How to Grow Watsonia Plants

Guide to Growing Bugle Lily and Bulbil bugle-lily

Watsonia plants grow from hardy bulbs. They range from 30 cm to 1.7 m (12 to 70 inches) in height.

The foliage resembles sword shaped leaves. Watsonia bloom towards the end of summer.

Watsonia by faeparsons.

When in bloom, they carry trumpet shaped flowers on spikes. The flowers may be red, pink or white.

Watsonia borbonica
Watsonia borbonica by Enez35.

A commonly used name for Watsonia plants grown in the garden is the Bugle lily.

Commonly Grown Watsonia Species Photographs and Plant Identification

Watsonia borbonica

Watsonia borbonica
Watsonia borbonica (Cape Bugle-lily), photograph by Forest and Kim Starr; CC.

Watsonia Borbonica Flower
Close up of Watsonia Borbonica flower, picture by Bernard DUPONT; CC.

Watsonia Growing and Care Guide

  • Common Names: Bugle Lily, Bulbil bugle-lily.
  • Life Cycle: Hardy bulb. Half hardy bulb.
  • Height: 12 to 80 inches (30—200 cm).
  • Native: Southern Africa.
  • Growing Region: Zones 8 to 10; and as an annual in cooler areas.
  • Flowers: Late summer.
  • Flower Details: Pink, white, red, orange, purple. Trumpets. Showy spikes of up to 25 flowers.
  • Foliage: Herbaceous. Sword-shaped. Three or four erect leaves per corm.

  • Grow Outside:
    Seeds: 1/8 inch (3 mm). Autumn. Takes approximately three years for seed grown plants to bloom.
    Corms: 4 inches (10 cm). Autumn.
  • Sow Inside: Middle of winter. Germination time: one to six months. Temperature: ~60°F (15°C). Transplant outdoors following the last frost. Space at 12 inches (30 cm).
  • Requirements and care: Full sunlight. Good drainage. Soil should be enriched with manure. Regular watering while in bloom. Provide support. Bring corms indoors over the winter in cooler areas. Propagate: by dividing cormels late in autumn.
  • Family: Iridaceae. The family name means rainbow and is derived from the many colors that Irises cone in.
  • Closely Related Species: Iris.
  • Miscellaneous: Named after the English botanist and physician Sir William Watson. Invasive in many areas as it easily competes against other plants sharing its niche, some species have become naturalized in Australia.

How to Grow Bugle Lily and other Watsonia Species

When growing Watsonia species such as Bugle lilies, it is easiest to use bulbs purchased from a garden center or that someone has given you.

Watsonia bulbs should be planted at a depth of about 10 cm (4 inches) in the autumn.

If growing from seed, then be aware that it will take about three years until they will first flower.

Seeds should be sown at a depth of 3 mm (1/10th inch) in the autumn.

The Watsonia plants should be spaced about 30 cm (1 foot) apart, in a sunny part of the garden. This should have a moist soil that has been enriched with manure.

If you first want to grow indoors, then start off about two months in advance. It should take from one to six months to germinate at 12 to 18 degrees centigrade (54 to 64°F).

Transplant the Bugle lilies outdoors following the last frost of spring.

Caring for Watsonia

As Watsonia plants are quite large, they should be staked once they have become established.

They are both hungry and thirsty, so supply them with a liquid fertiliser, once when they are growing, and keep well watered.

If you require more plants then more lilies can be propagated by division of the cormels at the end of autumn.

Common Questions

How many members does the Watsonia genus have?

The Watsonia genus, often known as Bugle Lily, comprises around 52 species.

Do members of Watsonia make a good garden or landscaping plant?

Yes, Watsonia species are known for their tall, impressive flower spikes. They're perfect for borders or cutting gardens.

Which Watsonia species are most frequently grown by gardeners?

Watsonia borbonica and Watsonia meriana, also known as Bugle Lilies, are popular choices for gardeners.

Are members of the Watsonia plant genus fragrant?

While visually appealing, Watsonia species are not particularly known for their fragrance.

What is the perfect location to grow Watsonia?

Watsonia thrives in full sun with well-drained soil. They're excellent for borders or cutting gardens.

Is Watsonia invasive in the USA, if so in which states?

Currently, some species of Watsonia are considered invasive in parts of California. Always refer to local regulations for accurate information.

How do I remove Watsonia plants from my garden?

To remove Watsonia, dig up the entire plant including the corms, ensuring all plant material is removed to prevent regrowth.


The Watsonia plant genus belongs to the Iris family, Iridaceae. Native to South Africa, this genus includes approximately 52 species of perennial plants.

Watsonia prefers full sun and well-drained soil. They are typically grown from corms, which should be planted in autumn. These plants are known for their tall spikes of brightly colored, trumpet-shaped flowers.

I hope that you enjoyed this guide on how to grow Watsonia plants. You may also enjoy the following Gardener's HQ growing guides: How to grow CrocosmiaGloriosa, and Schizostylis plants.