white ‘Star Gazer’ is still popular as a cut flower after 25 years in the trade. Pure white ‘Casa Blanca’ has taller stems, to 4ft or more, and lights up a summer evening in the garden. Crosses of Oriental Lilies with the taller, also fragrant, Trumpet Lilies have created an exciting new group of Lilies, dubbed Orienpets. These hybrids combine the best of both parents and fill the gap in bloom time between the two.

Asiatic Lilies
These early-blooming Lilies are all hybrids of Asiatic species, and you’ll look a long time to find a more colorful and vigorous group of plants. Colors range from the softest pastels to fiery reds and oranges that practically ignite in the sun. Blooms vary from simple open bowls to exquisitely recurved flowers so delicate you can’t imagine how they stand up to the weather. However, these Lilies are as sturdy as young trees, with stems seldom reaching above 4ft, short enough never to need staking. Of course, their straight stems and heavy bud count make them superb cut flowers. We suggest patches of single colors for the mixed border and large drifts of our Naturalizing Lily Mixtures for a long-running show where the garden meets the wild.

Trumpet Lilies
The lovely, trumpet-shaped flowers of this group are borne on long graceful stems. Their intoxicating scent can perfume an entire garden.

Lily Growing Tips

Lily – How to Care for Your Plant

Lilies produce spectacular trumpet-shaped flowers atop strong stems that arise from bulbs made up of scale-like segments. Heights vary according to variety, ranging from 2 feet to 6 feet or so. All are elegant in the perennial border and shorter varieties may be successfully grown in pots. Those types close to the species are lovely for naturalizing. Lilies are indispensable for cutting, and a single stem in a vase makes a classic statement; remove stamens to avoid contact with the pollen, which may cause stubborn stains. Plant in an area sheltered from strong winds, and plan on staking the taller types. To view beautiful images of Lilies and other flowers, visit our Lilies Image Library.

Light/Watering: Most of today’s Lilies prefer full sun but will flower in partial shade, which may also help the blooms retain their color. Some of the species Lilies and their kin prefer afternoon shade, and require it in the hottest climates. Lilies thrive with regular watering, especially during periods of summer drought.

Fertilizer/Soil and pH: Lily bulbs will not survive if soils are poorly drained, especially in the winter months. Some will form roots along the buried stems and will appreciate a side dressing of organic matter, and all will benefit from a summer mulch to keep roots cool. Light, loamy soils that are well drained and have a pH right around 6.0 are ideal. Plant Lily bulbs three times as deep as the bulb is high, except for L. candidum and its cultivars, which should only be covered with an inch of soil. Feed in early spring as growth emerges and again just as the flowers open. If a soil test indicates a low level of potassium, supplement with muriate of potash or a fertilizer high in this nutrient for optimum bulb and root growth.

Pests/Diseases: Gardeners in the Northeast must be on the lookout for a relatively new pest called the Lily leaf beetle, which feeds on Lily foliage, buds, and flowers in both its larval and adult form. Luckily, both life stages are easily recognized: the adult is slightly less than half-an-inch long, with a brilliant scarlet body and black head and appendages. The larvae look a bit like lumpy slugs but are orange, brown, or greenish yellow with black heads; they pile their excrement on their backs as they feed. From March through June, look on the undersides of the leaves for the orange eggs and destroy them. Handpicking works if only a few plants are present; for a larger planting, Neem products are effective on young larvae and will deter adults, and insecticides containing imidacloprid will also control the insect (but avoid using these when bees are active). Occasionally, aphids will infect Lilies with Lily mosaic virus, which results in yellow streaking or mottling of the leaves; this virus is mainly problematic in the species. Watch for aphids and rinse off with a forceful water spray.

Companions:
Lilies do very well in the company of shallow-rooted plants, which also help to keep their roots cool. They are especially lovely rising from a bed of deep green Ferns, and many varieties flower at the same time as Roses, Peonies and Clematis.

Reflowering:
Remove flowers as they fade to avoid the formation of seedpods (this directs energy back to the bulb, rather than to seeds). When all flowers have passed, cut the stem directly below the blooms, so that as much foliage is left as possible to feed the bulb. Also, when cutting flowers for the house keep the stems as short as possible for the same reason.

