How to Grow and Care for Easter Lilies for Large, Fragrant Blooms

Add a touch of elegance indoors and out with these big, fragrant flowers.

Like clockwork, in the spring Easter lilies (Lilium longiflorum) appear in grocery stores or flower shops. Their trumpet-shape, pure white blooms always look fresh and elegant, and they can fill a room with their sweet scent. Frequently, once the flowers of these potted lilies fade, the plants are discarded. But with a little TLC, you can actually keep them around and add them to your flowerbeds, where they'll likely bloom again for years to come. Here's what you need to know to get the most out of these easy-to-grow bulbs, both as potted plants and in the garden.

white easter lillies
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How to Care for Potted Easter Lilies

Native to Japan, Easter lilies have spread across the globe, thanks to their beguiling blooms and strong fragrance. In the United States, you'll most commonly see these plants for sale in the spring, when the potted bulbs have been forced in greenhouses to bloom earlier than they would naturally (Easter lilies actually bloom in summer). Look for plants that have just one or two flowers open, with several closed buds on the stem, along with plenty of healthy green foliage. Each flower only lasts a few days, so the more unopened buds you have, the longer you'll get to enjoy the display.

Indoors, place your potted Easter lily where it can get plenty of bright light. Keep the soil consistently moist. Flowering should continue up to two weeks, depending on the temperature in your home. To prolong your plant's blooming period, avoid placing it in very warm spots, such as near radiators or heating vents. Besides keeping your Easter lily cool, you can extend the life of each flower by cutting off the anthers sticking out from the center of the petals as soon as a bud opens. The orange-yellow pollen seems to stain anything it touches, so this will also help you avoid that annoyance.

Keeping Your Lily from Year to Year

If you plan on keeping your Easter lily past its blooming period, it's a good idea to fertilize once a week with a half-dose of liquid fertilizer, so the plant has the nutrients it needs to prepare for the next year's bloom cycle. As the flowers wither, remove them, while leaving the green stems and foliage intact. Doing this will divert energy from seed production into refueling the underground (or potted) bulbs.

By early to midsummer, your Easter lily will begin to die back. At this point, you can cut the stems down to about one inch above the soil. Stop watering, and allow the soil to dry. Once the root ball has completely dried out, remove the bulb from the soil and store it in a cool place, such as a basement, until fall.

Growing Easter Lilies in the Garden

In the garden, Easter lilies tend to grow best in USDA Hardiness Zones 4—8 (I've had success with them in the Midwest, as well as in California). The bulbs require well-draining, rich soil with regular moisture throughout the spring growing season. Because of their large flowers and eventual garden height of about three feet, they have a tendency to flop over, so I try to place them where they can lean against other plants yet still get plenty of sunshine. Bamboo stakes and grow-through plant supports are also options.

Plant the bulbs a few weeks before your area's first frost date, to allow for some root growth. A rule of thumb I follow is to bury them twice the depth of the bulb to keep the plant firmly in the ground during the heaving of winter freeze-thaw cycles. Setting the bulbs a little deeper in the ground also means the plant effectively uses the soil as support for the next season's stem. If they're planted too shallow, they may require more staking.

Are Easter Lilies Toxic to Pets?

According to the FDA, all parts of an Easter lily are poisonous to cats, causing kidney failure that requires vet care. This includes pollen that might get on your cat's fur and then be licked off when the animal cleans itself. Dogs do not appear to have the same sensitivity, though eating Easter lilies may give them an upset stomach. It's best to keep this plant away from your pets to stay on the safe side.

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