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Everything you need to know about Toad Lily care

Updated: May 14, 2023

Toad lilies (Tricyrtis hirta) aren't the first plant you probably think of when you start planning your borders and containers. But it should be.

With their delicate, orchid-like blooms and lush, green foliage, they’re a must-have for gardeners looking to add a touch of exotic beauty to their outdoor spaces. These hardy perennials are also easy to grow and low-maintenance, making them a great choice for even novice gardeners.

Toad lilies have a special place in my heart because it was the first perennial we planted when we moved into our home. The garden that we inherited was a mess. So after weeks of clearing it all out, we went to the plant nursery and my son and husband chose (of all things) a toad lily. It’s been a special part of our garden ever since. And it keeps spreading and getting bigger every year.

In this article, we’ll go over the best soil pH for toad lilies, how deep to plant their bulbs, and how to care for them to ensure they thrive and bloom for years to come.

Whether you're looking to add a touch of color to a shady corner of your yard or for a hardy plant with a story to tell, toad lilies are worth growing.

Are toad lilies easy to grow?

If you plant your toad lilies in the right location, they’re very easy to grow. They prefer a shaded area with moist, loamy, well-draining soil. When I say shaded I mean around 2-4 hours of direct sunlight… not much more than that.

This is not a plant that likes extended dry periods, so keep an eye on how and when you water it, especially in drier climates.

Toad lilies will grow to around 2-3 feet tall (60-90 cm) and 1-2 feet wide (30-60 cm). You’ll get to enjoy their gorgeous blooms in the late summer and early fall.

Toad lilies are also hardy perennials. This means that you don’t need to dig up the bulbs because they can survive outside all year round.

How do you plant toad lily bulbs?

Planting toad lily bulbs is similar to planting any type of bulb. Here are the basic steps that I use:

  1. Prepare a well-draining soil mixture and dig a hole deep enough to accommodate the bulb and its roots. I just use the soil that’s already in my borders and add compost. I use a garden spade to work the compost into the soil before adding the bulbs.

  2. Place the bulb in the hole, with the pointed end facing upwards.

  3. Cover with soil and gently tap the soil to remove any air pockets. You want the soil to be firm, but not rock-hard and tightly compacted.

  4. Water the area thoroughly and add a layer of mulch to help conserve moisture.

How deep should you plant toad lily bulbs?

Toad lily bulbs should be planted about 3-4 inches deep (7-10 cm). Remember that the pointed end faces up.

I suggest you space your bulbs about 6-8 inches apart (15-20 cm), depending on the variety and the desired effect.

When should I plant toad lily bulbs?

Like most other bulbs, plant toad lily bulbs in the spring or the fall.

Plant in the spring when the soil has started to warm up. Wait until the danger of frost has passed to prevent damage to the young shoots.

Plant in the fall well before the first frost. This gives the bulbs enough time to establish roots before the ground freezes.

What soil pH is best for toad lilies?

Toad lilies prefer a soil pH that is slightly acidic to neutral, around 6.0 to 7.0. Soil that is too alkaline can limit the uptake of important nutrients and lead to stunted growth. And no one wants a stunted toad… lily.

How do you care for a toad lily?

I can’t stress enough how simple toad lilies are to grow. But, with that said, they’re not just a plant-it-and-forget-it kind of plant. This is especially true if you want abundant blooming in the summer.

Here are a few quick tips on how to care for a toad lily:

  1. Plant — Plant toad lilies in a location that receives partial to full shade (2-4 hours of direct sunlight) and has well-draining soil.

  2. Water — Water toad lilies consistently, taking care not to let the soil dry out completely. They prefer moist, but not waterlogged, soil. That sounds complicated, but water them like you would any other shade perennial and you’ll be fine.

  3. Fertilize — Fertilize toad lilies once a month during the growing season with a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer.

  4. Prune — Cut back toad lilies after they’ve finished blooming. This helps promote healthy growth and prevents the spread of disease.

  5. Mulch — Apply a layer of mulch (2-3 inches thick/5-7 cm) around the base of the plant to help conserve moisture, suppress weeds, and protect the roots from extreme temperatures. This step is optional. In fact, I don’t actually mulch around mine because I grow them very close together.

  6. Overwinter — Protect the roots from extreme cold in the winter by adding a layer of mulch (3-5”/7-12 cm) or covering the plant with a layer of evergreen boughs. In areas with seriously severe winters, move potted toad lilies to a protected location, such as an unheated garage or greenhouse.

Should you cut toad lilies back?

Yes, toad lilies should be cut back when they’ve finished blooming for the season. This keeps the plant tidy and promotes healthy growth.

Cut back the stems to just above the ground, and remove dead foliage or leaves.

It’s also a good idea to divide the clumps every few years to help prevent overcrowding and to promote healthy growth. We’ll talk more about that below.

What can you do if your toad lily isn't blooming?

Argh! I can imagine your pain. If your toad lily isn’t blooming it could be for a variety of reasons — from sunlight to age. Here are some troubleshooting tips to get your flower blooming again:

  • Does it have enough light? Toad lilies require partial to full shade to thrive and bloom. If your plant is receiving too much direct sunlight, it may not bloom. Dig it up and move it to a shadier location and see if that helps.

  • Is it lacking nutrients? If your plant isn’t blooming, it may need additional nutrients. Fertilize once a month during the growing season with a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer. Conversely, over-fertilizing can also prevent blooming. Too much fertilizer can result in lush, green foliage but no flowers. Cut back on fertilizer or use a lower-nitrogen fertilizer formula if you’ve got green leaves, but no blooms.

