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Growing Green: Easter Lilies

Years ago I worked at Linder’s Garden Center in Falcon Heights, MN during the spring growing season.  My favorite chore was to remove the yellow anthers from the multitude of Easter Lilies. The bright orange pollen coated my hands (but not the pristine white petals), and the intense fragrance delighted my nose. Table after table of these elegant, trumpet shaped flowers was definitely a feast for the senses on a cold March day. It is again the season of marshmallow chicks and jelly beans, and White Lilies seem to appear overnight at our groceries and retail outlets. If you are considering bringing one home, or purchasing one for a friend, here are a few details about the ubiquitous Easter lily.

Easter lilies, most commonly a cultivar named “Nelly White”, are similar to the Asiatic or Oriental hardy lilies grown in Minnesota gardens. When selecting a lily, look for a healthy, heavily budded, dense, straight growing specimen. Choose a plant that is about two-times as tall as the pot. (A plant that has outgrown its pot will be stressed.) Pass up any plant that shows signs of improper watering, such as yellowing leaves, or leaves with brown tips. Check for signs of insect infestation (eggs, webs, munched leaves) and leave affected lilies at the store. Lilies prefer cooler temperatures (60°-65°), bright, indirect sunlight and draft free environments. Water your Easter lily only when the soil becomes dry to the touch and don’t leave it dry for an extended period of time. If your lily has been wrapped in decorative foil, be sure to punch holes in the bottom to provide proper drainage.  Too much moisture will encourage root rot and may damage your plant.

Once your lily has finished blooming, place your plant in a sunny location, and keep watering. Select a well-drained garden bed, high in organic matter in a sunny location.  Once all danger of frost has passed, plant your lily so the bulb is 3” below the soil surface. If you have more than one lily, plant 12”-18” apart.  Mulch your lily bed with a thick layer of organic material to ensure cool roots, moist soil and to provide winter protection. As the original plant dies back, cut to ground level.  New shoots will emerge, and you may get a second bloom later in the summer. If not, look for the plants to re-emerge next spring.

Lilies are toxic to cats, so you might want to consider an alternative spring plant if you have these furry friends in your household. Vomiting, loss of appetite, lethargy, kidney failure, and death is possible. However, cats are only species known to be affected.

For more information about growing lilies, visit our website at, and search for lilies, or Easter lilies. 

Robin Trott is a Horticulture Educator with University of Minnesota Extension.