Easter lillies not suited for climate

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter! After last week’s article I had a few people contact me about keeping Easter lilies and caring for them after today has passed. First of all Easter lilies are not grown in the southeast. In fact, nearly 95 percent of all Easter lilies in the United States are grown on just a handful of farms along the California-Oregon border. Like I said last week they are the fourth largest potted plant with only a two- week sales window because they are tough to grow properly.

Q. Can I grow my own Easter lily for next year?

In south Mississippi or Louisiana you will not get an Easter lily to grow naturally for Easter. They will not bloom until later in the summer. But first understand what goes into the production cycle of the beautiful Easter lily you see today.

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The bulbs that become glamorous Easter lilies are often handled over 30 times before they are shipped throughout the United States to be force-grown in controlled conditions to be ready for Easter. This is often like shooting a moving target because Easter can change several weeks each year depending on the date of the first full moon after the vernal equinox.

Nonetheless, most Easter lilies must be cultivated in the ground for at least three years before being shipped to commercial green houses. A commercial bulb starts the size of a pea growing on the stem of its mother plant. When the mother plant is harvested the small pea shaped bulbs are removed and planted in a prepared field. The next year it is called a yearling and is dug up and planted in a new field again to receive specialized care. There it will grow to its mature status as a commercial bulb.

Bulb harvesting starts in late September. Bulbs are dug, cleaned, graded, sorted, packed, cooled and shipped throughout the United States to controlled growing conditions to be grown and ready for the two week window in time for Easter. This gives a very small margin of error on the part of all involved. Anyone who understands this process will appreciate the timing and care necessary to produce this plant of beauty.

Q. Can I plant my Easter lily?

You can certainly enjoy your Easter lily for some time after the holiday. Keep the plant indoors in a bright area away from direct sunlight. They prefer it cool, not hot, ideally around 65 degrees. The soil needs to remain moist, so be ready to water promptly when the soil becomes dry. You might consider removing the yellow anthers from the center of the plant to extend the blossoms and prevent pollen from getting on things.

If you want to gamble and plant one outside wait until it has finished blooming indoors and all freeze threats are past. Plant the bulb the same depth as it was in the pot. The optimum soil should have a pH 6.5 and you will need to add some organic matter for mulch once planted. As the original plant begins to die, cut it down so a healthy green plant can emerge and grow this year. Keep the bulb well mulched through the winter. As spring arrives begin to fertilize it monthly and hope for the best around next June. If it starts showing signs of life just treat it like any other plant.

David Carter is the director of the Adams County Extensions Service. He can be reached at 601-445-8201.