By Dr. Bill Barrick, Executive Director
The Easter lily, Lilium longiflorum, is synonymous with Easter. Easter lilies are native to Japan and for years, bulbs were imported from Japan for commercial production in the States. But World War II changed all of that. Today 95% of the bulbs forced for Easter are produced in coastal areas in northern California and southern Oregon. Millions of bulbs are produced annually by commercial bulb growers for forcing in the United States and Canada. We typically grow about 1,000 pots for our spring displays.
It take two to four years to produce bulbs large enough for forcing. Bulbs are harvested from the fields in late September and October. After harvesting, the vernalization (cold treatment) process begins. Generally 110 to 120 days of cooling are required before shipping to commercial growers and organizations like Bellingrath. Our bulbs are pre-chilled in moist peat moss and are shipped to us in crates. This Easter’s bulbs were shipped to us on December 3, 2014, and were potted up in a commercial soil mix. The growing process began on December 13, 2014 in a heated greenhouse.
Getting Easter lilies to bloom on Easter can be challenging as the date of Easter changes from year to year and growers have to adjust their productioncycle to meet each year’s specific date. Elaborate leaf counting and flower bud progression techniques are developed each year for the grower to determine if his crop will be on schedule. Adjusting the temperature in the greenhouses is the primary way a grower can alter the production schedule. Each year, Chuck Owens and his production staff have never failed to have lilies in bloom for Easter.
Once your Easter lily has finished blooming, there is no need to discard your plant since they can be planted in your garden for years of continuous bloom. In the last several years, we have been replanting many of the lilies used in our spring displays in the Gazebo garden. Replanted bulbs will bloom much later typically in May or June. Many of our superior new garden varieties of lily have been hybridized using Lilium longiflorum as one of the parents.