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How to Plant, Transplant, and Grow Easter Lilies

A how-to type who approaches things analytically, Howard never writes a DIY about something ordinary unless he has an unusual angle on it.

The lily bloomed one year after transplanting from the original pot

The lily bloomed one year after transplanting from the original pot

Easter Lily Care

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.

Transplanting Lilies

  1. 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.
  2. 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—too little is better than too much. Place the bag in your refrigerator—above freezing, but below 40°F.
  3. 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 the severity, either open the bag for a while 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 refrigerator.
  4. 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).
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
These lilies were all transplanted one year ago, but the two at right did not get enough sunlight on their leaves soon enough. They did much better after I trimmed back the ivy.

These lilies were all transplanted one year ago, but the two at right did not get enough sunlight on their leaves soon enough. They did much better after I trimmed back the 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!)

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 plants 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

Do you have questions about lilies? Share your own experiences below:

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2011 Howard S.


Howard S. (author) from Dallas, Texas, and Asia on December 21, 2016:

If you mulch your Easter lilies well enough to keep the growth tip from freezing, they should be OK. On the coldest nights it will help to cover them with a bucket or cardboard box, too.

Danielle A on November 22, 2016:

Hello, I got some Easter lilies from church last Easter, and once the foliage died down, around the beginning of June, I split the bulbs and put them in the ground.. I live in WV, and we have been experiencing some very strange, very warm weather late in the season! I already have 6 sprouts coming up and we haven't even had a real big freeze yet.. Do you think if I mulch well they could survive the winter? I really hope so!

Howard S. (author) from Dallas, Texas, and Asia on October 07, 2016:

I did the same thing once. (See my sidebar comment.) The sooner you get those babies back into soil, the better. Just follow the replanting steps above.

Howard S. (author) from Dallas, Texas, and Asia on October 07, 2016:

Yes, I usually trim the stem down to ground level after the leaves fall off. As long as the ground doesn't freeze, the bulbs will be fine. If you get a really cold spell where you live, you might want to cover with mulch.

Ray on August 02, 2016:

i dug up clumps and singles of lilies after the stems had been cut off halfway can they (the stems) be cut off down to the bulb when transplanting? it is now august and should they be covered w/ plastic (in the ground) for winter

Tammi on July 31, 2016:

I just emptied my pot of a dead easter Lilly and realized there were bulbs and many roots on 2 of the 3 bulbs...when do I replant in a pot and how do I keep them alive until replanting?

Amy T. on June 18, 2016:

I have brought Easter lilies home and transplanted them in my garden for several years in a row now. I have also planted them in the church garden. Instead of white lilies, there are healthy RED lilies everywhere I have planted them.

My garden at home is more shaded and the church is full sun. Both places have tall, full RED colored lilies.

sunny on November 21, 2015:

I just moved and need to give my Lilies a new start. They have not be divided in a long time and instead of 3 I now have 7. My question is: the roots are very long, like 6/7 inches, can I cut some of the roots off and how much. I thought maybe 4 inches and would still have enough root left to replant.

Howard S. (author) from Dallas, Texas, and Asia on May 20, 2015:

Nancy, 2-3" is a good height for transplanting lilies because they still have a fat bulb and few thin root hairs that will slough off. If you've waited for my reply, however (sorry--I wasn't watching), then they've grown and might be hard to separate. It should still work OK if you are simply moving whole plants and can dig a fair amount of soil with each one.

Howard S. (author) from Dallas, Texas, and Asia on May 20, 2015:

Gloria, yes it easy to transplant entire potted lilies without dividing the bulb's individual scales. Just be sure to get as many roots as possible. The entire pot will probably be filled with roots.

Nancy M. on April 24, 2015:

Can I dig up my lilies and transplant them now? They are about 2-3 inches high and are being crowded out by a hasta plant?

Gloria E. on April 23, 2015:

Can you still transplant lilies from pots if you cut the stems after they bloom

lizzy on April 15, 2015:

By grooming i think they mean thinning them just need to pull out the individual plant and replant them further apart....and when the plant flowers and wilts...remove the dead flowers

Howard S. (author) from Dallas, Texas, and Asia on May 04, 2013:

Sorry, Georg G., I don't know what it means to groom a plant, only grooming in relation to people, animals or pathways.

Georg G. on May 04, 2013:

How do you groom an Easter lilly?

Howard S. (author) from Dallas, Texas, and Asia on April 11, 2013:

Actually, Peggy, I believe it was your Pictures of Blooming Easter Lilies that inspired me to write this one.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 11, 2013:

Hi Howard,

When we moved into our current home in Houston we had Easter lilies blooming just about in every garden bed at the right time of year. It took me some time to dig all of them out and give them away except for one grouping of them that I wanted to keep. Every couple of years I have to thin them out. They do really well here. I have also written a hub titled Picture of Blooming Easter Lilies in our Backyard. They are late this year and just now putting out buds that have not yet opened. Voted up!

Howard S. (author) from Dallas, Texas, and Asia on May 08, 2012:

Leticia, there are several possibilities your lilies may be dying. Actually, three days is about right for the blooming period of a single flower, but healthy buds should normally mature and bloom. Blooms last longer in cool temperatures--60-65 in the daytime is ideal and cooler at night. Lilies like bright, but indirect sunlight. Water the plant only when the soil becomes dry to the touch. A biggie: make sure that the bottom of the pot does not have standing water.

Leticia on May 08, 2012:

I bought some potted lilies 3 days ago some of the beautiful flowers and blooms are starting to die. Is it to much or to little sun or water? I have them in my living room and I turn on the light for them.

Howard S. (author) from Dallas, Texas, and Asia on April 22, 2011:

No, Rex. Once the stem is cut, there is no bulb to sprout. If there's still a bud on top that hasn't opened, though, it will usually bloom if you just keep it in water.

rex on April 21, 2011:

can you get lilly's to rebloom when they have been cut and put in a vase? from my aunts funeral and want to try and keep them! thank you!rex