Bulbs

Caring for Easter Lilies

Just as poinsettias are coupled with Christmas, Easter lilies are the traditional flowers of Easter. In the garden, Lilium longiflorum boasts its perfumed, pure white, trumpet-shaped flowers in summer, but growers force them into bloom in time to decorate our homes at Easter and celebrate the arrival of spring.

After enjoying Easter lilies indoors, care for them until they can be planted outside.

First, be sure Easter lilies are healthy and worth saving. Stems should be full of dark green leaves from top to bottom. Pest-free leaves show no signs of insects or their eggs or webbing. Healthy foliage is free of spots and wrinkling.

Remove foil sleeves or pot covers without drainage holes to prevent them from standing in water.

Display Easter lilies in bright, indirect light away from drafts or sources of heat. To keep them blooming as long as possible, daytime temperatures around 65 degrees and ever cooler nighttime temperatures are best.

When Easter lilies are blooming, they prefer soil that is slightly moist, but well-drained. Water them whenever the surface of the soil feels dry to the touch, and then give them enough so that it drips through the drainage holes in their pots. Let all excess water drain away before putting them back on their saucers. Never let Easter lilies sit in standing water.

Easter lilies blooming in pots do not need fertilizer.

As flowers open, remove the golden anthers to extend the life of blossoms and prevent pollen from staining flower petals, tablecloths and skin.

Prune away flowers as they fade. After all flowers have been removed, move plants to a sunny window, continuing to water when the soil feels dry. Fertilize every couple of weeks with balanced water-soluble fertilizer diluted to half strength.

When the danger of frost is past, it is time to plant Easter lilies in the garden. Choose a sunny spot with rich, well-drained soil amended with organic matter. Remove lilies from their pots and loosen their roots before planting them a few inches deeper than they were in their pots. Water thoroughly; feed with a granular, all-purpose fertilizer; and apply mulch to keep their roots cool.

As original stems decline, new growth will begin. If luck has it, these shoots will flower again in July or August. If not, they will flower next summer on their regular blooming schedule. When foliage yellows in fall, entire plants can be cut down to the ground.

Several different cultivars of Lilium longifolium are grown and sold as Easter lilies, and some are more cold-hardy than others. For the best chances of winter survival, apply a thick layer of loose mulch, like straw or shredded leaves, over lily bulbs. As soon as weather starts to warm in spring remove it.

When new growth begins, feed with a balanced, slow-release fertilizer. Then, try to be patient for their glorious summer blooms.

A word of warning to cat owners: Keep Easter lilies away from feline friends – they are toxic to cats. Call a veterinarian immediately if kitties are caught munching.

Instead of tossing Easter lilies when they have faded, plant them in the garden this year. You may be rewarded with their glorious flowers again. Garden with me!

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