Q: You have written in past columns how to keep poinsettias after Christmas is over, but you have never written a column on how to treat Easter lilies after Easter is over? Our church has these leftover after the Easter holiday. Can they be grown after their use is finished in church?
K. S. of Belleville
A: I am sorry for this oversight on neglecting to inform people about the use of Easter lilies. Easter lilies, Lilium longiflorum, are the large white, bell shaped flowers used primarily in churches to symbolize Easter. But few very few people realize that they can be grown outside and they will give you a second bloom later in the summer.
After the white flowers have faded, the lilies can be planted outside as they grow from a bulb that stores necessary nutrients which are used to produce foliage and flower growth. The trick is to encourage the bulb to store the nutrients for a second bloom. Most gardeners who try to raise these bulbs outside after Easter do not succeed as they overwater them and the bulb begins to rot.
Plant the bulbs outdoors in an area which does not have direct sun and free from harsh spring and summer winds. You only need to water them when the top inch of soil dries out to touch. This planting should be done as soon as possible after the Easter lilies are not used in the church. In a church these lilies have a decorative foil covering the pot which does not allow drainage which could stain areas in a church if you put holes for drainage. Also remove the bright yellow stamens which bore huge amounts of pollen and can stain the flowers and reduce the life of the flower. Remove these stamens when the lilies arrive at the church or soon after the flowers begin to open. Use tweezers or your fingertips but be careful not to let the pollen touch your clothes as it will stain the fabric (some florists refer to this procedure as ‘picking the lilies nose’).
After the flowers fade, remove the flowers and then fertilize them with a 12-12-12 fertilizer at the rate of one half teaspoon to a gallon of water. Wait until the danger of frost is over (usually April 20) when you plant them outside at the level of six inches below the soil. Allow the lily stalk to dry up and turn brown after a few weeks. Remove this brown stem and the bulb will go through a rest period. Soon a new stalk will soon appear. Later in summer a second season of bloom will occur if you continue watering when the soil is dry.
Easter lilies are NOT winter hardy usually but may bloom again if there’s a mild winter and you have covered them with three inches of winter mulch like straw, chopped leaves, or shredded bark. But do not cover with the winter mulch until the soil freezes. When new growth appears remove this mulch; if the lily survives, blooms will develop in summer.
Charles Giedeman is a local contributing writer. Send your gardening questions to Lifestyle Department, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427, or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Things to do this week
- Remove all dead and injured branches from shrubs and trees
- Allow foliage to remain on all spring-flowering bulbs until they dry up
- Plant or transplant strawberries and other small fruits
- If you have not planted the cool season crops directly in the garden of peas, lettuce, carrots, beets, turnips and Swiss chard as the soil is finally dry enough
- Plant the transplants of cool season vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, kohlrabi, and onions