The Easter lily's (Lilium longiflorum) trumpet-shaped flowers symbolize spring and are best known as a traditional Easter decoration. This perennial bulb bears large, fragrant white or pink flowers. The plant’s thick, rigid stem grows upright and is covered in long, thin, dark green leaves. Abundant foliage, paired with the eye-popping flowers, makes this plant a striking addition to any garden.
Like many bulbs, Easter lily is planted in the fall and emerges each spring, growing quickly. And while the lily generally blooms in the summer, growers have cultivated varieties forced to bloom earlier to coincide with Easter. But don't expect to have flowers for the holiday from bulbs you planted in the fall, as, once in the ground, lilies may not bloom until their second year. It's also important to note that indoor and outdoor Easter lily plants are toxic to cats.
|Common Name||Easter lily, trumpet lily, Bermuda lily|
|Botanical Name||Lilium longiflorum|
|Plant Type||Perennial, bulb|
|Mature Size||2–3 ft. tall, 1 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full, partial|
|Soil Type||Loamy, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Acidic, neutral|
|Flower Color||White, pink|
|Hardiness Zones||4–8 (USA)|
|Toxicity||Toxic to cats|
Easter Lily Care
Some gardeners grow Easter lily as a backdrop to their perennial garden, whereas others prefer to grow it in containers during the Easter season. Bulbs planted in the garden are typically much easier to care for than transplanted potted plants. Simply plant bulblets in the fall, 4 to 6 inches deep, and spaced about a foot apart. Keep the ground around the bulbs moist until the first frost, and make sure to amend the soil to assure good drainage and prevent rot. Once your Easter lilies grow tall, they may need staking to keep them upright in the garden. Deadhead flowers throughout the season, and cut the stem down to the ground, come fall, when the leaves have yellowed.
Keep indoor lilies by a window with bright, indirect sunlight and protect them from cold drafts and heat sources, like vents, fireplaces, and appliances. If the pot is wrapped in decorative foil (as is common for plants sold around Easter), remove it for watering to allow the pot to drain fully before putting it back on. Overwatering will kill this type of flower.
Easter lilies prefer to grow in full sun to partial shade, with protection from the strong afternoon sun during the heat of the day. Bright light tends to scorch the foliage. If possible, position your Easter lily so the top portion is in full sun, but the leaves and soil stay shaded, allowing the roots to remain cool. You can also plant shorter plants, or a groundcover, around a lily bed, or use a layer of mulch to keep the soil temperatures down.
Easter lily flowers prefer well-drained soil that’s rich in organic matter, although they'll grow in a variety of soil types as long as the drainage is sufficient. Lilies prefer a slightly acidic to neutral soil pH, but they can tolerate slight alkalinity, as well.
Easter lilies like evenly moist soil, so whenever the top inch of soil dries out, water the plants until water starts draining from the bottom. Never allow the plants to sit in water, but also don’t let the soil dry out completely. It’s ideal to water in the morning, giving the foliage time to dry in the sun. Otherwise, the plant might have problems with mildew.
Temperature and Humidity
Easter lilies grow and flower best in mild temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit, with nighttime temperatures dipping no lower than 55 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. They like a relative humidity level of 30 to 50 percent. This plant doesn't grow or flower well in hot and humid climates.
Use a slow-release, balanced fertilizer in the spring, at a rate of 1 tablespoon for each large stem on the plant, once new growth appears. If your soil is depleted, it's beneficial to fertilize your lily again in the summer, too. Organic fish fertilizer, used in a ratio of a 1/2 ounce of fertilizer to one gallon of water, provides the perfect nutrient source for lilies. Combine this with a 2-inch layer of mulch over the top of the soil to keep the plant happy.
Types of Easter Lily
The traditional Easter lily yields large white flowers, but other varieties offer variations in blooms, which range from cream to pink, including the ones below:
- L. longiflorum 'White Heaven': The classic pure white Easter lily grows 2 to 3 feet high with 7-inch-long flowers.
- L. longiflorum 'Nellie White': This cultivar is typically forced to bloom during the appropriate holiday season. It is the most popular Easter lily cultivar grown and sold by commercial growers.
- L. longiflorum 'Deliana': The flower color of this variety can vary from bright yellow to creamy yellow to green, depending on its soil content. Stems are 3 to 4 feet long with fragrant blooms on top.
- L. longiflorum 'Elegant Lady:' This is a Dutch hybrid lily and features fragrant pink flowers. It is sometimes known as the "pink Easter lily."
- L. longiflorum 'Trimphator': This eye-popping variety has bright white flowers with rosy pink centers and typically blooms in July.
Pruning lilies midseason consists of deadheading blooms and cutting back brown foliage. To do so, use sterilized garden shears to clip off flower stalks at their base. Clipping at the base will allow the plant to put its energy towards producing more flowers. Remove the entire stems of mostly brown leaves, but you can leave the yellow ones alone, as they will not compromise the health of the pant.
