Easter lilies may look prissy, but they are not the high-maintenance beauty queens most people think they are. In most regions of the United States, zones 4-9 in fact, lilies can thrive. Otherwise known as Lilium longiflorum, the tall, white, graceful blossoms decorate mother’s tables and adorn alters through Passover season each spring.
Think of bulbs like eggs – Easter eggs, if you will. Just as you wouldn’t boil and color a cracked egg, plant only undamaged bulbs. Discard bulbs that have cracks, mold or discolorations. Also be wary of soft or rippled spots.
Bulbs should be large, tear shaped, and round at the base. Mature bulbs will oftentimes beget small baby bulbs. These can actually be separated from the parent bulb and planted independently. Commercial growers produce more lilies year after year in that way.
Planting Easter Lily Bulbs
Lilies don’t require particular soil pH, and they don’t mind full or partial sun. Easter lily bulbs, however, are more fragile than other lily bulbs because they don’t have the natural protective wrapper that most other lilies have. This covering is called a tunic because it protects bulbs from extreme temperatures and from drying out. Easter lilies are more susceptible because of their lack of this extra protection.
Make sure you plant your Easter lily bulbs as soon as they arrive. They need moist but well-drained soil. They will also appreciate nutrient-rich dirt that has been amended with aged organic matter. Leaf mold, peat, or composted manure will create a suitable soil structure and offer your bulbs an ideal growing environment.
After removing sticks and rocks, plant bulbs at least a foot apart and three inches under the ground in a hole that’s been lined with bone meal. Mound up another three inches of soil on top of the bulb. Commercial growers have machines that plant the bulbs and then add dirt to the top of the entire row at once. Home gardeners might find it helpful to simulate this technique in order to save time and effort.
After bulbs are planted in amended soil, you won’t need to feed them again until you see the green of their new leaves. At that time, water the new plant after encircling it with organic fertilizer. During this infant stage, don’t allow dirt to move when watering or in wind as shifting soil might damage plant development.
Mulching will maintain moisture and keep the roots cool. While compost will work, bark or wood chips will suffice until winter. You can also mulch lilies – and most other deep-rooting bulbs – with shallow-rooting plants, like violas, that will turn your lily display into a bouquet. For winter, if you experience a hard freeze in your area, put a blanket of straw over planted bulbs for protection.
After harvesting for cuttings, old plants will begin to die back. Remember, the foliage may be dying, but the bulbs are perfectly healthy. If you’re in a milder climate, you can encourage a second growth in one season by cutting the stems all the way down to the soil surface.
The implication that Easter lilies are forced to bloom for holidays in greenhouse conditions would be that plants would not be thrifty enough for a second bloom in the same season. In reality, Smith River, CA produces over 95% of the Easter lilies in fields just south of the Oregon border. White flower blooms make it look like snow has blanketed the fields every spring on the coast of the Pacific Northwest.
Cutting & Display
Lilies make beautiful floral displays as full plants or cuttings. Keep your lily plant reblooming by removing spent blooms. If you take a cutting, clip one third to half the stem. You don’t want to take more than that since the plant uses all its top matter to refuel the hidden bulb for the next growing season. Snip off the anthers at the top of the stamen on cut flowers because the orange pollen produced there can stain clothing and irritate allergies. Florists say this also encourages longer-lasting blooms.
A lily is an excellent focal-point in any bouquet, placed at the center base of the display. This flower can also stand alone with maximum impact in a single vase. To arrange multiple lily cuttings in large bouquets, cut an odd number of blooms (3, 5, or 7) at varying lengths. Place them in the vase before other flowers, with the shorter stems in the front and longer stems like a pyramid in the back. Add complimenting flowers to the vase, building the bouquet into a beautiful center piece or gift.