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Enjoy Easter lilies after the holiday

Nancy Brachey
Nancy Brachey writes about gardening for The Charlotte Observer's weekly Home & Garden section.

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  • Ask Nancy

    Q. My chrysanthemums, planted last year, are already coming up and look kind of crowded. Should I do anything now?

    If they were just planted last year, the plants can probably wait until this fall or next spring to be dug and divided. Chrysanthemums benefit from this, as do day lilies and Shasta daisies, which are also vigorous plants. The reason your chrysanthemums may seem crowded to you is that they tend to start growing earlier than do most other perennials. They look full and bunchy at a time the other things are mere sprouts. It is important to pay attention to your chrysanthemums as they grow this spring. They benefit from pinching or cutting off the tips of shoots so that the plants grow thicker and bear more flower stems. Do this in May and June and make a final pinching in early July.

Easter lilies. This is their weekend. Countless ones will show up in churches. Others will be handed out to relatives and friends as a symbol of the season.

No potted plant seems to be appreciated so much – for so little time. And that is a shame since these lovely flowers have much to give back to the gardener. With a little time and effort, the plant we buy and admire as the Easter lily can become a permanent addition to a flower bed.

The white lily that is the chief symbol of Easter is Lilium longiflorum, a native of southern Japan. It succeeded the Madonna lily, Lilium candidum, which was tended in European monasteries through the Middle Ages and appreciated for its lovely white flowers. This is the one you see in Medieval and Renaissance paintings of religious subjects. It was chosen apparently because it was available, having originated in southeastern Europe, and filled the need for a pure white symbol.

But the Easter lily we know and love today has gained its role because it is a vigorous, excellent pot plant – unlike the Madonna lily – whose growth can be timed to bloom whenever Easter occurs, even though the date of the holiday varies year to year.

Indoors, keep it in a cool spot with bright light and away from drafts and heat registers. Water when the soil feels dry. Once the flowering season ends, it is worth keeping.

Like any lily, it grows from a sizeable bulb, which sends up a straight stalk bearing large, elongated buds that open to pure white flowers with vivid yellow anthers.

Once the flowers fade, cut them off and make plans to give your Easter lily a permanent spot in a flower bed. Take the bulb with its roots and soil attached out of the pot gently. Keep the root ball as intact as possible, though some soil will likely fall away.

Choose a spot that is well-drained with cooler morning sun instead of hot afternoon sun. Set the bulb close to the same depth it had in the pot. Form a mound of light soil or mulch soil around the plant to cover 2 to 3 inches of the flower stem, to keep the bulb steady as it grows new roots. Once growth begins, fertilize with a product such as Bulb Booster at the rate directed on the package.

If you are lucky enough to have more than one to plant, set each bulb 12 to 18 inches apart. This lily does not bloom outdoors at Easter time. Given time to settle down in the garden and gather strength through fertilizer, it will bloom in early summer, but not this year. It requires time to recover, but when it does, Easter lilies in the garden make a wonderful and meaningful sight, even if it is June.

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