  • How old is the plant? Young toad lilies may take a few years to establish themselves and begin blooming. If your plant is young, be patient and continue to treat it with love and care.

  • What's the soil like? Toad lilies need well-draining soil and consistent moisture. If the soil is too dry, soggy, or compacted, the plant may not bloom.

Do toad lilies come back every year?

Yes, toad lilies are perennials, which means they will come back every year.

They'll die back to the ground in the winter and reemerge in the spring. Over time, they’ll form clumps that can be divided every few years to spread around your garden or share with friends.

Will toad lilies spread and multiply?

Toad lilies will spread over time, but they’re not considered invasive and they won't overtake your garden.

If your clumps are overcrowded, you can easily divide them. To divide, simply dig up the clump and separate it into smaller sections with a spade. Make sure that each section has a healthy root system.

Then, replant each section in a new location or the same location with fresh soil.

How can you pot and repot a toad lily?

I grow toad lilies directly in the front of my borders, but they do make excellent options for container gardens. With their delicate stems and small flowers, you’ll get to enjoy them even more if you pot them.

The trick with planting a toad lily in a pot or container is to keep the soil moist. You’ll also need to make sure the pot you choose has good drainage holes because this plant does not like to stand in water.

As for container type, I suggest going for a glazed ceramic pot (or even plastic) to help keep moisture in the soil. Terra cotta pots look great, but they tend to dry out too quickly for this water-loving plant.

When your toad lily gets too big for its pot, it’s time to divide the plant. Simply tip the pot over and release the root system from the soil. You can divide the root clump with a garden spade and then repot both plants in organic-rich soil.

How do you propagate toad lilies?

Toad lilies can be propagated through division, cuttings, or by sowing seeds.

I suggest division because it's the easiest method. It involves separating the clump of plants into smaller sections, each with a healthy root system, and replanting them in a new area or the same spot with fresh soil and compost.

Some people say you can take cuttings, but dividing the plant is so easy that I’ve never tried any other method. Plus, it’s healthy to divide the clumps to prevent overcrowding.

If you’d like to divide your toad lily, do it early in the spring.

  1. Use a shovel to dig a circle around your plant to slowly loosen the root system.

  2. Lift the plant from the ground and use the shovel and/or scissors to divide the root system into multiple sections. Make sure that each section has healthy roots and leaves on top.

  3. Plant each section in a new spot. Be sure to add compost to the new soil to give each root system the nutrients needed to thrive.

What do you do with a toad lily in winter?

In the winter, toad lilies should be left alone to die back naturally. I told you toad lilies were low maintenance.

Once the foliage has turned brown and withered, you can cut it back to the ground if you prefer the clean garden look. You can also add a layer of mulch around the base of the plant to help insulate the roots and prevent soil erosion.

How do you overwinter toad lilies?

To overwinter toad lilies, it’s important to protect the roots from extreme cold.

This is as easy as adding a layer of mulch around the plant or covering the plant with a layer of evergreen boughs. If you have potted toad lilies, add mulch and, if the winters are extremely cold, move the containers indoors to an unheated garage or greenhouse.

Remember to keep the soil moist even during the winter.

How can you grow toad lilies from seed?

Growing toad lilies from seed is a straightforward process… although it’s not the easiest way to get more plants. If you want easy, simply divide the toad lily you’re already growing.

For seeds, however, you can either start them indoors or sow the seeds directly in the garden. Regardless of the method you choose, it's important to use fresh seeds, not dried ones.

To grow toad lilies outdoors, scatter the fresh seeds in the garden during early spring or late fall. The seeds will stratify naturally due to the cold temperatures experienced over winter or early spring. Keep the soil moist and watch for seedlings, which should appear in late spring as temperatures warm up.

If you start your toad lilies indoors, place fresh seeds in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for about a month. This will simulate winter and stratify the seeds. After a month, remove the seeds, lightly sow them on moist, rich soil, and place them in an area with bright, indirect lighting. Keep the soil moist and you should see germination in 4 to 6 weeks.

You Asked — We Answered

Are toad lilies orchids?

Toad lilies (Tricyrtis hirta) are not orchids. They belong to the Liliaceae family.

They are native to Asia and are known for their striking blooms that resemble small orchids. The flowers come in shades of purple, pink, white, and yellow, and are typically produced in late summer to early fall.


Are toad lilies true lilies?

Toad lilies are not true lilies, but they are commonly called lilies because of their appearance and growth habit.

True lilies belong to the genus Lilium, while toad lilies are classified under the genus Tricyrtis. These plants are known for their unique foliage, which consists of large, green leaves with hairy undersides and margins.


What does the Japanese toad lily symbolize?

In Japan, the toad lily is considered a symbol of luck and prosperity. It’s often planted in gardens and around homes to bring good fortune and attract positive energy.

The toad lily's delicate beauty makes it a symbol of elegance and sophistication. Its flowers resemble small orchids, and their colors, ranging from purple and pink to white and yellow, are thought to represent purity and grace.

In Japanese culture, the toad lily is also associated with long life and good health, making it a popular gift for loved ones and friends.

Talk about a conversation starter! All you have to do now is plant the bulbs and watch your toad lily grow — and hope that good fortune and positive energy follow.


Welcome to my garden

Hi! I'm Lars (Denmark).

Thanks for joining me as I share tips and inspiration for perennial gardening. 

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