Caring For Your Easter Lily

Easter lily
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Easter Lilies, (Lilium longiflorum), with their large, white, trumpet-shaped flowers and wonderful fragrance are a traditional Easter time treat. More than likely, your Easter Lily was grown by one of a handful of growers located along the border of California and Oregon, an area labeled the "Easter Lily Capital of the World". Ninety-five percent of the 11 ½ million Eater Lilies grown and sold originate in this capital.

Lilium longiflorum is actually a native of the southern islands of Japan. A World War I soldier, Louis Houghton, is credited with starting U.S. Easter Lily production when he brought a suitcase full of lily bulbs with him to the southern coast of Oregon in 1919. He gave them away to friends, and when the supply of bulbs from Japan was cut off as a result of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the rising price of the bulbs suddenly made the lily business a viable industry for these hobby growers and earned the bulbs the nickname "White Gold".

Easter lilies are really no more difficult to grow than other lilies, except that the plants we buy at Easter time have been forced into bloom and will require some extra care.

How to Choose an Easter Lily

We’re all tempted to buy plants that are already in full bloom, but immediate gratification won’t translate into long-term enjoyment. Here are some tips for choosing lily plants that will last through the holiday season and beyond:

  • Choose a plant with flowers and buds in various stages of development, preferably from tight bud to partially opened flower.
  • Make sure the foliage is dense, extends all the way down the stem to the soil line and has a uniform rich, healthy, green color.
  • Check that the plant has no signs of insects (eggs, webbing, actual bugs, chewed leaves) or disease (dark spots, crinkling, wilting).
  • Select a plant that is two times as tall as the pot. A plant that has outgrown its pot will be stressed.
Easter lillies in pots at a store
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Easter Lily Care in the House

Keep your Easter Lilies blooming by taking a few easy precautions.

  • All lilies are extremely toxic to cats and can cause kidney failure. Don't bring lilies into a home with cats.
  • Display your plant in bright, but indirect sunlight.
  • Protect your Easter Lily from drafts and heat sources, such as fireplaces, heaters, and appliances.
  • Remove the yellow anthers from the flower centers. This helps prolong the life of the blossoms and prevents the pollen on the anthers from staining the flowers, your hands, clothing, tablecloths, rugs and anything else it can find its way to. It also makes your lilies much easier to handle for allergy sufferers.
  • Cool daytime temperatures in the 60 to 65 F. range will prolong the life of the blooms. The temperature can be even cooler at night.
  • Water your Easter Lily only when the soil becomes dry to the touch, and don’t leave it dry for an extended period of time.
  • If the lily's pot is in a decorative foil wrapper, be sure water is not accumulating under the pot. More plants die from over watering than under watering.
  • Remove flowers as they fade and wither.

    Transplanting and Re-Blooming Easter Lilies

    It may be possible to plant your Easter Lily outdoors and have it bloom again for you, next season. The success rate will vary, as with all florist plants that have been forced into bloom.

    • Wait until all the flowers have withered and been removed from the plant. Keep the plant watered and in indirect sunlight until it is ready to go outside.
    • Wait until all danger of frost has passed and find a sunny, well-draining spot in your garden.
    • Amend the soil with some organic matter, if needed. Soil pH should be a neutral 6.5 to 7.0.
    • Plant the Easter Lily bulb to the same depth it was in the pot.
    • Add an additional 2-inch layer of organic mulch around the roots. Don't pile the mulch against the stem, or it may rot.
    • Lilies like full sun, but cool soil.
    • The original leaves and stem will start to brown. When this begins to happen, cut the plant down to a healthy, green leaf. New growth should soon emerge from the base of the plant. Let the plant grow foliage the first year.
    • The new growth will turn yellow in the fall and the lily plant can then be cut back to soil level.
    • Top dress the soil with bulb fertilizer or blood meal. Work into surrounding soil, making sure not to disturb the lilies roots.
    • Apply a few more inches of mulch to insulate the plant through the winter.
    • Remove the mulch as the weather warms in the spring.
    • Begin applying a balanced fertilizer as soon as new growth appears and monthly until the lily blooms.
    • Be patient. It may take a couple of year's for your plant to build up enough resources to set flower buds. Easter Lilies naturally bloom in June/July, so don't look for flowers next Easter.
    • If you've come this far successfully, keep your lily well watered the first year as it establishes itself and then treat it as you would any other lily.

    Choosing Easter Lily Bulbs

    There are many beautiful white lilies to choose from, but the most popular cultivar grown for Easter Lilies is 'Nellie White'. Nellie was a selection made by lily grower James White and named for his wife. You probably won't have much luck getting your Easter Lilies to reliably bloom for Easter, but they will make a lovely and welcome addition to your summer garden.