Easter lily plants are a welcome sign of spring, trumpeting the new season with large blooms and a lovely, sweet fragrance to match. Perennial bulbs, the Easter lilies we know and love, are often nursery-grown with forced blooming techniques to time the plant’s bloom in spring, around Easter.
Don’t toss your lily after enjoying its bloom indoors. Easter lilies grow year-round as garden or houseplants, depending on your climate zone. They make gorgeous statements in summer landscapes amongst other perennials or as massed plantings. Their striking blooms are as bold as their fragrance, most intense on summer mornings and evenings.
When choosing Easter lilies, select plants with dense, glossy green foliage along straight, upright stems. Look for one with several buds, with only one or two already open. The unopened buds give you weeks of successional blooms to enjoy. After blooming, move your plant to the garden to enjoy its lasting impressions well beyond the holiday.
What are Easter Lily Plants?
Growers employ specialized flower-forcing techniques to synchronize the bloom period with Easter.
Easter lilies, long cultivated for their glorious blooms and matching fragrance, carry a unique origin story and path to worldwide cultivation. Leapfrogging a small native range, international borders, and World War II, Easter lilies became the iconic harbingers of spring.
Originating in islands in southern Japan and the mainland seacoast and small islands of eastern Taiwan, Lillium longiflorum circulated throughout Asia until it was discovered by Swedish plantsman Carl Peter Thunberg in 1777. Thunberg sent bulbs to England and, by 1888, introduced Easter lilies to America.
Today, the traditional lily flowers we value in spring are grown by only a dozen nurseries on the small coastal border of California and Oregon. They grow the bulbs for three to four years until they are sizeable for retail. Growers employ special flower-forcing techniques to time the bloom period around Easter.
These blooms emerge 45° from the stem, measuring five to nine inches in length.
Lilium longiflorum’s main feature is its large, symmetrical, tubular blooms that emerge 45° in relation to the stem. Mirrored trumpet flowers grow five to nine inches long and number between two to fifteen per plant, depending on plant size and vigor. The species name means “long-flowered” and represents the floriforous attributes of the plant. Each bloom holds stamens and anthers for pollen production.
Dark green, highly polished lanceolate leaves line the upright stems. The narrow leaves are attractive all season, even when the lily isn’t blooming. The stems are sturdy and strong, from 24 to 36 inches tall, and likely won’t require staking despite the large blooms atop.
While we love Easter lily plants in spring, their natural bloom period is in summer. With cultivars in pure white, pink, purple, and cream, L. longiflorum brings a distinct lily flower to the garden. And the sweet, fresh perfume of lilies is unparalleled.
Easter lilies emerge with new growth in spring, growing and flowering through the summer months until yellowing and dying back in fall. Each growing season allows root systems to strengthen for robust flowering plants, followed by a period of energy storage and dormancy. Divide bulbs as they grow to produce more lilies.
Easter lilies are toxic to cats when eaten. Make sure to keep pets away from any parts of the plant.
In cool, moist areas with warm seasons, Lilium longiflorum thrives naturally.
Lilium longiflorum grows naturally in cool, moist conditions with warm summers. Its native islands are humid, sunny, and subtropical, with rainy seasons and typhoons. In the United States, the small coastal region of the California-Oregon border brings similar conditions.
The optimal times for planting Easter lilies are in the fall and spring.
Easter lilies grow year-round in pots and the garden. Treat them as houseplants for indoor enjoyment, or plant them in a perennial garden bed. Or, opt for a combination of the two, growing them indoors until spring arrives and moving them outside for the warm weather. Bring them back inside when temperatures start to cool.
Fall and spring are the best times to plant Easter lilies. If potting in a container, plant them anytime from spring through fall.
Lilium longiflorum makes a beautiful addition to the summertime garden. Use them amongst other perennials for their distinct blooms, foliage, fragrance, and growth habit. Plant them en masse for an impactful border or clustered planting. Use shallow-rooted annuals and ground covers as a foil for underplanted bulbs. The bulbs emerge and shine in spring and summer, then head under cover again when they die back in fall.
Transplanting Leafy Plants
When transplanting, carefully loosen the roots after removing the bulb from its pot.
Outdoors, it’s best to plant Easter lilies in fall or spring after the threat of final frost has passed. If you’re transplanting your purchased plant outside (whether to a new pot or in the ground), cut off the spent blooms, leaving stems intact to keep absorbing nutrients and photosynthesizing.
When nighttime temperatures are above 50°F (10°C), gradually introduce the potted plant to its new environment over a few days to a week. Start by moving the lily outdoors to a spot that mimics your indoor location in light and temperature.
After a few days of outdoor acclimation, plant the lily in its new garden location. Opt for full sun but with protection from direct afternoon rays, which may scorch leaves. L. longiflorum tolerates partial shade, but blooms will be smaller, and stems may flop and benefit from staking.
Carefully spread and loosen roots after removing the bulb from its pot. Transfer to fresh soil or potting mix and water deeply.
Dig an area about a foot deep for in-ground planting to aerate the soil. Add organic matter if the soil needs enrichment, and plant the lily at the surface level.
