Pots filled with bulbs for Easter color

Pots filled with bulbs for Easter color


Easter lilies are a staple of spring. Courtesy of Dawn Pettinelli

Florists, garden centers and retail stores are bursting with pastel-hued, foil-wrapped pots of spring flowering bulbs just in time to celebrate religious observances, to give as cheerful gifts or just to welcome the warmer spring weather. A favorite of many, including myself, are the heavenly scented, white, trumpet-shaped blooms of the Easter lily.

Even as a small girl, I remember them blooming amid the roses in my grandmother’s garden. Every Easter my grandfather would buy one for her and after the flowers faded, it was planted in the garden. While individual plants do not always make it through the winter, her cluster of a dozen or so stately plants held court in its allotted garden space flanked by “Peace” roses and “Festiva Maxima” peony.

Whether you receive an Easter lily as a gift or purchased one to decorate your home, if cared for properly its blossoms may endure for three weeks or so. Just about all flowering bulbs hold their blooms longer in cooler temperatures so set you plant in a bright spot where the temperature is somewhere around 60 to 65 degrees fahrenheit.

Some advocate removing the yellow anthers when the flower is fully open to prolong bloom time but also to keep the pollen from falling on furniture or carpets. While the foil or plastic cover surrounding the pot makes for a more visually pleasing container, if left in place it is difficult to tell if the plant has been over-watered and is sitting in excess water. Either remove the covering or if you insist on keeping it then make a bunch of holes in the bottom and put a saucer under the plant. Like almost all bulbs, Easter lilies will not tolerate being left in soggy soils. The bulbs will rot.

While indoors, plants should be kept moderately moist. Cut off the flowers as they fade. If plants will be set outside, give them some houseplant fertilizer to keep the foliage healthy. The plants can be planted outdoors in a sunny, well-drained site after the danger of frost has passed which is usually around the mid-May.

Gently remove the bulb from the pot and loosen the roots before planting. Dig a hole deep enough so that the bottom of the bulb is about 6 inches below the soil surface. A little bone meal or Bulb Booster can be mixed into the bottom of the hole. Water well after planting and throughout the summer if rain is lacking.

Often the original stalk will turn yellow and die. This is normal. Cut it back to an inch or so above ground. Typically 2 or 3 new shoots will emerge and if plants are receiving enough water and nutrients, they may rebloom in late summer. After this first year, blossoms will likely appear in June or early July.

Plants grow 2 to 3 feet tall and flowers can last for 3 or 4 weeks. Like all true lilies, the Easter lily is attractive to that red lily leaf beetle. It can be quite damaging but because of its bright red color, it is fairly easy to handpick but one must be persistent. Call the horticulturists at the UConn Home & Garden Education Center for more control options.

A number of other forced bulbs are sold at this time of year including tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and sometimes, minor bulbs such as crocuses and others. Most of these potted bulbs can be planted in the garden after enjoying their flowers in the house. One exception is tulips. While daffodils and hyacinths will slowly increase in numbers and flowers after planting outdoors, tulips dwindle in size and blossoms. This holds true for many tulip bulbs, even those that are planted in the fall for spring blooms, and is dependent on the species of tulip being grown as well as growing conditions. In their native environments, summers are drier than our garden beds usually are and the bulbs can enter a dormancy. Our moister conditions tend to trigger the bulbs to divide into smaller ones that produce a leaf or two but no blossoms.

Daffodils and hyacinths can be planted similarly to Easter lilies. They too need a sunny site and well-drained soil. However, once watered to set them in, they do not require regular waterings throughout the summer as they do enter a more dormant phase. Let the leaves turn yellow before cutting them off. These bulbs will bloom again next spring.

Enjoy the cheerful colors and scents of these seasonally forced bulbs. Add them to garden beds when possible for future years of lovely blossoms. If you have questions on caring for potted bulbs or on other horticultural topics, feel free to contact us, toll-free, at the UConn Home & Garden Education Center at (877) 486-6271, visit our website at www.ladybug.uconn.edu or contact your local Cooperative Extension center.

Dawn Pettinelli works for the UConn Home & Garden Education Center.

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