Your Guide to Caring for an Easter Lily

Updated: Nov. 08, 2023

Keep your Easter lily looking beautiful for the holiday season and beyond with this how-to guide.

As reliably as spring, the Easter lily (Lilium longiflorum) arrives in stores just in time for the holiday whose name it bears. For gifting or keeping, the white blooms are irresistible as winter recedes. The flowers can also be incredibly long-lasting, even inside. And like beautiful poinsettias for sale in December, with proper care, Easter lilies can reappear year after year.

The Easter lily that appears in pots originated from islands in southern Japan. Although Bermuda was once a production center for the United States, an area along the California-Oregon border now supplies most of the country with these holiday bulbs.

References to the Easter lily appear in the Bible, making it a perfect fit for the holiday. Although lilies come in multiple colors, it’s the beautiful white bloom of the Easter Lily which symbolizes purity, hope and rebirth. In pagan times, the plant celebrated fertility and was gifted to new moms. As rewarding as these flowers can be, they do come with a warning for cat owners: lilies (and poinsettias for that matter) are on the list of poisonous plants for felines.

Easter Lily Care

Lilies would not ordinarily bloom en masse around Easter, but growers have mastered the art of forcing the bulbs to perform in spring by manipulating their growing conditions. At home, the correct watering schedule, light and temperature can ensure a longer bloom and overall healthier life. Success starts at the store by picking a healthy lily. Look for plants with full foliage throughout the stem. Leaves should be unspotted and unwilted. Multiple buds in many stages of development means a longer time to enjoy flowers.

Pick the correct location

Easter lilies love light, but potted lilies indoors are particularly sensitive to heat. Treat them like some favorite orchids by placing them in bright, indirect sunlight. Avoid direct sources of heat like radiators and any drafts from vents. As spring bloomers, they prefer daytime temperatures in the low to mid-sixties and slightly cooler temps at night.

How to water an Easter lily

If the plant is wrapped in something protective like foil, either remove it or make holes for drainage. The bulb does not like to sit in water or its roots can rot. Let the top of the soil dry before watering, but do not let the pot dry completely. Easter lilies prefer more even moisture. Water around the base of the plant until water comes through the bottom, and let it drain thoroughly.

Plant maintenance

As flowers bloom and fade, it helps to remove them. Pinch or cut them off right beneath the flower head and the plant will focus its energy on the other buds. Although not required, the orange anthers at the end of the stamen can be slipped off to prevent them from falling and marking tabletops and linens.

Care after blooming

The best way to save the bulb for the future is to prepare it for planting outside. Remove all of the dead flowers and keep the lily in a bright spot indoors. Continue its regular watering. It can be fertilized every two weeks with a half dose of liquid fertilizer.

Planting outside

A forced Easter lily won’t do well in the cold, so plant it only after all danger of frost has disappeared. The frost date is determined by region, or zone. Easter lilies are hardy for outdoors in zones 5-9 and can exceed these. Dig a hole in a bright, well draining spot. Some shade in the afternoon can work. Untangle roots that are bound too tightly and plant so the top is level to the ground soil. Backfill and cover the base of the plant with mulch to deter weeds and protect the roots in winter.

As the season progresses, the original stem and leaves will die back and can be cut. New shoots may even emerge after the foliage dies back. The bulb should flower again in subsequent years but not likely at Easter. Be prepared for a much taller 3 foot plant outdoors.

Lilium longiflorum bulbs need a good chilling for at least 6 weeks to prepare for the next year blooms. In some warmer zones, that means digging up the bulbs or even keeping them in their original containers and creating an artificial cold spell between 40 and 45°F.

If trying to keep them in a container for indoor use, follow the above guidelines for care after blooming. As the foliage fades, let the plant go dormant, but keep it lightly watered. Remove foliage when it is completely brown. Chill the pot outside or in a cool cellar before bringing it out into the light and watering.

Types of Easter Lilies

White Madonna Lily. Lilium Candidum flower on blue background. Easter Lily flowers greeting card with copy space. Valentines day. Mothers day. Liliaceae. White Lilium Longiflorum with dewdropsMariia Romanyk/Getty Images

“Nellie White” is just one variety of Easter lily. There are others with some variations of cold and heat hardiness as well as color that may be a better fit for garden planting.

  • “White heaven” has fragrant trumpet shaped flowers, a yellow center and a reputation for cold hardiness.
  • “White elegance” offers some tolerance for heat and humidity.
  • “White American” is another trumpet lily with a little green on the petal tips.

Just like when buying hydrangeas and succulents, whether for seasonal indoor decor or for outside, check the planting guidelines for light requirements, watering suggestions and preferred growing zones to care for an Easter lily. The right growing conditions make all the difference for a longer, more beautiful life.