Plants & Growing

Guernsey Lily Care & Growing Tips In The UK

Pink nerine bowdenii flower
Written by Chris Briggs

There are many types of flowers you can plant to add great colour and interest to your garden, but few are as incredible as the Guernsey lily.

The great thing about Guernsey lilies is that unlike a lot of other flower species, they’re able to easily withstand the harsh conditions of UK winters, so you don’t have to worry about them dying when the frost comes.

Guernsey lilies come in a variety of colours and are perfect for growing in your garden, in pots or using the cuttings as part of a display.

Below you’ll find a full guide to growing your own Guernsey lilies. We’ve covered everything from their different varieties, as well as feeding, growing tips, when to plant and common diseases and problems.

Let’s start by looking at the origins of the flower…

Guernsey Lily Origins

Guernsey lilies, also known as Nerine plants, Jersey lilies and Cape flowers, are a type of flower that originates from South Africa. Although they originate from South Africa, they have been cultivated on the island of Guernsey for more than 300 years, hence their name.

The genus Nerine, that Guernsey lilies belong to, was first established in 1820 by Reverend William Herbert.

Types Of Guernsey Lily

The term ‘Guernsey lily’ is often used to describe the various types of nerine plants, with the two most common being nerine bowdenii and nerine sarniensis.

Below is a description of both plants –

  • Nerine bowdenii – Nerine bowdenii is the first type of Guernsey lily and the variety that people most often think of when they hear the name. It has distinctive bright pink flowers and does well in temperate climates.
  • Nerine sarniensis – The other type of Guernsey lily is Nerine sarniensis, which shares a lot of similarities with Nerine bowdenii, being suited to temperate climates and also originating from South Africa. The main difference with Nerine sarniensis compared to Nerine bowdenii is the colour of its flowers, which are scarlet as opposed to pink. Nerine sarniensis also aren’t as hardy as Nerine bowdenii.

Interesting Facts About Guernsey Lilies

  • Despite their name, they’re not actually lilies, being more closely related to plant species such as Lycoris.
  • They get their name because they grow abundantly in Guernsey but they’re actually native to South Africa
  • Guernsey lilies belong to the Nerine genus of plants, which have roughly 25 species

The Benefits of Growing Guernsey Lilies in Your Garden

Below are some of the main benefits of growing Guernsey lilies –

  • They help to add colour and interest to your garden
  • They’re suitable for being planted in flower beds as well as pots and containers
  • They’re completely hardy, so you don’t have to worry about them getting damaged or dying during harsh weather conditions in the winter
  • They generally don’t suffer from any diseases or pests
  • They can be bought very easily
  • They are very easy to grow
  • They look great when planted together in bunches
Bright pink flower of Guernsey lily
The bright pink flowers of Guernsey lilies are great for adding colour and interest to your garden

Growing Tips & Feeding

You have the option to grow Guernsey lilies either directly in the soil of a flower bed or border; or in containers. They do well in either condition providing they get enough water and sunlight.

Below is a guide to growing Guernsey lilies to ensure they thrive.

Growing in containers

Growing Guernsey lilies in pots or containers is quite simple, but it’s important you take the right steps at the beginning to make sure they flower well.

The first step is to fill your container with soil. You don’t need to be too particular about the condition or the pH of the soil; providing it’s not too moist it will be fine.

Dig a hole in the soil and place the bulb in it, leaving an inch above the top of it. If you’re planting multiple bulbs in the same container, then you should leave roughly 8-10 inches between them, so they have enough room to grow.

In the UK climate, it’s usually okay to leave potted Guernsey lilies on a windowsill. This way you can ensure it gets a good amount of sunlight during the day and shade in the evening.

Make sure to water the plants generously when you notice they’re growing. You should notice foliage first beginning to appear in the spring and summer, with the flower stems appearing in autumn.

Growing in a flower bed

When you’re planting Guernsey lilies in a flower bed, the same basic planting procedure mentioned above should be used.

The most important part of planting Guernsey lilies outdoors is that you find the right spot for them. The soil where you plant them should drain well and not be susceptible to waterlogging. If water gathers in the soil hours after a downpour, you should find another spot.

Dig holes in the soil where you want to place your bulbs and plant them with the necks roughly an inch above soil level. Again, if you’re planting multiple bulbs, then just be sure to leave enough space between them.

Water them well after planting, as well as during dry spells and when you notice new growth.

Care & Maintenance

Generally, Guernsey lilies are very hardy and can cope well with harsh conditions. Still, it’s not a bad idea to use mulch in the winter to prevent the soil from becoming frozen and cracking.

It’s also important to avoid moving your lilies once they’ve been planted. Guernsey lilies don’t cope well with being disturbed, so you should avoid doing this unless completely necessary.

It’s a good idea to add some bulb food or fertiliser when you first plant Guernsey lily bulbs as this will help them to germinate.

When To Plant Guernsey Lily

The best time to plant Guernsey lilies is in spring. Planting the bulbs at this time will give them plenty of time to get established, with the first signs of growth appearing in early autumn.

