Selection and Care of the Easter Lily

A popular symbol of Easter is the trumpet-shaped, white, fragrant flowers of the Easter lily (Lilium longiflorum).  Plants are available from flower shops, greenhouses, and other retail outlets. 

Selection  |  Care  |  Planting Outdoors  |  History  |  Toxicity  |  More Information

Easter Lily in Pot photo by JLauer/AdobeStock
When selecting Easter lilies from the store, buy those with blooms just beginning to open and several unopened buds.  Photo by JLauer/AdobeStock


Select a compact (short) plant with dark green leaves, 1 or 2 open flowers, and several unopened buds of different sizes.  These plants should bloom for 2 to 3 weeks in the home if given good care.

Care in the Home

In the home, Easter lilies prefer daytime temperatures of 65 to 70°F with slightly cooler night temperatures.  Avoid drafty locations.  Place the Easter lily in bright light, but out of direct sunlight. 

Water the Easter lily when the soil surface becomes dry to the touch.  The pots of Easter lilies are usually placed inside molded, decorative pot covers.  Carefully remove the Easter lily from the pot covering.  Place the plant in the kitchen sink.  Water the plant thoroughly.  Continue to apply water until water flows out the bottom of the pot.  Let the potting soil drain for a few minutes, then carefully drop the plant back into the molded pot cover. 

As the flowers open, remove the yellow anthers before the pollen starts to shed.  Removal of the anthers prolongs the flower's life and prevents the pollen from staining the white petals or table linens. 

Remove the flowers as they wither.  After flowering, the Easter lily can be discarded or saved and planted outdoors in the perennial garden. 

Planting Outdoors

Individuals wishing to save their Easter lily should place the plant in a sunny window after flowering. Remove the spent blossoms, but retain the leaves. Continue to water the plant when needed.  Fertilize once or twice a month with a dilute fertilizer solution.  Plant the Easter lily outdoors when the danger of frost is past. 

Harden or acclimate the Easter lily to the outdoors prior to planting.  Initially place the Easter lily in a shady, protected area for 2 or 3 days, then gradually expose it to longer periods of direct sun.  The Easter lily should be properly hardened in 6 or 7 days. 

Easter lily outdoors photo by eqroy/AdobeStock
Easter lilies planted outdoors will bloom in July.  Photo by eqroy/AdobeStock

Easter lilies require a well-drained, full-sun location.  Greenhouse growers use growth regulators and growing techniques to keep plants short.  In the garden, the plants will grow much taller often reaching 2 to 3 feet in height.  In the landscape, Easter lilies look best in small groupings or clusters of plants.  When possible, plant several bulbs in a cluster spaced 12 to 18 inches apart. 

When planting, place the bulb about 6 inches deep.  Often, the planting hole will be deeper than the height of the root ball to get the bulb at the correct depth. The original plant will die back within a few weeks of bloom.  At this time it should be cut back to the soil surface.  New growth will emerge by summer. 

After the initial planting, lucky gardeners may be rewarded with a second bloom in late summer.  Often, the bulb will stay dormant and emerge next year to bloom.  In the landscape, flowers can be expected to open in July in Iowa.  

Easter lilies are not reliably cold hardy in all of Iowa. Most cultivars are hardy from USDA Hardiness Zones 5 to 11 (although some may only be hardy to Zone 7).  However, they may survive and bloom in the garden for several years, especially if heavily mulched in the fall.  Several inches of straw placed in mid to late November should provide adequate protection.  Remove the mulch in the spring (mid-to-late March).


Easter lilies are forced to bloom for the Easter holiday, which is weeks, sometimes months, before its natural bloom period.  Since Easter is celebrated on a different day each year (the first Sunday following the first full moon after the first day of spring which may be anywhere between March 22 and April 25), it takes a lot of planning to get them in bloom at the right time.

The species is native to a few small islands in southern Japan.  Despite its small native range, it has been cultivated for many years and grown around the world often as a cut flower.  The plant was introduced to England in the early 1800s, and commercial production increased rapidly after that.  For the latter part of the 19th century and early part of the 20th century, Bermuda, then Japan, was a major supplier of bulbs. However, after World War II, production for U.S. markets moved to the Pacific coast of southern Oregon and Northern California, where most bulbs for U.S. commercial production are grown today.

The most common cultivar used for forcing is 'Nellie White'.  Other varieties include 'America,' 'White Elegance,' 'White Heaven,' and 'White Glory.'  All are selections with pure white blooms and vary slightly in height and the typical number of blooms per stem.  Cultivars with pink flowers, such as 'Triumphator' and 'Elegant Lady,' are also available. Many pink forms are interspecific hybrids, often between Lilium longiflorum and Oriental types.  

Easter Lily photo by eqroy/AdobeStock
Photo by eqroy/AdobeStock


Easter lily, along with many other species in the Lilium genus, are toxic to cats.  If any part of the plant is ingested by a cat, it can lead to kidney failure.  Keep plants out of reach of pets and contact your veterinarian immediately if you suspect a cat has ingested an Easter lily.

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Last reviewed:
March 2024