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An Easter lily’s bloom

How to care for your holiday flower

April 4, 2012
Carrie Olson - Staff Writer ( , The Daily Freeman Journal

Easter lilies are prevalent in many households during the holiday season, and Yvonne McCormick, Hamilton County ISU Extension Horticulturist, has some information on the famous flower.


McCormick said that the most popular cultivar for Easter lilies is called Nellie White.

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Need some suggestions on keeping your Easter lily alive? Yvonne McCormick, Hamilton County ISU Extension Horticulturist, has some ideas.

"They are large, white trumpet-like flowers," she said. "They are named after the wife of a lily grower, James White."

Prior to 1941, most all Easter lily bulbs came from Japan. It wasn't until after World War II that the commercial production shifted to the United States. Easter lily bulbs are harvested in the fall and shipped to greenhouse growers who plant them in pots to bloom for the Easter holiday. Most of these bulbs are grown along the Pacific Coastal region - in California and Oregon.

Why is it the holiday flower? Consider this Bible verse:

"Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these." Luke 12:27 NIV

The plant indoors

McCormick said that when you are selecting a plant to buy, look for one with buds in all stages of development.

"Some that will be puffy and will open in a couple days," she said. "Some will be smaller and green. That will extend the period of the flower's bloom."

Look for dark green abundant foliage all the way to the soil - that will indicate a healthy plant.

When you get home, put the Easter lily in a bright light location - in direct light is best.

"Avoid glaring sunlight because it will be too hot," she said. "They do prefer cooler temperatures during the day and at night. Keep it out of any drafts."

Once the flower opens, she suggested removing the yellow anther before the pollen forms and starts to shed. It will not only make your flower last longer, but it will prevent stains.

Too late? If you have some of it on your clothes, McCormick said to not rub it in; use packing tape to tap the cloth for removal.

Avoid overwatering. She said that they are very sensitive to too much water.

"Test it with your finger, when the soil feels dry, it is time to give it a drink," she said.

The plant comes in a foil pot - make sure that there is drainage so that water is not trapped.

Bring it outdoors

Did you receive an Easter lily this year? Don't throw it on the compost pile once it's done blooming.

"It may be planted outside and with some luck, it will bloom again next summer," McCormick said.

Lilies, in general, are easy to grow outside. McCormick said that hearty lilies will bloom mid-June through mid-September.

"Each of the lily blooms last two to five days," she said. There are many flower forms with many fragrant, such as the Oriental types.

"If you are cutting lilies to bring indoors, leave at least two-thirds of the stem with the foliage," she said. "That is how it will make food to make the new bulb and flower for next year."

Many lily species will do well in Iowa - choose those that are hearty in Zone 4 or 5.

"Asiatic- and Oriental-type lilies are the most popular as they are easy to grow," she said.

Lilies do best in full sun (six to eight hours a day).

"If you have shade and still want to grow lilies, you might want to try the martagon hybrids," McCormick suggested.

When you are selecting a bulb to plant, look for a firm, plump bulb with the roots attached. This will guard the plant from drying out. Plant as soon as possible.

"Plant in groups of there or five (odd numbers are best)," she said. "Plant them eight to 12 inches apart. When they get closer together, two inches apart, divide and replant."

This can happen every three to four years.

"You can tell when they don't bloom as well as before," she continued.

Plant in a well-drained location - lilies don't tolerate wet feet.

Need some help?

There are a couple lily societies:

The Iowa Regional Lily Society, which started in 1973. Visit their website,

The North American Lily Society, visit their website,

Dividing plants class

There will be a program at the Extension Office at 6:30 p.m. on April 12 called "Making More Plants" - learn to divide and propagate many kinds of garden plants, including lilies.



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