Easter reminds us that life is a cycle of what appears to be death and rebirth. In cooler climates, it is what we learn by observing plants that go dormant in the winter only to sprout anew in the spring. Bulbs like crocus and daffodils are examples.
Many types of bulbs are popular this time of year, but the Easter Lily with its trumpet flowers is by far the most popular. The lesson taught by the Easter lily is that it will soon begin to fade after we celebrate the holiday only to come back to life next season. These beautiful flowers give us pleasure, but we often don’t realize how much effort goes into producing that flower right at Easter. The lily did not really become part of our modern tradition until the early 20th Century when World War I soldier Louis Houghton brought what was then called the Bermuda Lily to Oregon. Commercial flower growers began to grow and promote them for the holiday.
Some Bible references to support using the lily are found in the Sermon on the Mount. “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They toil not, neither do they spin and yet Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” It is also said that lilies were discovered blooming in abundance in the garden of Gethsemane after Christ died on the cross, signifying the resurrection of Jesus and hope of eternal life.
So instead of throwing that fading plant away this year, why not attempt to make it bloom for next Easter, and each year thereafter.
You can place the plant in a sunny, garden location or even keep it in the pot until fall.
Easter lily, Lilium longiflorum, bulbs consist of scales growing from a core. When exposed to the air too long, scales lose their moisture and shrivel. Once they become dehydrated, the bulb is gone.
You can store them for a short period if you keep them cool and put them in a moist medium such as sponge rock or peat. However, it is better to replant the bulbs right after digging them up, cleaning them, and looking for signs of disease such as basal rot.
Recondition the soil where the bulbs are to go. It should be rich in humus, which contains the helpful microorganisms. A well balanced slow release plant food should be added and mixed with the soil.
The depth at which you should plant a bulb depends upon its size. The rule of thumb is two times the diameter of the bulb. This means, if you have a jumbo bulb that measures 2 inches in diameter, there would be a space of 4 inches between the top of the bulb and soil surface. Amaryllis is an exception, though. If planted in the ground, the top of the bulb should be just under the soil surface. In a pot, almost half of the amaryllis bulb should be sticking up above the soil.
Growers usually favor an inorganic bulb fertilizer high in potash. Some say that organic fertilizers such as dried blood, tankage and cottonseed meal stimulate Fusarium fungus that causes basal rot. However, fish emulsions used in diluted form seem to cause no ill effects. These give excellent results in foliage color and growth, as well as flower development and bulb size.
A complete fertilizer is important for success. This should be applied two or three times during the growing season to keep the bulbs vigorous for next year’s growth.
Mulching is recommended to keep soil from drying. This is good for both ground and pot culture. If you want to grow Easter lilies in pots, line the bottom of the pot with an inch of gravel or cinder and fill the pot half full of soil. Place the bulb at the right depth for its size and then add soil mixture to within about an inch of the rim. Naturally, the larger the bulb, the larger the size of the pot. Remember, lilies are heavy feeders.
The bulbs require plenty of sun, as do almost all bulbs. Locate the plants in a sunny location until at least mid-afternoon. Sunset’s New Western Garden Book gives details for many other bulbs.
If you want to keep your bulbs from year to year, remember not to remove any part of the stem until it has dried.
The real secret to getting the plants to bloom right on time is to give the resting bulbs a five to six week “chill” in the refrigerator at 35 degrees to 45 degrees. After chilling, the bulbs are potted so that they have approximately 120 days until flowering. The timing won’t be exact because of variables like temperature and bulb variety.
For more information on bulb gardening, contact the UH Master Gardeners at (808) 322-4893 in Kona or (808) 981-5199 in Hilo.