Deb Babcock's gardening column appears Thursdays in Steamboat Today.
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The fragrant, trumpet-shaped white flower of Easter lily (Lilium longiforum) is native to southern Japan and was originally imported here until a World War I soldier named Louis Houghton brought a suitcase full of the bulbs to his home in Oregon for friends and family to plant. By 1945, American gardeners learned to grow a superior bulb, and now 95 percent of the bulbs grown for the Easter lily market come from farms along the coasts of northern California and Oregon.
The bulbs are harvested in fall and sent to greenhouses where they are potted, chilled and brought into warmth for forced growth in time to bloom for Easter. This is always a little tricky for florists, because Easter falls on a different day every year, anytime between March 22 and April 25, depending on when the first Sunday or first full moon occurs after our spring (vernal) equinox.
Once the plant blooms, if you remove the yellow anthers that contain the pollen for the flower, you’ll help the bloom last longer. This also eliminates the mess created on your table by fallen pollen and the stain it creates on the white flower.
I spoke with Suzanne Bostrom, of Alpine Floral, the other day about Easter lilies, and she has experienced good luck planting the bulb in her garden and getting fall blooms on the plant. As always with a bulb that has been forced to bloom, the results can be spotty but perhaps worth a try. It seems a shame to just throw the plant away when it is done blooming.
When the flowers fade, pinch them off but let the foliage stay on the stem to help provide nutrition to the bulb. When the foliage begins to shrivel, cut back the original plant stem to the soil surface or to the lowest healthy new leaf should some new growth appear.
Once our soil warms up (mid-June), you can take your lily out to the garden for planting. Find a place in the garden where the roots of the plant can stay cool while the flower heads can enjoy sunshine. Somewhere that gets a half day of sunshine is ideal. Easter lily bulbs should be planted about 3 inches into the soil with another 3 inches mounded on top to help keep the soil cool. Water and fertilize.
If you are lucky, you might get a second bloom this year in late summer or fall, or it might take a year or so for the bulb to get reinvigorated enough to produce a bloom.
Easter lilies are a pretty hardy plant, but are rated for zones 7 to 9. So, in our extra-cold winter climate you’ll want to provide some winter protection by placing a thick layer of mulch over the bulb once winter rolls around. Or better yet, dig up the bulb and set it in your basement or garage until springtime for replanting.
Deb Babcock is a master gardener through the Routt County Extension Office. If you have questions, call 970-879-0825.