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EASTER LILIES Their Care and Feeding

--- Anne K Moore April 10, 2009---
Photos by Anne K Moore

Easter lilies trumpet not only the resurrection of Christ but also the official opening of spring.  On Easter and beyond, the fashionistas have decreed that we can wear white, not just 'winter white' but pure white shoes, belts, and anything else denoting spring has sprung and summer is on the way.

If an Easter lily entered your life as a gift from family, friends, or yourself, your garden will be the richer for it, too.  Take care of it in the house and it can give you extreme pleasure in the garden for years to come. 

If you have never grown lilies, Lilium longiflorum, the Easter lily, is a great place to start.  If you have grown lilies, you do know how easy it is to get spectacular blooms with almost no work.  Easter lilies are no exception. 

While they abide indoors in your abode, keep them watered but not wet.  Let them dress up a tabletop in bright light from a window or lamp.  Keep them away from any drafty heat vents or outside doorways.

Pull the orange/yellow, pollen-laden anthers out of the middle of the flower.  If you leave these powdery projections, you risk damage to your tabletop or any cloth they might be setting on.  Orange stains from the pollen are difficult to remove (you might want to wear gloves for this extraction).

As each of the flowers shrivel or droop, cut them separately from the cluster at the top of the stem.  Allowing seed to form under these flowers depletes some of the energy that would otherwise be stored in the bulb.  You want as much vitality as possible stored in its heart.  This is where next year's blossoms hide until time to rise again, trumpeting a new season.  When all of the flowers have passed by, remove the whole flower cluster at the top of the stem with an angled cut.

Find a sunny well-drained garden area with good garden soil.  This can be in your flower border with other perennials or as a separate bed where the trumpets will take center stage.  To make your lily bed, work in compost and a good bulb fertilizer, preferably slow release fertilizer, before you plant the bulbs.  If you live in an acid soil area, add a little lime to the soil and mix it in.  In the south, lilies benefit from a bit of noon-time/afternoon shade.

Carefully tap the bulb/bulbs out of the pot keeping as much soil attached as possible.  Try not to damage the roots.  Plant them as deep as they were growing in the pot.  If any of the scales should come off the side of the bulbs, plant these, too.  They will make flowering bulbs in about two years.

Easter lilies are forced to bloom by growers at just the right time for Easter sales.  In your garden, they will be subject to the vagaries of the seasons and will more likely put on their show later in the year.  Easter lilies need a little over a month of chilly weather to develop flowers.  This does not have to be freezing weather, just a cold resting period.  Easter lilies are perennials.  With enough winter chilling days, they will set buds into the warmer USDA zones 8 or zones 9.  They are cold hardy into zones 6 and protected areas of zone 5.

Enjoy these beautiful flowers for years after Easter Sunday by topdressing them yearly with bulb fertilizer or composted manure after they bloom.  You might even find a completely new flower passion.  Most lilies are easily grown.  They come in striking colors and just about any height your garden needs.  Do not compost these flower bulbs, save them for the garden.

One final caveat:  If you have cats, especially cats that like to snack on your houseplants, do not bring an Easter lily into their environment.  These plants can cause kidney failure if a cat samples any part of the plant, according to the NAPCC (National Animal Poison Control Center).  If a cat tastes a lily, get it to a veterinarian immediately. 

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