About Easter Lilies
Once an Easter lily bulb has been forced to bloom indoors, it is very difficult or almost impossible to force the same Easter lily bulb into bloom a second time indoors. An alternative is to plant them outdoors after blooming, where they may bloom again in late summer or fall. The plants will need a site with bright light but some shelter from extreme heat and wind. They are not hardy enough to survive severe winters outside (extreme cold and wet conditions), so don’t expect to see them next summer if you leave them out all winter under these conditions. Instead, plant them in a pot and move them inside to a cool, somewhat dark location for the winter. Keep the planted bulb from freezing over an extended period of time.
A Brief History
The Easter Lily (Lilium longiflorum) is native to the southern islands of Japan. In the 1880’s, it was widely cultivated in Bermuda and bulbs were shipped to this country. Around the turn of the century, the Japanese took over the annual growing exportation of Easter Lilies to the United States, and continued to dominate the U.S. export market until the start of World War II.
Current U.S. production began with a World War I soldier, Louis Houghton, who brought a suitcase full of hybrid lily bulbs to the South coast of Oregon in 1919. Houghton freely distributed bulbs to his horticultural friends and neighbors. During WW II, the Japanese source of bulbs was abruptly cut off. As a result, the value of lily bulbs sky-rocketed and many who were growing the lilies as a hobby decided to go into business. The Easter Lily bulbs at that time were called “White Gold”, and growers everywhere attempted to cash in on the crop. By 1945, there were about 1,200 growers producing bulbs up and down the Pacific coast from Vancouver, Canada to Long Beach, California.
Over the years, the total number of Easter Lily bulb producers dwindled down to just ten farms in a small, isolated coastal region straddling the Oregon-California border. This region right here in the great Pacific Northwest, is called the Easter Lily Capital of the World. It produces nearly all of the bulbs for the blooming potted Easter Lily market. Even after the Japanese started to ship bulbs again after the war, they have never been able to come close to the quality of our healthy, Pacific Northwest grown bulbs, and have never regained any significant market share.
Care of Easter Lilies
The Easter Lily, the traditional time-honored flower of Easter, is highly regarded as a joyful symbol of beauty, hope and life. The large, trumpet -shaped, fragrant white flowers make a meaningful gift that embodies the very essence of the celebration of Easter. Whether you plan to give the potted plants as a gift or use them to decorate your own home, the following tips will help ensure that your Easter Lilies thrive.
Two of the greatest charms of the Easter Lily are form and fragrance, so look for high quality plants that are aesthetically pleasing from all angles. Select medium-to-compact plants that are well-balanced and proportional in size – not too tall and not too short. For the longest possible period of enjoyment in your home, look for plants with flowers in various stages of ripeness. For example, the best selection would be a plant with just one or two open or partially open blooms, and three or more puffy, unopened buds of different sizes. The ripe puffy buds will open up within a few days, while the tighter ones will bloom over the next several days.
As the flowers mature, remove the yellow anthers before the pollen starts to shed. This gives longer flower life and prevents the pollen from staining the white flowers. When a mature flower starts to wither after its prime, cut it off to make the plant more attractive while you still enjoy the fresher, newly-opened blooms. When selecting plants, be sure to also check out the foliage: an abundance of dark, rich green foliage is not only attractive, but a vital sign of good plant health. The foliage should appear dense and plentiful, all the way down to the soil line, a good indicator of an active, healthy root system.
Be wary of Easter Lilies displayed in paper, plastic or mesh sleeves. The protective sleeves are used for shipping and should be removed immediately upon arrival at the store. While the packaging may seem convenient, the quality of the plants will deteriorate if they are left sleeved too long. Also avoid waterlogged plants, especially if the plant looks wilted. This could be a sign of root rot.
In the home, Easter Lilies prefer moderately cool temperatures. Recommended daytime temperatures are 60 degrees to 65 degrees F. with slightly cooler night temperatures. Avoid placing plants near drafts, and avoid exposure to excess heat or dry air from appliances, fireplaces or heating ducts. The lily will thrive near a window in bright, indirect natural daylight, but avoid glaring, direct sunlight.
Easter Lilies prefer moderately moist, well-drained soil. Water the plant thoroughly when the soil surface feels dry to a light touch, but avoid over-watering. If the pot is wrapped in decorative foil, be careful not to let the plant sit in trapped, standing water. For best results, remove the plant from decorative pots or covers, take it over the sink and water thoroughly until water seeps out of the pot’s drain holes to completely saturate the soil. Allow the plant to drain for a few minutes and discard the excess water before replacing it back into its decorative pot cover.
Tips for Planting your Easter Lily Outdoors
After the Easter Holiday, you can continue to grow your potted Easter Lilies, and even plant them outside in your garden to enjoy them for years to come. Once the lilies have finished flowering, place the potted plants in a sunny location. Continue to water thoroughly as needed, and add 1 teaspoon of slow-release 19-6-12 fertilizer every 6 weeks. You can move the pots to a sunny location outdoors after the danger of frost has passed.
To plant your Easter Lilies outside, prepare a well-drained garden bed in a sunny location with rich, organic matter. Use a well-drained planting mix, or a mix of 1 part soil, 1 part peat moss and 1 part perlite. Good drainage is the key for success with lilies. To ensure adequate drainage, raise the garden bed by adding good soil to the top of the bed, thus obtaining a deeper topsoil and a rise to the planting area.
Plant the Easter Lily bulbs 3 inches below ground level, and mound up an additional 3 inches of topsoil over the bulb. Plant bulbs at least 12 to 18 inches apart in a hole sufficiently deep so that the bulbs can be placed in it with the roots spread out and down, as they naturally grow.
Spread the roots and work the prepared soil in around the bulbs and the roots, leaving no air pockets. Water immediately and thoroughly after planting. Try not to allow the soil to heave or shift after planting.
As the original plants begin to die back, cut the stems back to the soil surface. New growth will soon emerge. The Easter Lilies, which were forced to bloom under controlled greenhouse conditions in March, bloom naturally in the summer. You may be rewarded with a second bloom later this summer, but most likely you will have to wait until next June or July to see your Easter Lilies bloom again.
Another planting tip to consider is that lilies like their roots in shade and their heads in the sun. Mulching helps conserve moisture in between watering, keeps the soil cool and loose, and provides a fluffy, nutritious medium for the stem roots. Or, a more attractive alternative would be to plant a “living mulch,” or a low ground cover of shallow-rooted, complementary annuals or perennials. The stately Easter Lilies rising above lacy violas or primulas is not only aesthetically pleasing, but also sound gardening.
The Easter Lily bulbs are surprisingly hardy even in cold climates. When planted outdoors, just be sure to provide winter protection by mulching the ground with a thick, generous layer of straw, pine needles, leaves, ground corncob, pieces of boxes or bags. Carefully remove the mulch in the spring to allow new shoots to come up. Your Easter Lilies will bring beauty, grace and fragrance to the garden for years to come.