While associated with the Easter season, Easter lilies can grace your garden with fragrant beauty for years.
“They’re a surprisingly hardy perennial plant, even in colder climates,” says Lee Riddle, 60, director of the Easter Lily Research Foundation in Brookings, Ore.
From his test fields and greenhouses, Riddle has devoted his professional life to the science and practical application of Easter lily bulb breeding and cultivation. Here’s his advice for choosing and caring for an Easter lily:
Selecting your lily
Look for a plant that is medium to compact in size and proportional in shape. Foliage should be dark green in color with plentiful leaves all the way to the soil line. For the longest period of enjoyment, look for multiple buds in various stages of development.
Care and feeding
Watering. “Lilies like to be moist but not soaking wet,” says Riddle, who warns against overwatering. Because Easter plants often are sold with adorning wrappings or covers that don’t allow water to drain out of the bottom of the pot, Riddle suggests removing the wrapping when watering. “The potting mix they’re grown in has good drainage and aeration,” he says. “If you pick up the plant and the pot feels heavy, it’s got a lot of water in it, and you need to remove the wrapping and let it drain. If it’s too light, it’s too dry,” he says.
Temperature. “Lilies like household temperatures,” says Riddle, who advises plant owners to set the thermostat between 65 and 70 degrees during the daytime and slightly cooler at night. Avoid placing the plants near appliances, fireplaces or heating ducts where they’ll be exposed to excess heat and air.
Light. “If you want to make your lily happy, they like a nice sunny window,” Riddle says. He suggests indirect natural light from a window but to avoid direct glaring sunlight.
Pruning. To allow your flower to last longer, remove the six yellow anthers in the center of the bloom. The anthers contain pollen that can stain your white blooms yellow and also will make the flower age if the anthers touch the blooms. “When the flowers open, just reach in with your fingertips and pluck them off,” Riddle says.
After blooming season
When the original stems die, cut them back to soil level. New growth may emerge within a month.
Riddle advises replanting lily bulbs outdoors in a raised bed, about 12 to 18 inches apart, digging a hole the size of the pot, removing the pot and placing the root ball in soil that drains well, such as a good planting mix. “They like the morning sun,” he says, “and when the sprout comes up, water it so the soil is damp when you touch it.” Every six weeks, add a teaspoon or less of a mild slow-release fertilizer, scattering the fertilizer in a 6-inch circle around the plant’s stem. And watch out for slugs, snails and deer. “They find the bulbs quite tasty,” he says.
Your lily already has put on one flower show at Easter and often will surprise you with a second blooming late in the summer, which is closer to the natural blooming season of Easter lilies. (Professional growers plant the bulbs timed to bloom during the spring for the Easter season.)
Before the first deep freeze, Riddle advises, pull the stem out of the bulb. “You’ll see some miniature bulbs, called bulblets, on the stem. You can plant those in shallow ground, and you may be able to make some more plants,” Riddle says.
Cover the bulbs with a thick layer of mulch like leaves, pine needles, straw or even pieces of boxes or bags. “They’re a tropical plant, so they don’t like freezing temperatures,” Riddle says, “but they do seem to weather winter pretty well if they’re protected.”
In the spring, gently remove the mulch so new shoots can sprout and your Easter lily can bloom in summertime splendor once again.