Don&8217;t throw away your Easter lilies; resurrect them in your garden

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 17, 2006

Stunning Easter lilies (Lilium longiflorum) are once again gracing our homes, businesses and churches this week.

Strongly rooted in biblical scripture, the pure white flowers are associated with the Virgin Mary and a symbol of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Easter lily represents the hope of everlasting life for people throughout our country.

Before 1941, commercial growers in the United States relied on Easter lily bulbs shipped from Japan. With the interruption of World War II, Japanese imports were not available, so bulb farmers in the United States had to begin producing them here so that the characteristic Easter plant would still be available.

Email newsletter signup

Ironically, 95 percent of the Easter lily bulbs produced and shipped to commercial growers throughout the world today are grown near the California and Oregon border, close to the Pacific Coast. The environmental conditions are perfect. Temperatures are mild year-round, the soil is naturally rich and there&8217;s plenty of available moisture. Nestled between the redwoods and overlooking the coastline, farmers in the area known as the Easter Lily Capital of the World, harvest the bulbs in autumn. Next, the high quality bulbs are prepared for shipment to growers who will in turn &8220;force&8221; them in controlled conditions to have them flowering right before and on Easter Sunday.

Then, something sad happens to a majority of the year&8217;s Easter lily crop. As soon as the flowers drop their petals, the plants are tossed into the trash&8212;cellophane wrapper, pot, soil and all.

This year, instead of throwing your plants away, set them out in your garden for enjoyment year after year. After the flowers have faded, plant your Easter lilies in a sunny place with well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter.

Plant them so that three inches of soil covers the top of the bulb. The foliage will begin to yellow, but wait until it has died completely before cutting it back. You will see new, shiny, dark green growth soon after, although most likely, your bulbs will not flower again until next year.

Regular watering, a layer of mulch during winter and fertilizer during the growing period will help the bulbs to continue producing sweetly scented blooms each year. A group of five to seven or more is especially showy and the tall, narrow stems help to support each other with minimal staking. When staking the flower stalks, be careful not to poke a hole through the bulb.

Don&8217;t expect your lilies to flower right at Easter every year. As I mentioned earlier, the flowering plants for sale at nurseries and florists have been carefully forced to bloom at a specific time. In nature, they usually flower in late spring or early summer. Give the bulbs 12 to 18 inches of space and expect them to grow 24 inches tall or more.

Enjoy the resurrection of your Easter lilies in a special part of your garden for years to come!

Traci Maier

writes a weekly column about gardening in the Miss-Lou. She can be reached by e-mail at