By Ed Lentz
Easter will be this Sunday and Easter lilies will be abundant in stores, homes and churches in the area.
How could anyone miss the potted plants with large, white, trumpet-shaped flowers that produce a wonderful fragrance? Traditionally these plants stand as symbols of purity, hope, renewal, and rebirth.
Easter lily, Lilium longiflorum, is a native of the southern islands of Japan. A World War I soldier, Louis Houghton, is credited with starting U.S. Easter lily production when he brought a suitcase full of lily bulbs with him to the southern coast of Oregon in 1919.
He gave them away to friends. When the supply of bulbs from Japan was cut off as a result of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the rising price of the bulbs suddenly made the lily business a viable industry for these hobby growers and earned the bulbs the nickname “White Gold.”
Easter lilies should be displayed with plenty of light but not directly in the sun. Lilies should be protected from drafts and heat sources, such as fireplaces, heaters, appliances and cold outdoor air.
Blooms can be prolonged by removing yellow anthers from the flower centers. It will also prevent pollen from staining flowers, clothing, tablecloths, and other fabric material.
Flowers will also last longer with cooler temperatures. Withered and faded flowers should be removed.
Water potted lilies when the soil becomes dry to touch. Be careful to not let pots dry out for an extended time. Also, be observant that water is not accumulating under pots with decorative foil wrapper. More plants die from overwatering than underwatering.
An individual can purchase a new lily plant each year. However, the bulb can be planted after the lily plant has bloomed and if successful, grow and bloom in the garden the following year.
To plant the bulb, wait until all the flowers have withered and been removed from the plant. Keep the plant watered and in indirect sunlight before moving outdoors.
Wait until all danger of frost has passed and find a sunny, well-drained garden area. Soil pH should be between 6.5 and 7.0. If needed, amend the soil with some organic matter.
Plant the Easter lily bulb to the same depth it was in the pot. Add an additional 2-inch layer of organic mulch on the soil surface. Lilies like full sun, but cool soil.
The original leaves and stem will start to brown. When this begins to happen, cut the plant down to a healthy, green leaf. New growth should soon emerge from the base of the plant. Let the plant grow foliage the first year. New growth will turn yellow in the fall and the lily plant can then be cut back to soil level.
Also in the fall, top dress the soil with bulb fertilizer or blood meal. Work into surrounding soil, making sure not to disturb the lily’s roots.
Apply a few more inches of mulch to insulate the plant through the winter. Remove the mulch as the weather warms the following spring and begin to apply a balanced fertilizer as soon as new growth appears and apply monthly until blooms appear.
It may take a couple of years before the transplanted bulb will produce flowers. The plant must produce and store enough food reserves to support and set flower buds.
Easter lilies naturally bloom outdoors in June/July, so don’t look for flowers next Easter.
An individual may also want to purchase bulbs of Easter lily cultivars. “Nellie White” is the most popular cultivar grown. Nellie was a selection made by lily grower James White and named for his wife.
If you decide to save the bulbs from your potted plants or purchase new ones for the garden, they will not bloom outdoors in time for Easter but will make a welcome addition to your flower garden.
However, if you purchase a potted plant, there is a good chance that you supported an Ohio industry. Historically New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania are the leading producers of Easter lily potted plants for the country.
Easter lilies are a beautiful attraction during the Easter season. However, they have no place in homes with cats. The plant is highly toxic to cats and may cause kidney failure if any part of the plant is ingested.
The author would like to thank the Ohio State University Extension Master Gardener Volunteers of Hancock County for providing much of this information.
Lentz is extension educator for agriculture and natural resources for the Ohio State University Extension Service in Hancock County. He can be reached at 419-422-3851 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lentz can be heard with Vaun Wickerham on weekdays at 6:35 a.m. on WFIN, at 5:43 a.m. on WKXA-FM, and at 5:28 a.m. at 106.3 The Fox.