The Easter lily is popular for its large, fragrant flowers. As the name suggests, a popular Easter plant, learning how to care for the Easter lily, a type of naked lady lily, enables you to enjoy these eye-catching blooms in your homes or flower beds year after year.
The large trumpet-shaped flower of the Easter lily.
What is Easter Lily?
Popular for its trumpet-shaped flowers, for many the fragrant blooms of Easter lily (Lilium longiflorum) are a symbol that spring has finally arrived.
A popular Easter decoration, these attractive plants originated in Japan. After their introduction to the west in the 19th century they quickly became a popular ornamental flower that is widely cultivated in many homes and gardens.
The Easter lily is sometimes known as the Bermuda or trumpet lily. Part of the liliaceae or lily plant family, this perennial bulb is a quick growing late spring or early summer flower. Today many of the available cultivated varieties flower earlier, to coincide with Easter.
A distinctive specimen, the large, fragrant pink or white flowers of the Easter lily sit on thick rigid stems over long, thin green leaves. Additionally, the masses of foliage that the plants produce provides useful ground cover during the spring and summer months. Most varieties of trumpet lily can reach a height of 2 to 3 ft and spread around 1 ft wide.
Warning, the anthers of the Easter lily flower can trigger allergies, causing itchy eyes and wheezing. The pollen filled stems in the center of the flower can also fall from the plant, staining surfaces. To prevent this, cut the anthers from the plant. Removing the anthers doesn’t deter flowering. Wear work gloves when handling the flowers.
The Easter lily is very toxic to cats. Even a small amount of pollen can be fatal.
The pollen laden anthers can trigger allergies.
Different Varieties of Easter Lily
Before you can learn how to care for the plants, you must decide which variety you are going to grow. While their appearances may vary, all varieties share similar care requirements.
The traditional Easter lily cultivar produces large, white flowers. While this cultivar remains popular, it is not the only type of trumpet lily currently available. Other options include:
- White Heaven is a classic pure white Easter lily. White Heaven reaches a height of 2 to 3 ft and produces delicate 7 inch long flowers.
- Deliana produces long, fragrant flowers that can be a range of shades from bright to creamy yellow or even green depending on the soil.
- Nellie White is a reliable cultivar that is typically forced to flower during the holiday season. A popular variety, Nellie White is sold by many commercial growers.
- Trimphator is distinguished by its bright white flowers with rosy pink centers. It typically flowers in July.
- Elegant Lady, also known as the Pink Easter lily, is a Dutch hybrid that produces fragrant pink flowers.
While unusual, you can find yellow flowering varieties.
Tips for Choosing a Plant
Your how to care for Easter lily plants journey begins with choosing your plant or bulbs.
Many garden stores and plant nurseries sell both potted plants and bulbs. If you are ordering online, bulbs are usually dispatched in time for planting.
When selecting a plant try to pick a healthy looking specimen that has lots of dense, green foliage. Avoid plants that are overwatered or visibly wilting. Don’t be afraid to pick the plant up and look at it.
Check the bottom of the pot, a few roots sticking out of the drainage holes are a sign that the plant is healthy and established. Lots of roots protruding from the drainage holes can indicate that the plant is pot bound and stressed.
When handling the plant, be careful not to accidentally knock any buds from the plant.
Where to Grow
Placing the plants in a favorable growing position encourages flowering. It also makes care and maintenance a lot easier.
Easter lily plants growing inside are best placed close to a window that enjoys lots of bright, indirect sunlight. Select a position that is not exposed to cold drafts or heat sources such as fireplaces. Constant changes in temperature can unsettle the bulbs and deter flowering.
A useful care tip for plants growing in pots is to turn the pot every few days. This prevents the stalks from bedding towards the light.
Outside, the bulbs happily grow in both full sun and partial shade position. While bright light is key to healthy growth, your chosen spot should have some protection from the intense heat of the afternoon sun.
