116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Years ago, a friend gave me some of her tiger lilies (Lilium lancifolium or Lilium tigrinum), an old-fashioned favorite that grew in many of our grandparents’ gardens. I love the rich orange flowers, growing on tall sturdy stems, flecked with black, with recurved petals that give the flowers an exotic turban-like effect. A few weeks later at a party, the generous friend asked me how my plant adoptees were doing, when another guest interrupted, “Tear them out right now while you still can!”
Both of us were taken aback. What’s not to love about tiger lilies? It turns out that while they are perfectly well-behaved in my garden and my friend’s garden, but they can be invasive.
I was reminded of all this while on Facebook recently. A newbie gardener innocently posted a photo of a tiger lily and asked what it was. Immediately, dozens of people posted that it was invasive, and she should remove it. But others, like me, suggested she wait awhile and see how it does. After all, within reason, what gardener doesn’t like a plant that grows vigorously with very little care?
Sure, I yank out some small tiger lily plants that have spread a few feet out from the main planting, but nothing very difficult or time-consuming. But for other gardeners, like the outspoken party guest, tiger lilies are invasive and they’ve sworn off growing them forever.
Some of it might be if they have been planted them in optimal growing conditions or not. Tiger lilies do best with a little (not a lot) of shade. Perhaps I’m not giving them enough shade in my garden that it’s slowing them down. They also won’t tolerate soggy soils. They are true bulbs and will rot in wet conditions. Good drainage is a must. I have them in a spot I keep well-watered, so perhaps that also slows them down.
Tiger lilies are relatively drought-tolerant in Iowa and can usually survive without any additional watering. (That also could be what contributes to their being invasive since dry spells don’t kill them off the way drought can with other plants.)
If you’re not lucky enough to have a friend with tiger lilies who are willing to share, you can purchase them. They’re available as doubles, but I think all those extra petals detracts from their basic, elegant flower shape.
In my garden, tiger lilies usually start blooming in early July — easy to remember since they look a little like fireworks — and keep blooming for most of the month.
When planting tiger lilies, it’s best to plant them in an area away from other lily varieties, such as Asiatic and Oriental lilies. (Daylilies are not true lilies, so don’t worry about them.) Tiger lily plants are prone to mosaic virus and, although this doesn’t harm them, the virus can be transmitted or spread to other lilies nearby.
Tiger lilies make excellent cut flowers. Their strong stems make them easy to arrange. I just strip off the leaves and black bulbils off the portion of the stems that will be underwater to help keep the water fresher longer. If you change the water and trim off the ends of the stems every few days to make sure they take up as much moisture as possible, tiger lilies will last in the vase anywhere from one to two weeks.
So give tiger lilies a try. I hope that you, like me, will find that they’re not at all invasive — just easy to care for and gorgeous.
Veronica Lorson Fowler is co-publisher of The Iowa Gardener website at theiowagardener.com.