Dividing/Transplanting:
Lily bulbs go dormant in late fall, and that is the best time to move or divide the clumps. Handle the fleshy bulbs carefully, and replant at the same depth in well-drained, friable soil. If smaller offset bulbs are present, replant these at a depth three times their height.

End of Season Care:
After foliage has died back, cut stems off at ground level, or leave a few inches so you know where they are if you have fall or spring planting to do. Remove all old foliage from the garden.

Calendar of Care

Early Spring: Apply a light application of balanced fertilizer or side-dress with compost and organic amendments when new growth appears. Check potassium levels in the soil if plants appear weak. Water well if it is unseasonably dry, as plants prefer evenly moist soil.

Mid-Spring: In the Northeast, watch for Lily leaf beetle activity. From March through June look beneath the foliage for the orange or red eggs and destroy. If it is impossible to handpick the larvae and bright red adults, treat with Neem products or those containing imidacloprid. Watch for aphid infestations; wash off with a forceful water spray or spray with insecticidal soap. Mulch plants as soil warms to buffer soil moisture and temperature.

Late Spring: Taller forms may need staking.

Summer: Water Lilies well during dry spells. Remove flowers as they fade and when blooming is finished cut the stem right below the last bloom to leave as much foliage on the plant as possible.

Fall: Cut foliage back and remove from the garden. Clumps of Lilies may be divided or transplanted after foliage dies back in late fall.

Fresh Ideas for Growing Cannas in Your Garden

Canna Tropicana with Dahlias

There is nothing subtle about cannas. With their big leaves, impressive height and vibrant, orchid-like flowers, these flashy extroverts love being the center of attention. Finding new and creative ways to use all that exuberant energy is exactly what makes them so fun to grow. Read on for some inspiration!

Growing Cannas – The Basics

There’s nothing difficult about growing these spring-planted bulbs. Here’s what they need:

HEAT. Cannas are tropical plants that love warm weather, so don’t be surprised if they grow slowly at the beginning of the season when the soil is still cool. By mid-July, your plants will shift into high gear and grow as much as an inch a day!

MOISTURE. Cannas are thirsty plants, so keep this in mind when choosing a planting location. If you plan to grow them in containers, choose a large pot so the plant has enough room to reach its full potential. Larger pots also make it easier to keep up with watering.

ROOM TO GROW. It takes just 3 to 4 months for a fist-size clump of rhizomes to grow into a plant that’s as tall as you are. Height varies from one variety to the next, so when you’re shopping for cannas, be sure to note the variety’s mature size.

Landscaping with Cannas

There are so many ways to incorporate these showy, tropical plants into your landscape. Make the most of their impressive size by using them to hide an unwanted view or define an outdoor room. You can use cannas to dress up an outbuilding or soften the lines of a fence. Wish your patio felt a bit more private? Enclose it with cannas!

While cannas always look great on their own, consider pairing them with other big and assertive plants such as elephant ears, dahlias, sunflowers, amaranth and kiss-me-over-the-garden-gate.

The canna’s dramatic foliage and exotic flowers take pots and planters to new heights. You can plant cannas in their own pot, or pair them up with caladiums, coleus, dahlias, euphorbia and hibiscus. Cannas come in a range of heights — short, medium and tall — so choose a variety that fits your container and location.

Cannas hit their stride in late summer, when most flower gardens are beginning to fade. To keep your garden colorful right through September, you can rely on cannas and late-blooming perennials such as rudbeckia, agastache, Russian sage and helenium.

Late summer border with Tropicana and Tropicana Gold.

Creative Combinations

Canna foliage can inspire all sorts of wonderful plant combinations. Above, two different cannas have been planted with coleus, amaranth, gaillardia, helianthus and lantana. It’s an eye-catching late summer display that will keep going right through the fall.

The leaves of ‘Tropicana’ and ‘Tropicana Gold’ feature colorful stripes that glow when they’re backlit. In pots, these plants look terrific paired with coleus and anything with purple, pink or coral flowers.

