How to Plant, Transplant, and Grow Easter Lilies
Easter lilies in bloom
Many churches adorn the front of the church with potted Easter Lilies for Holy week and Easter Sunday. When Easter has passed, the flowers are available to be taken home. They look nice for a week or two as the remaining flowers bloom. After that, then what? Most are tossed out with the trash. Can they be recycled, repotting or planting them to bloom again next year? Yes, and here’s how to do it.
First we need to acknowledge that the plant is going to look like it is dying. After the flowers wilt and fall, the leaves will turn light yellow and droop. Ultimately, the stalk itself dries out and shrivels up. Underground, though, scales are branching from the sides of the original bulb in preparation for next year’s growing season.
Replant in March
After the blooms have fallen and there is no more chance of frost, you can transplant your Lily from the pot it came in to a suitable outdoor spot. They like indirect sun and cool well-drained soil. Some people use a layer of mulch for insulation year-round, but thicker in winter. Thin out the mulch in late January or February when the new sprouts are expected. I have my Lilies in a bed of English ivy that keeps the soil cool and moist and looks nice when Lilies aren’t growing.
Plant the bulb to the same depth it was in the pot, about 1” (2.5 cm). Too shallow seems to be better than too deep, in my experience. As the leaves lose color and the stem dries out, trim it back to the next green leaf. You will end up doing this several times before you’re down to ground level. The plant needs to establish new roots and develop new scales that cling to the original bulb—somewhat like cloves of garlic.
Don’t try this at home:
- The first year I tried to make Easter Lilies live to bloom again, I didn’t know much about them. When it seemed obvious to me that the plant was hopelessly dead, I grabbed hold of the stem and yanked it out of the potting soil. About a dozen very healthy-looking new bulbs (scales) went flying. At least, they had been healthy. After that rough treatment, I was only able to get one of them to thrive and bloom the next spring.
- Don’t get the bright idea that if this works for Easter Lilies, it ought to work for Christmas poinsettias. It doesn’t. Poinsettias are tropical and will freeze to death in cold weather. Even if the plant survives, the climatic conditions for blooming are quite restrictive.
- Separate each scale from the bulb. (You can go ahead and replant what remains of the center stem as in the last paragraph, but don’t expect a very big plant next year.) Leave the scales out to dry slightly overnight without rinsing them off.
- Line a Ziploc bag with a folded paper towel and place the scales between the folds, separated from each other. Dampen the paper towel with a few drops of water—less is better than too much. Place the bag in your refrigerator—above freezing, but below 40°F.
- Chill for two months. Monitor regularly for condensation inside the bag. If moisture is condensing inside the bag, there’s too much moisture and your precious babies are in danger of growing mold! Depending on severity, either open the bag for awhile to let it dry out a bit, or repack with a new bag and paper towel, allowing the scales to air-dry overnight on a dish in the refrigerators.
- After surviving two months of refrigerated “winter,” it will still be winter outdoors, so plant the scales in pots indoors, at a depth of 1” (2.5 cm).
- Optionally, you can get a head start on the growing season by moving your pots outdoors as early as possible and bringing them in when it will be too cold. They should be all right outdoors above 60°F in the daytime and above freezing overnight.
- When there is no more chance of a frost, you can move your Lilies outdoors or transplant them to the garden. See the notes above under the subheading “Replant in March,” except you may be moving these outdoors before March.
Lilies in a garden of ivy
Cultivate in October
If you want to divide the scales on the bulb so that you will have several plants, or if you want to move a plant, wait until the end of the growing season to dig it up. (Not the way I did! See the sidebar at right!) If you simply want to move a plant without dividing the bulb, you can do that now—the bulb is hardy enough to weather the winter. Be sure to get some of the soil that is clinging to the bulb so that you get some roots. Then cover the area with a thick layer of insulating mulch that you can remove in March.
If you want to divide the bulb to propagate several Lilies from one bulb, now is the time to dig it up, but the procedure is more complicated than that.
When your Lily begins to sprout
As the new plant start to sprout through the soil, whether newly planted scales or sprouting from old growth, clear off the mulch—but just until the sprouts are established. I trim ivy leaves out of the way so that sunlight can reach the plant. Then I let the ivy grow back to cover the soil when nice green Lily leaves begin to protrude above the ivy. If your Lily doesn’t bloom the first year, don’t give up—it probably needed more time to become established. Let it just grow foliage or a single flower the first year. The second or third year it will usually do better.
Don’t count on blooms for Easter—but you can bring those home from church after Easter anyway. Mine seem to come around June, and then I can snip them for my dining room table as they bloom one at a time. (Snip the stamen off when you bring the flower indoors to avoid the shedding pollen.) It is possible to force blooming at other times of year—that’s what the commercial nurseries do—but that’s beyond the scope of this article.
More about how to grow Lilies
- Easter Lilies - Selecting, Caring For and Re-Blooming Your Easter Lily
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- Propagating Lilies - from Scales
This is the fastest way to increase your bulbs. You will be producing exact duplicates of the original bulb--so called "clones."
- How to Grow Lilies
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Do you have questions about lilies? Share your own experiences below: