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Norman Bezona Prof emeritus University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture

Norman Bezona
Prof emeritus
University of Hawaii
College of Tropical Agriculture

Easter is about new life and resurrection. 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 1 soldier Louis Houghton brought what was then called the Bermuda Lily to Southern 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.

The Common Easter Lily

The Common Easter Lily

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 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 2 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.

Angel trumpet trees flower now and throughout the year to remind us of Easter all year. Photo: Voltaire Moise

Angel trumpet trees flower now and throughout the year to remind us of Easter all year. Photo: Voltaire Moise

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 to 45 degrees F. 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 guaranteed success in bulb growing, try some of the easier types like amaryllis. These bulbs must have a little lime or crushed coral in the soil in which they are grown. They do well in either ground or pots.

Very few bulbs can stand deep shade. Most require plenty of sun to induce flowering. They will grow but seldom flower when planted in shade. An exception to this would be Calla lilies and Clivia.

Another thing to keep in mind is that no fertilizer should be placed directly under the bulb. Mix the fertilizer in the hole. Then place a layer of topsoil over this before setting the bulb.


Crinum – Another easy to grow and rewarding addition to any garden.

Crinum lilies require extensive space. They are used in tropical landscaping. The original Crinum, known as the milk and wine lily, has flowers that look like spiders.

Others are Crinum kenthianum, C. campanulatum and C. zeylanicum. The species that have pure white flowers are C. asiaticum and C. moorei, and C. giganteum, which produces large, white tuplip-shaped flowers. This is a variety that likes shade. A hybrid of C. giganteum known as Christopher lily also has tulip-shaped white flowers.

Among Crinum hybrids that bear flowers the shape of Easter lilies are: Crinum Cecil Houdyshel, pink; C. Ellen Bosanquet, wine-colored; C. Louis Bosanquet, light pink and white blooms; and C. Powelli variety album, which, as the name implies, is white.

Most Crinums grow into immense bulbs and generally do not flower until the bulb is quite large. So if you have small bulbs, do not become discouraged if they do not bloom. As they grow larger, the bulbs seem to push down into the ground rather than up out of the soil, so that some are quite deep.

Another very popular member of the Amaryllis family is the Eucharis lily, known as Amazon lily, since it is native to the Amazon River valley. These bulbs have flowers that look very much like paper white narcissus at first glance. But when you examine closely, you will find the structure is different.

The easy to grow 'Angel Trumpet' or Brugmansia which comes in many colors.

The easy to grow ‘Angel Trumpet’ or Brugmansia which comes in many colors.

Although Eucharis lilies can be planted in a cool location in open ground, it is customary to plant them in pots. Six or eight bulbs to the pot that is just a little larger than the space required to plant them, would be right. They seem to want to be pot bound before they will bloom. Other bulb types you might try are Agapanthus, Caladium, Calla, Canna and Dahlia, just to mention a few.

In the tropics, some folks like to use the fragrant Angel Trumpet Tree for all year around trumpets. They may be grown in pots or as a small tree in the garden. The trees grow easily from cuttings and come in white, yellow, orange, rose and even purple. However, don’t eat leaves or stems since they are poisonous and you might end up in Heaven sooner than expected!