After transplanting, leaves and stems may turn yellow and then brown. You’ll also see new growth emerge. Cut off the old stems to make room for the new ones. You may get lucky with a summer bloom, but nursery-grown Easter lilies can take a year or two to resume their natural bloom schedule.
Plant and mulch outdoor bulbs for winter protection.
Another option is to wait until your indoor lily has flowered and, in fall, plant the bulb outdoors. Cut back spent stems and remove the bulb from its pot, gently loosening the roots. Shake away the old soil, and plant the bulb in the ground or its new pot. You’ll want a planting depth of about six inches (or twice the size of the bulb).
If planting in a container, opt for one at least one inch larger than your current pot to allow for root and diameter growth. Depending on your climate, overwinter the potted bulbs outdoors or store them in an unheated space like a garage or basement for added winter protection.
Bulbs going into the garden can be planted and mulched for winter protection and left for dormancy. Water in spring to initiate new growth.
Growing from Seed
Harvesting is optimal when the pod turns brown, producing a rattling sound when shaken.
The ambitious gardener can grow Easter lilies from seed, though they’re most easily grown from bulbs. Either method takes about two to three years for a plant to mature.
Seeds can be harvested or acquired for L. longiflorum. After flowering, lilies produce seed pods. The seeds are ready to harvest when the pod is brown and rattles when shaken, usually when stems have withered and turned brown as well.
Fresh seeds are best and can be planted in outdoor containers or in-ground beds, especially in fall or late winter, when natural cooling and moisture benefit germination. Seeds benefit from moist cold stratification, where they’ll need several weeks of temperatures at 40°F (4°C) for best success.
Plant seeds directly in the ground or in a pot for germination. Loosen soil, add organic matter to increase soil richness and drainage, and place seeds just below a thin layer of soil, almost on the surface.
If you don’t have external cool temperatures, keep seeds in a refrigerator in moist peat moss or on paper towels for a few weeks before sowing.
How to Grow
Growing Easter lilies requires little oversight when a few key cultural requirements are met. They’ll thrive with bright light and evenly moist, well-drained, organically rich soil.
Easter lilies as houseplants may need a little more attention (as many houseplants do) than those grown outdoors. Provide plenty of light, consistent soil moisture, and humidity.
When kept indoors, provide ample bright, indirect light by situating them close to a sunny window.
Easter lily plants thrive in sunny garden locations where they get morning sun and filtered afternoon light in hot climates.
Indoors, give plenty of bright, indirect light. Place them near a sunny window and rotate the plant occasionally for even light exposure. If the sun exposure at this window is intense, move the plant or use a sheer curtain to diffuse the light.
Make sure to water them thoroughly when the top inch of the medium is dry.
Easter lilies are particular when it comes to water. Consistent, evenly moist soils with well-draining mediums are best for L. longiflorum.
Overly wet soils can lead to root rot and botrytis, and they’ll wither in standing water. Alternatively, periods of dryness cause stress to the plant.
Indoors, water plants thoroughly when the top inch of medium feels dry to the touch. If your plant arrived with a decorative foil-wrapped pot cover, ensure water doesn’t collect beneath the wrap, or remove it entirely.
Outdoors, water during periods of dryness during the active growing season. In all cases, ensure soils are well-draining.
Enhancing soil circulation and drainage can be achieved by incorporating organic matter.
Easter lilies grow easily in organically rich soils with medium moisture. As mentioned, soils must be well-drained so the roots don’t get waterlogged and become susceptible to rot.
L. longiflorum thrives in a slightly acidic to neutral soil. Adding organic matter like compost, pine bark, and aged manure helps soil circulation and drainage and adds nutrients.
Temperature and Humidity
The best conditions for these plants involve temperate, moist, and sunny environments.
Temperate, moist, sunny environments offer the best conditions for Easter lilies. Ideal growing temperatures are between 60-70°F (16-21°C) in daytime and 55-65°F (13-18°C) at night.
When growing Easter lilies indoors, keep plants out of heated or cooled drafts that lead to excess drying. Ideal humidity is around 30-50 percent. Cool daytime and nighttime temperatures help prolong flowering.
Feed lilies in spring as new growth appears to support the flourishing of Easter lilies.
Fertilize in spring as new growth emerges to boost the growth and flowering of Easter lilies. Apply a low-grade and slow-release organic fertilizer for flowering perennials, such as a 5-5-5, during the active growing months.
When the lily stops flowering (generally late summer), stop fertilizing. Apply a simple blood meal or bulb fertilizer in fall as the bulb prepares to overwinter, but it’s not required.
Easter lilies can do very well in gardens or pots with minimal effort.
Easter lilies are happy to grow without much fuss. The only pruning or cutback they need is to remove spent blooms and stems as they brown. They may need staking in a pot if conditions are on the shady side or if the large flowers are too heavy for the stems.
Easter lilies benefit from a winter mulch cover. Mulch or leaf litter provides good insulation. Pull back the mulch layer from the crown as new growth emerges in spring, but keep a layer atop the roots.