To accentuate the drama of a dark-leaved variety such as ‘Australia’ and ‘Tropicana Black’, pair them with the equally dark foliage of coleus, amaranth, alternathera or sweet potato vine. For dramatic contrast, add a splash of lime, creamy white or yellow.

Canna Tropicana with Black-Eyed Susan Vine

Want to attract hummingbirds to your garden? Plant varieties with bright red blossoms such as ‘Australia’, ‘Tropicana Black’ and ‘Rosita’. They’ll keep hummers zooming through your garden all summer long.

Cannas always put on a great show — so why not put some to work in your garden this summer? You can shop our complete selection of varieties HERE. To learn more about planting and growing, read All About Cannas. Our in-house bulb expert, Hans Langeveld, also shows you how to plant them in this VIDEO.

Cannas in the Garden

There’s nothing boring about canna lilies!

If you read this blog on a regular basis, you may be aware of my fondness for canna lilies. This winter I am overwintering eight large trash bags filled with canna roots. Friends are starting to place their requests for planting-size chunks this spring!

I wasn’t always a canna fan and I still don’t like the full-size flowers very much. My friend and fellow blogger David Grist got me started with two of the smaller-flowered varieties. Intrigue has delicate, bright orange flowers that create a bold contrast with the dusky, purple-burgundy-blue-green foliage. In the slideshow at the end of the post, you can see it in the picture of my cutting garden, planted with amaranth. I also grow Panache, which has long slender buds that open into spidery, pale-peach flowers with hints of yellow and pink. Its foliage is plain green, but the leaves are slightly frosty with a blueish tint. Hummingbirds love both of them.

Panache

There are lots of ways to use cannas in the garden. I especially like growing them in large pots. You need to be prepared to water heavily almost every day and fertilize generously, but they’ll reward you handsomely with big, tropical foliage and soaring flower spikes. Make sure you pick a very large, heavy-duty pot (the size of a half whiskey barrel leaves room for some companion plants). From personal experience, I recommend using a pot that doesn’t taper inward at the top. By the end of the growing season the entire pot will be completely filled with canna roots and if the pot is narrower at the top than the bottom, it will be virtually impossible to remove the root ball.

Intrigue

Another effective way to use cannas is to create a hedge. I was at Cistus Nursery in Oregon last fall and they’d screened their parking lot with a 60-foot hedge of cannas. Wow! That’s a fence any neighbor would like. At my house I created a hedge at one end of my cutting garden by interplanting cannas with a dark-red amaranth. The plants seemed to complement each other well, and looked great right into late October. Another hedge-like combination that’s been successful in my garden is planting dahlias between the cannas.

Until now I’ve been able to limit my cannas-growing adventures to the two varieties mentioned above. But last summer I decided it’s time to try a canna with variegated foliage such as Bengal Tiger or Tropicana.

If you’d like to try growing cannas this year, check out the spring lineup of cannas at Dutch Gardens.

–Kathy LaLiberte
Director of Gardening, Gardener’s Supply

Related post: Where My Tender Plants Spend the Winter

All About Cannas

Annual or Tropical Companions for Canna Lilies. (Must be re-planted yearly or brought inside. Check zone indication at the time of purchase. Some are hardy in zones 6-7.)

  • Bird of Paradise
  • Elephant Ear
  • Mandevilla
  • Agapanthus
  • Tropical hibiscus
  • Gladiolus
  • Caladium

Cannas, with their large, often multi-colored leaves, are useful in the landscape, even if you don’t want to create a Caribbean themed garden. I like to layer them into a border or flower bed, planting the rhizomes in the center or back of the bed and surrounding them with other plants of varying forms and textures.

Instead of planting cannas as a single big block, alternate them in the landscape bed along with a few other strategically placed larger plants. Dahlias and Helianthus maximiliani are both tall plants with finer textured leaves for some variety among the “giants.”

Daylilies, ornamental grasses, crocosmia, flowering tobacco, helenium, scabiosa, and verbena are all excellent medium and short companions for a more “traditional” look in the garden.

How to Grow Cannas in Containers

Varieties like Tropicanna, Tropicanna Gold, and Pretoria have variegated leaves that make for stunning “thrillers” or focal plants in container gardens. If you’d like a tropical taste without setting cannas loose in the garden, if your soil is dry and fast-draining, if you live in zone 6 or colder, containers are the way to go.