Exposure to too much afternoon sun can scorch or burn the foliage. A good care idea is to plant somewhere where the top part of the plant is in full sun but the soil is shaded. This protects the lower leaves and helps to keep the roots cool.
You can also plant low growing places as ground cover around the flower bed or mulch the soil. Either of these options helps to prevent overheating and maintain a steady temperature around the bulbs.
Easter lily plants grow best in mild temperatures, a daytime range that averages between 60 and 70 ℉ is ideal. Nighttime temperatures should fall no lower than 55 to 60 ℉.
The Easter lily won’t grow or flower in hot humid climates.
A relative humidity level of 30 to 50% is ideal. Spacing the plants out and watering in the morning can help to keep humidity levels down. Indoors too little humidity can cause buds to drop from the plant. Placing the pot on a Brussels Humidity Tray helps to maintain humidity levels.
An important part of learning how to care for plants is ensuring you have the right soil. Your soil should be well draining and rich in organic matter. The Easter lily is a fairly tolerant plant, it can grow in a range of soil types as long as they are well draining. Working compost into the soil prior to planting improves drainage.
Easter lily plants prefer a slightly acidic or neutral soil. They also tolerate slightly alkaline soils but struggle in extremes. If you are unsure, a soil test kit tells you the pH level of your soil.
How to Plant
Knowing how to plant the bulbs correctly not only makes care a lot easier, it also helps the plants to set flower.
Easter lily bulbs are best planted in the fall for flowers the following spring. Bulbs planted earlier in the year are unlikely to flower until they have experienced at least one winter chill.
Preparing the soil is an important aspect of Easter lily care. Before planting, work any necessary amendments into the soil.
Dig a hole in the soil large enough to hold the bulb. The hole should be around 6 inches deep. Plant the bulb in the hole and backfill with a mixture of soil and compost.
Firm down the soil around the bulb and water well. After watering the soil level may drop a little, add more soil to even things out.
Space your small bulbs 6 to 8 inches apart, larger bulbs require a spacing of around 12 inches.
Planting in Pots
If you are growing these flowering bulbs in pots, plant as described above. A 10 to 12 inch pot with drainage holes is the perfect home for one bulb.
Fill your pots with fresh, well draining potting soil and plant as you would in the ground.
After planting a layer of mulch can be applied to the top of the soil to keep the roots cool and deter weeds.
How to Care for an Easter Lily
When placed in a favorable position, general care and maintenance is largely straightforward.
Capable of reaching a height of 3 ft, these are tall plants. If you are growing the plants in an exposed position you may need to use Garden Stakes to keep your Easter lily plants upright.
When to Water
Knowing how and when to water is often the most difficult aspect of plant care.
Aim to keep the soil around the bulbs evenly moist. Water when the top inch of soil is dry, soaking the soil. Sticking your finger into the soil quickly tells you how wet or dry it is.
If you are watering Easter lily plants in pots, water until the excess moisture starts to pour out from the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot.
Don’t overwater or allow the plants to sit in water. If your pot has a protective sleeve, remove this before watering. The sleeve can trap water, causing the soil to become saturated and the bulb to rot. After the excess water has drained away the sleeve can be replaced.
The best time to water your Easter lily plants is in the morning, this gives the foliage lots of time to dry in the sun. Watering plants in the evening risks exposing wet leaves to cool evening temperatures; these conditions are an ideal breeding ground for powdery mildew.
Finally, remember that plants growing in pots require more frequent watering than those in the ground.
Fertilizing Easter Lily Bulbs
A regular dose of fertilizer is an important part of a plant care routine; it helps to both sustain growth and promote flowering. A balanced, slow release fertilizer such as Osmocote Smart Release Fertilizer can be applied in the spring at a rate of 1 tablespoon for each large stem on the plant. Best applied when new growth appears, a single dose should be enough to sustain growth throughout the season.
If you are growing in poorer soils you may need to apply a second dose of fertilizer in the early summer.
