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Caring for Your Easter Lily

This article was originally published on February 26, 2008 and expired on June 1, 2008. It is provided here for archival purposes and may contain dated information.

Caring for an Easter lily is easy both during the holiday season and after, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

"The Easter season means many things to many people," said Martha Smith. "It is a time of joy both for the religious significance and the promise of spring. What better symbol for all this season means than the Easter lily? With its beautiful, clear, six to eight-inch long, bell-like white flowers and its wonderful fragrance, this plant offers a sense of peace and hope for the coming spring and summer seasons."

In the United States, over eight million Easter lilies are grown. Lilium longiflorum is the Latin name for the common Easter lily. Popular cultivars are "Ace," which grows to 18 inches, "Croft," which grows to 24 inches, and "Estate," which can reach three feet in height.

"Care for your Easter lily during the holiday is very easy," said Smith. "They do best in indirect, bright light or curtain-filtered sunlight when in flower. Cool, nighttime temperatures between 40 and 50 degrees F help extend the bloom period. Daytime temperatures no higher than 68 degrees F are ideal. Keep the soil moist while in flower, but don't fertilize at this time."

Inside the white, bell-like flowers are pollen-bearing golden anthers, or the male part of the flower. Most people prefer to remove these because by removing the pollen, the flower doesn't become pollinated, so the theory is the blossoms last longer.

"Another more practical reason is that the golden yellow pollen stains clothing very easily if someone brushes up against them," said Smith. "The pollen also stains the white flowers. The anthers are easily removed as soon as the flower opens, which is usually before the pollen is freed. Just reach in and gently twist and pull, or you can use a pair of scissors."

Post-holiday care is also easy. After the flowers fade, remove the lily flowers and clip any browning leaves. Place the plants in a sunny area and water as the foliage matures. As soon as the danger of frost is past, plant the lily in a sunny, well-drained garden spot.

"Their real bloom time is mid- to late-summer and have been artificially forced for Easter bloom," she said. "Place the bulbs a few inches deeper than they were in the pot. Fertilize with an all-purpose garden fertilizer at this time. The old top will wither and die, but soon afterwards, new shoots should emerge and the plant will bloom again in July or August."

The Easter lily is not 100 percent hardy in Illinois, she added. Many people report good results with them with winter protection, but do realize you may lose them in a very cold winter.

"Forcing them indoors for Easter bloom is tricky," Smith said. "Professional growers are always challenged due to the fact that Easter is never at the same time from year to year. With Christmas poinsettias, growers can follow a traditional calendar method--but not so with Easter lilies.

"A technique known as leaf counting is often the most reliable for scheduling Easter lilies. If you want to try forcing your Easter lily, it is recommended that you do not let it flower in July or August. You will have to dis-bud the plant at this time. Allowing the bulb to flower outdoors weakens the bulbs for indoor forcing."

The plant must be dug up before the chance of fall frost. Plant the bulb in a pot about the same size as the original pot. Place the bulb as low in the pot as possible and add potting soil only to the top of the bulb. Water thoroughly and keep as near to 45 to 50 degrees F as possible through January 1.

"During this time, only water to prevent drying out," Smith said. "After January 1, put the plant in a sunny window, water and fertilize as with any houseplant. Add the remainder of the soil needed to fill the pot to near the rim after the stem has grown to three to four inches in height.

"If staking is necessary, be careful and place the stake near the pot wall instead of through the bulb. After the first buds turn white, keep the plant out of direct sunlight."

Source: Martha A. Smith, Extension Educator, Horticulture, smithma@illinois.edu

Pull date: June 1, 2008

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