Don’t toss out those fading Easter lilies – plant them
For more than 20 years, Bill Verm has watched each spring as beautiful Easter lilies reappear in his Santa Fe garden. The 4-foot-high plants, some grown from bulbs his mother gave him decades ago, fill his front garden with white blossoms.
Easter lilies, Lilium longiflorum, start appearing in stores in early spring because these tall, graceful flowers bloom around Easter each year. One of the best things about these plants is that if handled properly, they’ll come back year after year.
Verm, a Galveston County Master Gardener, feeds his lilies some bone meal to enhance the blooms and every few years thins out the oval garden in his front yard, which also feature red amaryllis and colorful day lilies. The lilies have a faint fragrance and each year the flowers are plentiful and last a few weeks, Verm said.
Easter lilies sometimes have sentimental value. William Johnson, head of the Galveston County Master Gardener program, has been very protective of his small clutch of lilies planted in front of his office. When his mother passed away several years ago, he packed the flowers from her funeral in his suitcase and took them home, planting them in the garden as a constant reminder of her, he said.
“They come up every year,” he said.
Easter lilies are native to Ryukyu Islands, off the southern coast of Japan. The plants were imported to the United States during the early 1900s. That stopped at the start of World War II. But an Oregon soldier who had been stationed in Japan took plants home and began sharing bulbs with friends and family. During the 1940s, commercial growers got involved, making the plants affordable and widely distributed.
Many people don’t know to repot these plants. Many are tossed in the trash when they lose their blooms, Verm said.
“They should just take them out in the yard and plant them,” Verm said.
The Easter lilies are easy to recycle. After the flowers fade, remove the plant from the pot and put it in the ground where it will get morning sun and afternoon shade. The plants go dormant in mid-summer and when the foliage turns yellow, cut the plant down to the ground.
In October, they’ll begin growing again. Fertilize them at that time. Because the winters are rather mild on the upper Texas coast, the plants will continue to grow. And by April, blooms will appear again.
After a few years, the clump of stalks will become dense and gardeners should separate the plants so they’ll produce more blooms.
Divide the clump in mid- to late-summer when the foliage is yellowing. Dig up the bulbs, separate them and replant them about a foot apart, placing them in the soil about 5 or 6 inches deep.
When shopping for an Easter lily, choose a plant that isn’t too lanky tall or stocky short. Look for plants with an abundance of green foliage, which indicates the root systems are healthy.
One way to enhance the life of a bloom is to remove the pistil and stigma in the flower before the pollen starts to shed. This prevents pollination, which extends the life of the blossom and avoids discoloration or staining on the petals from the falling pollen. As the mature blooms wither, remove them to allow for more flowering. Keep the plant in a bright light and water when the top of the soil gets dry.
And right after Easter, if you see them in the stores on the reduced rack, buy them and enjoy their blooms next year.