You can also feed your plants an organic fish fertilizer at a ration of half an ounce to one gallon of water. This can be combined with a 2 inch thick top dressing of organic mulch.
Pruning Your Plants
One of the easiest care aspects, these plants don’t require lots of heavy pruning.
Cut away brown foliage and faded flowers with sharp, clean garden scissors.
Stems that hold mostly brown leaves can be cut entirely from the plant. Stems with yellow leaves can be left in place; whilst unsightly they won’t compromise the health of your plant.
When removing flowers and stalks, cut as close to the base of the plant as possible. This prevents the plant from wasting energy sustaining the stem. Instead its energy is redirected to flower production.
Overwintering Easter Lily Bulbs
Learning how to overwinter your flowers and plants is an important part of knowing how to care for a garden. The Easter lily is hardy in USDA Zones 8 and warmer.
Bulbs that fall victim to a hard winter freeze won’t flower the following spring. In cooler areas growers can cut back their plants and dig up the bulblets for storage in a root cellar or garage before replanting in the spring. This is a reliable care method of storing many flowering bulbs including dahlias.
Store your bulbs in a cool, dry and dark location. The temperature around the stored bulbs should average 45 ℉.
Making winter care and protection a little more difficult; plants growing in pots can’t simply be moved inside for the winter and returned to their outside position in the spring. While the bulbs will survive, flowers are unlikely to form on the current stem. Instead you need to dig up the bulbs once flowering has finished. Store in a cool, dark place until 2 weeks before the first frost. The bulbs can then be replanted and returned outside in the spring.
Growers in warmer areas that don’t enjoy hard frosts can leave the bulbs in the ground. Simply cease watering in the fall, this encourages dormancy helping your bulbs to survive the winter. If a cold spell is forecast a protective layer of mulch can be placed on the soil.
How to Encourage Flowering
For most people the main reason for learning how to grow and care for the Easter lily is the flowers. If conditions aren’t optimal it can be difficult to get the Easter lily to flower. Indoor plants in particular can be reluctant to flower if the conditions aren’t ideal. However, with the right care flowers can last for up to two weeks.
In the right conditions, flowers form.
Plants growing outside can be put off from flowering by changes in temperature as well as unexpected cloudy spells.
It is easier to protect indoor plants from dramatic changes in temperature. Avoid placing the pots close to heat sources. During the day, make sure your Easter lily pot is in a sunny spot. In the evening, move the pot to a cool room before returning to its sunny spot the following morning.
Cutting away the anthers as they emerge encourages the flowers to last longer. Removing the anthers also takes away the yellow pollen grains that can trigger allergies or fall and stain surfaces and clothing.
How to Keep an Easter Lily
Once Easter has passed and the plant has finished flowering, some people discard their Easter lily.
However, with a little care you can keep your Easter lily plant for many years.
Keeping the plants is easier in the garden than in a pot.
Once flowering has finished, begin your post-bloom care routine by cutting down the stem to soil level. Allow the soil to dry out before digging up the bulb clump and separating any bulblets. Store the bulbs in a cool dark place until fall has fully set in; this is usually around two weeks before your first predicted frost date. At this stage, while your garden may be cold, the soil is still workable.
Plant the bulblets in holes 4 to 6 inches deep, 6 to 12 inches apart. The soil should be well draining. Keep the ground moist until the first frost strikes. At this point the bulblets should be settled enough to survive the winter.
You can also transplant the bulbs into your garden beds in early spring, once your last frost date has passed and the soil is workable.
Keep the plant in its pot for the winter. When spring arrives, prepare your plants by hardening them off.
Plant the bulbs in a position that enjoys indirect sunlight. The hole should be as deep and as wide as the pot. Backfill the hole with compost and add a layer of mulch to the top of the soil.
You can also keep the bulb indoors, in its pot. Easy to care for, plants growing indoors will continue to produce lots of attractive, green foliage but flowers are unlikely to form.