Indoors, remove stamens from the blossoms to avoid staining from the powdery pollen as the anthers drop. Removal also prolongs flowering.
Division is the simplest method for propagating Easter lilies and is the easiest way to expand your collection (other than purchasing nursery stock). Dividing bulbs is most successful in spring or fall as it gives newly divided plants time to get established for the active growing season.
Utilize natural fall, winter, and spring moisture and cool temperatures for optimal growth.
After two to three years of growth, bulbs develop scales and bulblets (offshoots of the main bulb), and both create new plants. Cut or pluck the scales and bulblets from the primary bulb. Replant the original and prepare the holes for the newly divided bulbs.
Plant the new segments six inches deep and 6-12 inches apart. Keep them moist until established, taking advantage of natural fall, winter, and spring moisture and cool temperatures.
Within the species, ‘Nellie White’ is the most popular cultivar available. ‘Nellie White’ is the pure white lily bloom we think of in spring and the one most often sold at Easter.
Several other cultivars are available and make lovely garden and houseplant additions. Use bulblets or scale division to propagate cultivars rather than growing from seed. The seed will yield true species selection rather than the cultivar. Lilies, including hybrids, are easy to grow and make a bold garden statement.
Hardy to USDA zone 5, ‘White Heaven’ is an excellent choice for cold climates.
‘White Heaven’ features enormous, pure white trumpet blooms with yellow centers (five to six in a bunch) on sturdy stems that don’t require staking. A good option for cold climates, ‘White Heaven’ is hardy to USDA zone 5.
The flowers of this variety display a charming blush-pink to light purplish-pink hue.
‘Elegant Lady’ flowers in blush-pink to light purplish-pink on two to three-foot stems. It bears a sweet fragrance and is sometimes called ‘Pink Easter Lily.’
With its grand name, ‘Triumphator’ boasts large eight-inch white flowers adorned with rosy pink centers.
‘Triumphator’ is as grand as its name suggests, with large, eight-inch white flowers with rosy pink centers that make a lovely and bold statement on three to four-foot stems.
This plant showcases long buds that unfold into numerous, slightly smaller pure white flowers.
‘White Elegance’ is another good cold-hardy option with improved resistance to leaf scorch, heat, and humidity. It has showy, long buds that open to slightly smaller but more numerous pure white flowers.
Besides its beauty as a garden and houseplant, a bonus of this lily is its few problems related to pests and diseases.
Overwatering can be an issue – as can underwatering – and yellowing leaves tell this tale. A more significant sign is plant dieback, which may mean botrytis.
Consider spraying the plant with water periodically to dislodge pests like Scarlet Lily Beetles.
Insect infestation from lily beetles and aphids sometimes bother L. longiflorum and leads to other diseases that aphids bear. During warm months, when pests are most active, occasionally spray the plant with water to deter and knock insects off the stems. A simple horticultural soap can rid the plant of aphids if infestation occurs.
In containers, maintain even soil moisture without drastic fluctuations to mimic natural conditions.
Easter lilies don’t tolerate wet feet or prolonged soggy conditions and can develop root rot in non-draining soils. Botrytis is a fungal disease, especially prevalent in high-humidity conditions with limited air circulation. Brown spots and “fluffy mold” are indicators of botrytis.
Trim the infected areas and place the plant outdoors with good air ventilation to treat botrytis. Apply a fungicide as a last resort. Take care not to overwater or overfertilize, which weakens the plant.
The best control is prevention through cultural conditions. Since L. longiflorum handles medium soils best, look for spots that meet these conditions for best performance, and root rot will be a non-issue. This disease causes other parts of the plant to rot as well, such as the bulbs.
In containers, make sure not to overwater for the same reason. Keeping soils evenly moist without drastic fluctuations will mimic natural conditions.
Lily mosaic virus first presents as yellow streaking on leaves. It’s an incurable disease with aphids as its main vector. Prevent them, and you prevent mosaic virus. Remove any damaged plants, and avoid planting in the area where LMV has previously been.
Frequently Asked Questions
Easter lilies are perennial bulbs that grace the garden year after year. Hardy to USDA zones 4-8, Easter lilies emerge in the spring for their natural cycle of summer blooming, followed by winter dormancy.
Nursery-grown Easter lilies hold their blooms for about two weeks after blooming begins. To prolong flowering, keep blooming plants in cool indoor temperatures.
Like many other lilies, Easter lilies are poisonous to cats if they ingest any part of the plant. Avoid these beauties if your pet is curious about plants or might be a nibbler. Prompt treatment from a veterinarian is essential and can be successful.
Easter lilies are beautiful houseplants and garden additions well beyond the spring and Easter seasons. Their blooms and foliage contrast strikingly with other garden plantings, not to mention their heady perfume that drifts through the summer garden.
Easter lilies are easily grown in sunny locations with rich, well-drained soils and consistent moisture. Use Lilium longiflorum in white gardens, fragrance gardens, or interspersed among other perennials.
The sweetness of the season will linger with the extended growth of your Easter lily. Take care to keep these plants away from pets, particularly cats, for whom they are toxic.