The only pictures you’ll see of big beautiful canna container gardens involve huge pots. Select a container that’s 18 to 24 inches in diameter (at a minimum) in which to grow cannas. Any smaller and you’ll be watering multiple times per day and the container will likely tip over in a stiff wind.

If you’ve ever had any training in floral design, you’ll have learned about the rule of thirds. The container should be 1/3 of the height of the arrangement for the composition to look proportional.

  • Fill a large pot with lightweight soil, and plant rhizomes 2-3 inches below the soil level.
  • Leave at least 2 inches between the top of the soil and the edge of the container so that the water doesn’t run over the side of the container.
  • Abide by the same advice for landscape plantings, and layer with some plants of varying heights—ornamental grasses, coleus, crocosmia are all good options. Anything that softens the bottom of the canna plant will do!

As plants grow you’ll find yourself needing to water up to once per day. You can also set the container in a tray filled with water to avoid an afternoon slump.

If you’re unable to meet your Canna Lilies’ watering needs, you can expect smaller plants with smaller leaves.

Lilies and Lookalikes

‘True’ Lilies Need Time to Chill Out, But Their Close Cousins Can Thrive in Warmer Climes

July 27, 2015 Audrey Post,

Q: I like the look of lilies but I don’t know much about them. I know daylilies do well here, but are there other kinds that bloom at other times of the year?

A: The trumpet shape of lily blossoms lends a graceful elegance to a flowerbed or border, and it’s not surprising that many gardeners want them in their gardens. There are many species of the genus Lilium, and many more plants botanically unrelated that have “lily” in their common name. If you’re not too picky about the nomenclature, you can have lots of “lilies” in your yard, but most true lilies are more comfortable in cooler climates and rot in our hot, humid summers.

True lilies that can tolerate our weather include Easter lilies, Lilium longiflorum. The potted ones from the grocery store can be planted in full to part sun. Just make sure they get enough water and the soil drains well. The Formosa or Philippine lily, Lilium formosanum, is a cousin that looks similar to the Easter lily, but it’s larger. Most Oriental lilies, such as the popular Stargazer, can be planted as bulbs and will bloom beautifully at least the first year. Their ability to return and rebloom has a lot to do with whether they get the necessary “chill time” to rest. If you find the right microclimate in your yard, your lilies might flourish. If not, you can treat them as annuals and replace them every year, or dig them and store them in the refrigerator.

Or you can plant “lilies” that thrive here. While true lilies have six sepals, or petals, in their blossoms, these tough plants usually have five. The exception is the rain lily, which has six petals but is a member of the amaryllis family. Rain lilies come in white (Zephyranthes atamasca), yellow (Z. citrine) and pink (Z. grandiflora). As their name implies, they sprout after a soaking rain, and are sometimes called zephyr lilies or fairy lilies.

Speaking of amaryllis, this beauty packs a visual punch in spring with shades of red and pink, particularly when planted en masse. Those boxed Christmas gifts so readily available in garden centers can be planted in the ground after forcing and will spread quite nicely. Another “lily” in this family that spreads easily is the swamp lily (Crinum), a pass-along plant often found around old homesteads. It likes partial shade, but as I’ve said before, most things grown in the Florida Panhandle and North Florida benefit from high shade or afternoon shade. Full sun here is not the same as full sun in states farther north.

Daylilies, Hemerocallis (pictured), get enough cold weather here to satisfy their dormant stage, but they struggle farther down the Florida peninsula. They come in tall and dwarf varieties, with early to late-season blooming cycles, and in almost every color of the rainbow.

“Lilies” whose flowers don’t have the classic trumpet shape include hurricane lilies (Lycoris radiata), which spring up during fall. The open, airy shape of blossoms atop a 2-foot bare stem gives Lycoris one of its nicknames, Bare Naked Ladies. While scarlet red is the most common, golden-yellow Lycoris bulbs can sometimes be found in local nurseries.

Calla lilies (Zantedeschia aethiopica) and canna lilies (Canna x generalis), neither of them true lilies, add bold color and dramatic foliage to the landscape. Cannas, in particular, multiply well, which means free plants.