Propagating Easter Lily
Easter lilies are propagated from bulbs planted in the spring. After several seasons of growth, you can dig them up, separate the bulblets, and replant them, should you want to enjoy lilies in another part of your garden. To do so, follow these steps:
- Gather a spade shovel, hand trowel, and compost.
- In the fall, dig up your lilies to expose the bulblets (small bulbs) and divide them in half or thirds. Or, conversely, purchase bulbs at your local nursery.
- Plant bulbs in your garden by digging holes that are at least 6 inches apart and 4 to 6 inches deep. Place the bulblets stem side (the pointed end) up into each hole.
- Mix the removed soil with compost and backfill the holes containing your bulbs.
- In the spring after the last frost, gently water your bulbs and allow them to sprout. It may take two to three years for your lilies to reach maturity and bloom.
Potting and Repotting Easter Lily
Most home gardeners do not grow Easter lilies from bulbs planted in pots, instead, they buy the coveted flowers as plants around the Easter holiday. But what happens when the blooms have fallen off and the holiday is over? Some gardeners transplant their holiday flowers into their garden beds. To do so, wait until the final spring frost, and take these steps:
- Relocate your pot outdoors for a few days to "cool it off."
- Next, select an outdoor spot that receives indirect sunlight and dig a hole that's as deep and wide as the pot.
- Transplant your potted lily directly into the soil, backfilling it with compost and topping it with mulch.
While your lily may grow abundant foliage during the first season, don't expect it to bloom again until the following summer.
Lilies grow hardy in zones 8 and above, but can still fall victim to a hard winter freeze, resulting in flowers that won't come back in the spring. For this reason, some gardeners prefer to cut back their flowers and greenery, dig up the bulblets, and store them in a root cellar, basement, or garage with temperatures that remain under 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, they replant bulblets in the spring, instead of the fall.
If you prefer to leave them in the ground, avoid watering your lilies in the late fall. This will help the plant go dormant to endure the winter ahead.
Common Pests & Plant Diseases
Occasionally, a lily plant may suffer from an aphid infestation, which can degrade the foliage. Aphids can be controlled by simply hosing off your lilies with strong water blasts to decrease the population. You can also use insecticidal soap to kill off the offenders.
The lily mosaic virus (spread by aphids) can move into your lily patch and cause leaf discoloration and degradation. Unfortunately, there is no cure for this disease, so you must dig up and destroy the affected plants before it spreads.
Several types of bulb rot can also affect Easter lilies, along with botrytis blight, leaf scorch, and stem rot. To prevent these conditions, tend your Easter lilies daily, and perform remediations immediately. Stem rot and blight tend to move in during overwatering, and leaf scorch can happen during the heat of summer.
How to Get Easter Lily to Bloom
Of course, everyone wants their Easter lilies—potted or not—to bloom on Easter. However, this is not an easy feat. Lilies grown in greenhouses and transported to the store for sale are of a certain variety that blooms on or near Easter. Also, the lighting conditions the plants are given before transport mimics the conditions needed to bloom.
If you want store-bought lilies to bloom for Easter, choose a potted variety with a few already-opened blooms, and then select a sunny area in your home for its location. At night, move your plant to a cool room, and then bring it out again the next day to extend its life. In the garden, all you can do is wait for the right blooming conditions (lilies can be thrown off by unusually warm, cold, or cloudy conditions), as it's hard to fool Mother Nature outside.
Common Problems With Easter Lily
When planted outdoors, Easter lilies are hardly a nuisance. Indoors, the plant won't bloom again, but the foliage can still be saved and transplanted outdoors. where just like unpotted bulbs, they may face a couple of hurdles along the way.
Easter lilies grown in a garden can suffer from plant crowding after a few seasons. Crowding will cause the lily to grow higher, while the lower leaves yellow and die. To prevent this problem, divide your lilies in the fall and store half of the bulblets, or gift them to another gardener. Come spring, your lily bed will have ample room for healthy blooms.
Easter lily root rot is a known problem in the gardening world and can move into a bed that's been overwatered. Symptoms of root rot include small leaves and flowers, a reduction in the height of the greenery, yellowing at the base, and eventually, plant death. To prevent this, make sure you only water them when the top inch of the soil feels dry.
How long does a potted Easter lily last?
With proper care, potted commercial Easter lilies should continue to flower for one to two weeks after purchase. If you want to keep the plant alive longer, transplant the bulb in your garden 6 inches deep. Once established, it will rebloom every year.
Where are commercial Easter lilies grown?
The bulk of the world's Easter lilies and bulbs are grown in Oregon and California by only a handful of growers.
When can I expect my transplanted Easter lily to re-bloom outdoors?
If you transplant a store-bought lily to your garden after it's done blooming, don't expect it to bloom again until the following year.
Are Easter lilies deer resistant?