Habitat & Growing Conditions

Guernsey lilies are native to South Africa, which means there are best suited to a temperate climate and cannot cope with prolonged exposure to extreme heat or cold.

Knowing the conditions that Guernsey lilies grow in the wild is certainly useful when you’re growing your own.

They grow best when they’re not disturbed and can be grown in bunches, provided you provide adequate space between each bulb.

Where To Buy Guernsey Lilies

Guernsey lily bulbs are not too difficult to find and can be bought from any good garden centre, either online or in person. You can also get Guernsey lily bulbs from Amazon.

Although buying online is certainly a convenient option, buying from a garden centre or plant nursery does come with some advantages. For example, if you want to find out specific things, like types of soil to use, size of containers, best plants to mix them with etc. then they’ll usually be somebody who can advise you.

If you do buy online, then be sure to check reviews for any bulbs you’re buying to ensure they’re good quality.

Other Types of Guernsey Lilies to Try  

Guernsey lilies belong to the Nerine genus. There are some excellent plants in this species that allow you to add a range of colours to your garden. Below are some of the best ones to try –

  • Nerine bowdenii Alba – Nerine bowdenii Alba has white star-shaped flowers and is excellent for use with other types of Guernsey lilies. It looks great either in a container, border or garden bed. You can also cut them to display in a vase if you want. Nerine bowdenii Alba plants are hardy, so you don’t have to worry about them being exposed to wind/frost etc. in winter. You should plant them in soil that’s well-drained and in a spot that gets good exposure to the sun.
  • Nerine undulata – Nerine undulata is another great variety of Guernsey lily and would be perfect planted in a sunny border, providing it gets some shelter later in the day. It looks great with other nerine plants and will do well in soil that’s not too saturated.
  • Nerine bowdenii Kathleen Pollock – Nerine bowdenii Kathleen Pollock looks great either in a border, container or as a cut flower thanks to its bright red flowers.
Nerine sarniensis flower
Nerine sarniensis

Common Diseases & Problems

One of the many great things about Guernsey lilies is that they’re not nearly as prone to diseases and pests as a lot of other plant species; in fact, they’re generally considered to be disease-free.

Although Guernsey plants are very hardy and resistant to diseases and pests, this doesn’t mean they’re completely problem-free.  

One problem that Guernsey lilies can suffer from is not flowering. This is usually because proper care hasn’t been taken to provide the plants with the best environment.

Some rules to adhere to if you want them to flower are –

  • Plant them in good soil – Although Guernsey lilies are hardy plants, it’s still necessary to ensure they’re planted in soil that’s in decent condition. Soil that’s very dry and cracked or overly saturated should be avoided.
  • Allow enough room for the bulb when planting – You’ll certainly want to ensure that you leave enough room when planting the bulb so it’s able to grow. Dig a hole in the soil and when placing the bulb in it, leave the top of bulb roughly an inch above soil level.
  • Water regularly – In the months after you first plant Guernsey lily bulbs, it’s vital that you make sure you water them regularly. How much you need to water your bulbs will depend on the weather and where they’re planted. If you have them in pots, then soaking them once every couple of weeks will work well. If your bulbs are planted outdoors, then you should water your plants after they’re first planted, during dry spells and when you notice any new flowers emerging.
  • Make sure they get plenty of sunlight – Sunlight is equally important for Guernsey lilies as water. You should place any plants that you have in a spot where they’ll get plenty of sunlight during the day. If you put your bulbs in pots, then you should place them on a windowsill or somewhere else where they can get sunlight. Outdoor plants should be planted in a spot where they get at least some sunlight during the day.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Guernsey lilies hardy plants?

Yes. Guernsey lilies are completely hardy, which means they’re able to cope during the harsh winters in the UK.

Why do my Guernsey lilies not flower?

If you find that your Guernsey lilies aren’t flowering, then this is often because they’re grouped too closely together. If you want them to thrive, then it’s a good idea to leave a good amount of space between each plant, usually around 8-10 inches.

What are the best conditions to grow Guernsey lilies in?

Guernsey lilies do best when they get a good mix of sunlight and water. This means you should ideally place them in light shade and ensure the soil where they’re planted is watered regularly.

Using mulch is a good way to retain the moisture in the soil to make sure they don’t dry out.

Do you need to use a certain type of soil or compost with Guernsey lilies?

It’s not necessary to purchase a certain type of compost to use with Guernsey lilies since they’re able to do well in most conditions. Providing you ensure the soil is in decent condition and isn’t overly dry or saturated, they should be fine.

Should you use fertiliser when planting bulbs?

It’s not a bad idea to add a small amount of fertiliser or bulb feed to the soil when you’re first planting Guernsey lily seeds. It will help them to grow at a healthy rate.  

About the author

Chris Briggs

Chris loves the outdoors and exploring nature. He is a freelance writer and has written extensively on subjects including travel, DIY and gardening.

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