What to do with lilies after flowering - from deadheading to pruning

Yes, you do need to prune a lily - but it’s not as simple as you might think

Lillies in garden
(Image credit: Future)

Knowing what to do with lilies after flowering could make or break your plant, which is why we’re happy you’re here! No matter whether you’re a green-fingered expert or a novice with a new garden, knowing how to properly tend to your plants is incredibly important. 

That’s especially true when it comes to lilies. These delicate plants offer gorgeous blooms that can fill your garden with a delicious fragrance, and these sun worshippers thrive in south-facing gardens. But while they can offer so much to your outdoor space, they also ask a lot in return. 

If you want to see these lilies come back year after year, taking proper care of them is essential. A big part of healthy and happy lilies is knowing what to do with them when they flower. So, we asked the experts to give us a low-down on the best way to tend to your lilies after flowering. 

White and brown lillies

(Image credit: Getty)

What to do with lilies after flowering

Just as you’d prune a hydrangea or cut back your lavender, you also need to prune your lilies after flowering. However, this isn’t as simple as you might think. There are a few steps to successfully taking care of a lily after flowering, and we’ve got them below.

What you’ll need


1. Protect yourself and your clothes

Lillies in garden

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Although lilies are incredibly beautiful and unique flowers, their stamens can be a nuisance. These stamens are covered in pollen - and if you’re not careful, they will stain everything they come into contact with. 

That’s why it’s always a good idea to protect yourself and your clothing before you start pruning lilies. Ideally, wear a gardening apron or old clothes, and then wear gardening gloves to ensure that you don’t stain your hands in the process.

2. Deadhead spent flowers

Different varieties of lilies bloom at different times of the year, but they all still have one thing in common: they will only flower once a year. And if you have lilies in your garden, it’s best to keep an eye on them during this blooming period.

That’s because you need to start deadheading lily flowers as soon as they have started to fade. Most of the time, you can simply pinch off the spent flower, but in some cases, you might have to use sterilised pruning shears. 

‘Once lilies have flowered, it's important to deadhead them, making sure only to cut off the flower heads,’ explains Steve Chilton, garden expert at LeisureBench. ‘I recommend doing this as soon as you notice that the lilies have finished flowering. This is so that there's enough rest time between the end of the flowering season and the first frost.’

Lily flowers also produce seeds, and deadheading these spent flowers will stop the plant from using energy to produce these seeds. By stopping this energy in its tracks, the plant can focus its energy on growing new flowers next year. 

You need to take precautions when you do this, though. ‘When removing the dead flowers, be careful not to cut out any of the plant’s foliage as it is needed to produce energy for the following year’s growth,’ explains gardening expert Harry Bodell at PriceYourJob.co.uk

‘This energy is stored in the lilies’ bulbs. However, an exception to not cutting out foliage is if you see signs of disease on the leaves or stems.’

Lillies in garden

(Image credit: Getty Images)

3. Prune the brown leaves

When you’ve finished deadheading your spent lily flowers, you can then turn your attention to the rest of the plant. However, pruning a lily after flowering isn’t as easy as it sounds.

For starters, you need to choose the right time - and this normally means that you have to wait a little while between deadheading and pruning. 

‘Once you've deadheaded your flowers, you should cut back the stem too, but only once they've turned yellow/brown and are clearly hollow and dead. If you cut into the stem immediately, you risk causing damage to the plant and how it will flower next year,’ says Steve. 

Whatever you do, you should never prune a lily when the leaves are still green. During this time, your lily is trying to save energy in preparation for its next growing period, and cutting too early could kill or seriously damage the plant as a whole. 

You shouldn’t have to wait too long, though. The leaves of most lilies will start to turn brown at the end of autumn, and when this happens, you can cut down any yellow/brown stems so they’re around 2 inches tall. If only the tip of a leaf has turned brown, you can simply cut off this brown section rather than the whole leaf. 

Make sure you prepare your pruning shears before you do this, though. ‘Always use disinfected and sharp pruning shears to prevent spreading disease between your plants,’ says Harry.

Lilies are delicate and vulnerable to diseases, so just give your shears a wipe with cleaning alcohol before you get started. 

4. Wait for next year

When you’ve successfully deadheaded and pruned your lily, you don’t need to do anything else. You can simply wait for next year and let the bulbs do their own thing - even if they’re in a planter. 

‘As lily bulbs are quite hardy and can withstand colder temperatures, you can leave them in the planter over autumn and winter, and you don't need to move them. Just make sure that they don't get waterlogged at all,’ says Steve. 

However, you can protect your lilies from frost by adding a layer of mulch around the plant if the lily is planted in a particularly exposed area of your garden.

Lillies in garden

(Image credit: Getty Images)


What to do with lilies after flowers fall off?

When the flowers of a lily fall off, it’s a sign that things are changing. And while it can be easy to step in and cut a lily back right there and then, you need to be patient. In fact, you need to let the lily make the next move.

Although lilies do need to be pruned after deadheading, you must only prune a lily when the stems and the leaves have started to go yellow/brown. If you prune a lily before this, you could kill it. 

So, keep an eye on the lily after the flowers have fallen off. And when it starts to turn brown, you can then step in with your shears.

When should I cut my lilies down?

Although the exact time frame will vary depending on the variety of lilies you have in your garden, you should expect to start cutting your lilies down in late autumn.

It’s important that you work to the lily’s timeline rather than your own, though. You must never cut back a lily that still has green leaves, but wait until the leaves and the stems have started to turn brown. 

Lauren Bradbury

Lauren Bradbury is a freelance writer and major homes enthusiast. She graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in English and Creative Writing from the University of Chichester in 2016, before dipping her toe into the world of content writing. After years of agency work, writing everything from real-life stories to holiday round-ups, she decided to take the plunge and become a full-time freelancer in the online magazine world. Since then, she has become a regular contributor for Real Homes and Ideal Home, and become even more obsessed with everything interior and garden related. As a result, she’s in the process of transforming her old Victorian terraced house into an eclectic and modern home that hits visitors with personality as soon as they walk through the door.