The Traditional Easter Lily (and Eggs!)

San Antonio Express News
Sunday, April 20, 2003

By Diane Pfeil

Easter Lily Easter is here and thoughts turn toward hunting eggs, eating candy, beautiful Easter lilies and the true meaning of the day on a higher level. The traditional Easter décor includes not only cute furry animals, but also the beautiful Easter lily. For those who do not celebrate Easter, the lily is nonetheless a graceful plant to decorate one’s home or garden. If you celebrate Easter with the kiddies, there are eggs to prepare, dye and hide. If certain precautions are taken, the Easter egg hunt can be fun and safe. This week’s contribution from the Bexar County Extension Office will talk about Easter lilies and safely preparing those eggs for the hunt.

Lilium longiflorum, the Latin name for Easter lily, is native to the Ryuku Islands of southern Japan. The Easter Lily industry is an American success story. Commercial bulb production for lilies came to the United States in the late 1800s, and was centered in both Japan and the United States. The United States established a new center for bulb production in the northwest after World War II. Today, over 95% of all bulbs grown for the potted Easter lily market are produced in a small, isolated and serene coastal region straddling the California-Oregon border and consisting of just ten farms. Along these few miles lies a unique area where the ideal combination of climate, soil and man has developed a product of deep meaning, beauty and tradition in the Easter lily. The area offers a climate of year-round mild temperatures afforded by a protective bay. Known as the Easter Lily Capital, this pristine and beautiful corner of the world is accessible only by a narrow and winding coastal highway banked by magnificent Redwood forests overlooking the spectacular and scenic views of the Pacific Ocean.

Bulbs must be cultivated in the fields for three, and sometimes four years, before they are ready to be shipped to commercial greenhouse growers. Each bulb may be handled up to 40 times before it is ready to be shipped. From the fields, to the greenhouse, to your home, the Easter lily rises from scaly bulbs in the earth and blooms into majestic flowers that embody the beauty, grace and tranquility of the special region from which they originate.

To best care for your lily in the home, place the plant near a window that receives bright, indirect natural daylight. Avoid direct sunlight because Easter lilies prefer somewhat cooler temperatures. Ideally, the daytime temperature should be 60 to 65 °F with slightly cooler nights. Avoid exposure to excess heat or dry air from appliances, and avoid placing near drafts.

Keep the potting medium moist. Water thoroughly when the soil surface feels dry to the touch, but avoid over-watering. If the pot is wrapped in decorative foil, remove from the foil and allow water to seep from the drain holes.

To enjoy the plants for years to come, plant them outside in your garden. Cut the stems back to the soil surface as the original plants begin to die back. Easter lilies that were forced to flower under controlled greenhouse conditions in March or April will flower naturally in the summer and will reach a height of 3 feet or more. Once they have finished flowering and the last bloom has been cut away, prepare a well-drained garden bed in a sunny location amended with rich, organic matter such as compost. Plant the Easter lily bulb 3 inches below ground level, and mound another 3 inches of topsoil over the bulb. Plant bulbs at least 12 to 18 inches apart. The hole should be wide enough so the roots can be easily spread out. Spread the roots and work the soil in around the bulbs and the roots, leaving no air pockets. Be sure to water thoroughly. Good drainage is the key to success with lilies. Lilies like their “feet in the shade and their heads in the sun.” Mulch with a 2-inch layer of compost, shredded leaves or bark. This helps conserve moisture in between watering, suppresses weed growth, keeps the soil cool and provides nutrients as it decays. Continue to water thoroughly as needed, and add one teaspoon of slow-release fertilizer every six weeks.

Another planting idea would be to plant a low ground cover of shallow-rooted, complementary annuals or perennials. The sight of stately Easter lilies rising above a beautiful ground cover is not only aesthetically pleasing, but also a good gardening practice.

Easter EggsFrom Easter lilies, we go to preparing eggs for those enjoyable Easter egg hunts. Here are some valuable tips for those folks who plan on preparing eggs for the kids to hunt. If you take care, starting from the selection of eggs at the supermarket, you can be confident that your Easter egg hunt will be fun and occur without anyone getting sick. Inspect the eggs before purchasing them, making sure they are not dirty or cracked. Dangerous bacteria can easily enter an egg that is cracked. Store eggs in their original carton on a shelf in the refrigerator until ready to prepare. Dry and refrigerate hard-cooked eggs, or decorate immediately. Do not decorate cracked eggs.

Consider making your own colors from nature to dye your Easter eggs. Add about a teaspoon of vinegar to enough hot water in a pan so that the pre-cooked eggs are covered when immersed. Fresh beets, cranberries, or frozen raspberries will produce different shades of pinkish red to magenta red. Yellow onion skins, orange or lemon peels, carrot tops, celery seed, ground cumin, or peels of Yellow Delicious apples will produce yellow and orange colors. Spinach leaves can be used for green while the juice from blueberries or boiled, red cabbage makes a blue color. Coffee and tea will produce shades of beige to brown. The intensity of the shade will also depend upon the length of time the egg is submersed in the dye bath. Refrigerate the eggs in the natural dye bath overnight for a darker color. To personalize your egg, write names, holiday messages or designs with a wax crayon before coloring. Marking out patterns during repeated coloring will yield intricate designs.

Refrigerate your eggs until ready for the hunt. Do not hide eggs where they may come into contact with pets, wild animals, birds, reptiles, insects, or lawn chemicals. Gather the eggs as soon as possible after they are hidden, and inspect for cracks. Do not allow any eggs to remain hidden overnight. If an egg or two is found later, discard them and do not allow them to be eaten.

After the eggs are found, they can be stored in the refrigerator safely for up to one week. Eggs gathered at public events should not be eaten if they been out of refrigeration for more than two hours. A good idea is to plan on having potato salad with your Easter dinner. Prepare the potato salad ahead of time, mixing all of the ingredients except the eggs. Following the Easter egg hunt, all you will have to do is peel the eggs, chop and mix into the salad.

This article was contributed by Diane Pfeil, Horticulture Associate with Texas Cooperative Extension in Bexar County.

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