Lilies pop up quite often in our arrangements, and in all sorts of wonderful colours. But not everything called a ‘lily’ really is one. Here’s our handy guide to telling which flowers are true lilies and which are only pretending…

A great many of the flowers we call lilies aren’t really lilies at all. A daylily, for example, isn’t a lily, and nor is a lily-of-the-valley. The orange flowers in this arrangement really are lilies, however, called LA lilies:

Confused? Well, most things to do with flower names are confusing, so don’t worry about it. The main point is that all ‘true’ lilies are members of the genus Lilium – which are herbaceous plants grown from bulbs, with large, showy flowers. Here’s a quick guide to the main ones…

True lilies

There are nine broad classifications of ‘true’ lily, with lots of species and hybrids in each, but three of the most popular are Asiatic, Oriental and Trumpet…

Asiatic hybrids

Blooming in early summer, these come in a veritable rainbow of colours including pinks, oranges, bright yellows, reds, purples and the purest of pure white. Asiatic lily flowers are medium-sized and face upwards or outwards (which means that in the garden they can fill up with rain and dust). They are splendid in cut flower arrangements, despite being mostly unscented.

Lilium Dimension. Image credit.

Oriental hybrids

Oriental lilies bloom later than Asiatic ones, and tend to be taller (up to eight foot for some garden varieties), larger and much more heavily scented – especially at night when they can positively fill a room with a distinctively exotic fragrance. They come in whites, pinks, reds and fancy two-colour blooms.

Our White Oriental lily arrangement at home, sent in by Freddie’s Flowers customer Anna Simpson
The ‘Stargazer’ Oriental lily. Image credit.

Trumpet lilies

Also known as Aurelian lilies, this group includes hybrids of Asiatic species, and their striking feature is the curious downward-facing trumpet shape of their huge flowers. Like the Oriental lilies, they’re tall and monstrously fragrant, especially at night.

Lilium ‘Fanfare’. Image credit.

Not true lilies

So those are some of the main true lilies. But what of the imposters? Here are some common lilies that actually aren’t…

Daylily

Beloved of gardeners for being perfect, hardy perennials with countless varieties and colours, the ‘day’ part is fair enough (the flowers typically last no more than 24 hours) but ‘lilies’ they ain’t: they’re part of the genus Hemerocallis, not Lilium at all.

Daylilies. Image credit.

Waterlily

Although these are quite possibly the most famous ‘lilies’ of all and would score very highly on Pointless in a ‘name something called lily’ question, they’re actually aquatic plants in the family Nymphaeaceae. Sorry, Monet.

Monet, ‘Water lilies’ 1916. Matsukata Collection.

Lily of the Nile

Also known as Agapanthus (and featuring brilliantly in some of our boxes), these lovely flowers are in the family Amaryllidaceae. And they don’t grow by the Nile, either, since they’re native to more southerly parts of Africa.

Image credit.

Sword-lily

Yes, the gladdie! Nicknamed ‘sword-lily’ because ‘gladiolus’ is the Ancient Roman for a ‘little sword’, which they look a bit like, gladioli are of course not lilies. But they are glorious: read our complete guide to gladioli here.

Lily Allen

Not a member of the Lilium family but rather a London-based entertainment dynasty, this Lily is famous for saying lots of very funny things, such as ‘The Mail Online is like carbs – you know you shouldn’t, but you do. Probably two or three times a day’. And: ‘The press are trying to make me out to be this really bitchy, cocky, horrible lady, and I’m actually not… Well, I am a bit.’

Not a ‘true’ Lily. Image credit: Warner Music Sweden.

Lily the Pink

Not a true lily, but a hit song by 1960s novelty pop act The Scaffold, whose members included the Scouse poet Roger McGough, comic John Gorman (who couldn’t sing) and Paul McCartney’s younger brother Mike.

See if you can (a) spot which is which, and (b) recall all the words from when you were at school…

So now you know how to spot a true lily. Of course, we love them all, even the pretend ones. And if you love flowers too – in all their glorious, home-transforming colours and scents – why not sign up for weekly flower deliveries at £24 a pop?

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