How to Propagate Easter Lily
An important part of learning how to care for these plants, the easiest way to propagate your Easter lily is to divide the bulb clump. While you may have only planted a solitary bulb, as the Easter lily grows and matures more bulbs form around it.
After a few years of growth this bulb clump can be dug up and divided. The smaller, younger bulbs, known as bulblets, can be planted on to produce new plants. Dividing bulb clumps also helps to rejuvenate older plants.
Divisions can be made either in the spring before new growth emerges or in the fall once flowering has finished for the year and growth has faded.
To divide, use a spade or hand trowel to dig around your Easter lily plants, exposing the bulblets. The clump can either be lifted from the soil, with the help of a garden fork, or divided in situ. Depending on the size of the clump, you can divide it in half or into thirds.
Bulblets can usually be separated from the main clump by hand. If you struggle to remove the bulblet, try gently twisting it away from the clump. When handling, take care not to damage the bulbs.
Healthy, undamaged bulblets can be planted in holes 4 to 6 inches deep. Space the bulbs roughly 6 inches apart. After placing the bulblet in the hole, backfill with a mixture of soil and compost.
Don’t worry if your bulblets don’t flower in the first year, it can take up to 3 years for bulblets to mature enough to begin flowering.
Common Pests and Disease
With the correct care, the Easter lily is largely pest and problem free. This resilience makes learning how to care for these attractive flowering bulbs a pleasingly straightforward task.
Regularly check the foliage for signs of aphid infestations. Aphids are sap sucking insects that can cause unsightly damage to plant foliage. They can also spread disease.
Aphids can be washed away with a blast of water from a garden hose. More stubborn infestations can be treated by applying insecticidal soap or neem oil onto the leaves. Our guide to using neem oil on plants explains how to best use this product.
Aphid infestations can be devastating.
Don’t allow aphid infestations to go untreated; aphids spread mosaic virus. This deadly disease has no cure and can quickly infect an entire flower bed. As it develops, mosaic virus causes leaves to lose their color and the plants to degrade, eventually dying.
Should mosaic virus strike, dig up and destroy the affected plants before the disease has a chance to spread. Don’t place the infected plants on your compost pile. This risks the accidental transfer of the disease to other areas of your garden.
Yellowing foliage is usually a sign that the bulb clump is overcrowded. When you notice foliage turning yellow it is a sign that you need to dig up and divide the bulb clumps. Not only will this give your bulbs more room to grow into, it will also rejuvenate the older bulbs and provide you with new, young bulbs for free.
Leaves at the base of the plant yellowing can be an indication that root rot is starting to develop. Typically caused by overwatering other signs of root rot include small leaves and foliage and stunted growth. If left untreated the plant will die.
Root rot is easier to prevent than cure; water your bulbs only when the top inch of soil is dry. A soil moisture sensor can help you to work out exactly when you need to water your bulbs.
If your Easter lily plants show signs of root rot, dig up the bulb clump and inspect each bulb for signs of disease or damage. Discard unhealthy bulbs and replant the healthy bulbs in light, well draining soil. The right type of soil makes care easier. You can improve drainage by working compost or Pure Original Potting and Garden Sand into the soil.
Stem rot may also develop if the bulbs are overwatered or allowed to sit in saturated soil.
Botrytis blight can develop in humid conditions if the bulbs are overcrowded. Again dividing the bulb clump regularly helps to prevent or ease the issue. Spacing your bulbs out is an important part of plant care that helps to prevent blight and mildews from developing.
Leaves in full sun may brown or scorch. Not a serious issue, scorched leaves can be simply cut from the plant. You can prevent leaf scorch by planting in a position that enjoys a little protection from the direct afternoon sun. If your garden is very open a Mini Plant Shade Tent provides a reliable way to protect sun loving plants from the direct afternoon sun.
This is an easy to care for ornamental plant.
In a favorable position learning how to care for the Easter lily is a satisfyingly straightforward task. With just a little care and maintenance you will be able to enjoy the large, fragrant blooms of the plant during the spring and early summer months.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.