Easter Lilies
March 15, 2010
  • /Crop Sciences
Easter lilies make a nice houseplant and can be planted in a perennial garden later, said a University of Illinois Extension unit horticulture educator.

"Even if you do not celebrate Easter, you should get an Easter lily," said Jeff Rugg.

The Easter lily is native to southern Japan. Prior to World War II, the bulbs were imported from there. Today more than 95 percent of all Easter lily bulbs are produced on just 10 farms along the Pacific coast in a half-mile wide and 12-mile-long strip of land on the California and Oregon border.

"Most of the bulbs are the 'Nellie White' variety that James White named after his wife," he said. "Every few years, each grower selects a few plants to determine if a new variety can be developed with desirable production qualities."

Even though Easter lilies have only a two-week sales window, different every year due to the movement of Easter in the calendar, they are the fourth-largest potted plant crop behind poinsettias, mums, and azaleas. Even though we see them for such a short time, they require year-round production work to produce. Each bulb takes two, three, and maybe four years to grow large enough to sell. "Because Easter is a moving holiday, it is difficult to get lilies to re-bloom on time for the holiday," he said. "Greenhouse growers work very hard, many years beginning before Christmas to get them to bloom on time.

"When you purchase a lily, look for plants that have large, unopened buds," Rugg recommended.

By looking at several plants, you can observe the natural progression of how the flower buds open. If you are buying the plants a week or more before Easter, you will want more buds to be unopened. If you are buying the plant right before Easter, you will want more flowers already in bloom.

An opened flower should last a week or longer before wilting. Any unopened buds that are starting to turn brown will fall off before blooming. To keep the flower white, it is a good idea to pinch off the yellow anthers as soon as the flower opens so they do not drop pollen on the flower's petals. Removing the pollen will help make the flower last longer too because pollinated flowers fade quickly.

"Check the leaves at the base of the stem," he said. "They should not be turning yellow and falling off. If the pot is wrapped in foil, peel it back and check to see the condition of the leaves. If the soil is either too dry or waterlogged, get a different plant. The flowers may not open on a plant that has been mistreated.

"If you are buying the plant on a day when the temperature is near freezing, keep the plant protected from the cold. Don't buy plants stored in a tall paper sleeve as they tend to deteriorate quickly."

The lily will bloom longer if you keep the high temperature at about 70 degrees during the day and between 40 and 50 degrees at night. Warmer temperatures will speed the flowering process.

If you are planting the lily outside after Easter, flower removal will help make the plant's food production go into enlarging the bulb and not producing seeds. They are not easy plants to get to re-bloom the following year when grown as a houseplant. They will re-bloom easily if planted outdoors in zones three through seven.

"Keep them in bright, indirect light until the outdoor nighttime temperatures stay above the 40s," said Rugg. "Plant them in a partially sunny site with well-drained soil, about six inches deep, and add a few inches of mulch.

"Next year, they will bloom in mid-summer. They make a nice display when planted in masses, so after Easter, go to the store and buy all of the ones they have left, even if they are no longer in bloom, and plant them outdoors at the proper time."

In zones eight through ten, they can be planted outside for the summer. In the fall, dig them up and plant them in potting soil in a pot an inch wider than the bulb. Refrigerate the whole pot for eight to twelve weeks, keeping the soil damp. Take them out and leave them in the pot or replant in the ground.

Rugg also advised, "If the lily has discolored flecks on the leaf that run lengthwise, it may have a virus that aphids can spread to other lilies in your garden, so do not plant that one in the garden."