How to Care for Your Easter Lily
Around Spring and Easter, flower shops and grocery stores are filled with potted Easter lilies (Lilium longiflorum). The beautiful white flower has a rich history within Christianity as a symbol of purity, innocence, and rebirth. And since it blooms in the spring to coincide with the holiday, the flowers are most often associated with the resurrection of Christ.
Whether you pick them up for symbolic reasons or for the big gorgeous blooms, we have the care instructions you need to keep your lilies going strong. To help you through the process, we spoke to industry experts including Warren Summers, the former president of the North American Lily Society, and Dimitri Gatanas from New York City's Urban Garden Center. Rest assured, "The Easter lily is a pretty easy plant to care for," says Gatanas.
What Is an Easter Lily?
"The Easter lily has long, white, trumpet-shaped flowers, and a sweet fragrance, reminiscent of a delicate perfume," says Warren. Though the Easter lily is native to the southern islands of Japan, the bulbs are grown in farms on the West Coast of the United States. "Easter lilies are forced to bloom around Easter to capture the commercial market of selling them in pots," Warren says. "Churches are adorned with them on Easter to enhance the meaning of the rising of Christ. The process of forcing the Easter lily to bloom at the right time every year is an elaborate one involving pre-cooling time of the bulbs, planting them at a precise date, and controlling the exact greenhouse conditions."
How to Choose Easter Lilies
"Select a lily that is not fully in bloom, but displays a variety of buds and blooms to keep a succession of pretty flowers coming," says Summers. To maximize the indoor shelf life of the flowers, he says to look for healthy green foliage, a straight stem, and plenty of well-formed buds, symmetrically arranged with only one or two flowers open. And, of course, like with all other plants, make sure there are no bugs or signs of distress on the foliage.
How to Care for Potted Easter Lilies
If you're buying a plant, find a spot inside your home that gets bright, indirect sunlight. Make sure the area isn't too cold, as Easter lilies thrive in mild, not-too-hot-not-too-cold temperatures around 60 to 65 degrees. You should also be wary of how much water you give your plant. "To determine when you need to water, test the soil with your finger," says Gastanas. "If the soil feels dry, it is a good time to water the lily." Next, remove drying or dead flowers as they appear, and remove the yellow anthers from the center to keep the flower fresh longer, and to keep your clothes and tablecloths stain-free. That pollen can get everywhere! Since it's growing from a bulb, the plant will die back at some point. This is where you have to decide if you want to be done with it, or try to grow it back again. Another very important tip: As pretty as they are, you might want to think hard about bringing an Easter lily home if you have cats, as they are poisonous to felines.
How to Get Your Easter Lily to Re-Bloom
To get your Easter lily to re-bloom indoors, Gatanas recommends cleaning the bulb off, ideally in January, covering it with a slightly damp paper towel, placing it in a resealable bag or plastic wrap and leaving it in the fridge for at least two months. After this period, you can plant it in a pot about one to two inches deep. Care for it like you would if it were fully grown, mimicking the process above.
Planting an Easter Lily Outdoors
"A good time to plant the bulb or the plant you were keeping indoors is in the spring after the last frost," says Gatanas. "Find a location where there is mostly full sunlight." If it is a bulb, plant it about two inches deep. If it is a potted plant, it should be deep enough so that the top of the soil is the same as it was in the pot. Fertilize with standard bulb fertilizer or blood meal and add mulch. Warning: When planting a potted plant, don't let the mulch touch the stem—this can cause the stem to rot prematurely. "Any new growth or yellowing growth should be cut back in the fall—it's good for the bulb to not have any growth until the spring, otherwise, the cold may kill the bulb," says Gatanas. If all goes well, expect a new plant to grow the following spring, but don't expect flowers until about the second year.