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Easter brings a sweet flowering symbol of hope and rebirth

For more than a century, the lilium longiflorum, or Easter lily, has been associated with the most holy of Christian holidays in North America.

The lily’s role as a symbol of renewal and rebirth has made it a popular plant to give as gifts or used as home décor at Easter.

The lily has been used to represent purity in literature and art for thousands of years. The white, trumpet-shaped flower is even believed by some to have sprung up where Jesus’ tears and sweat fell during the crucifixion.

Originally brought to North America in the late 19th century from Bermuda, the lily we now see in churches, grocery stores and garden centers actually originated in Japan.

Easter lilies have a strong, sweet scent and are coaxed into blooming at this time of year for sale during the Holy Week, which can range from late March to mid-April.

The mature plant usually has a cluster of blooms, and buying a plant with only a few open blooms is best.

Whether bought for their beauty or received as a gift, you can extend the life of your lily by following a few recommendations from the University of Georgia’s extension office:

Easter lilies enjoy bright light and should be put near a window that receives indirect natural daylight. Avoid direct sunlight.

Don’t place Easter lilies near drafts, and avoid exposure to excess heat or dry air from appliances, fireplaces or heating vents.

Keep soil medium moist, but avoid over watering. Water the plant thoroughly when the soil surface feels dry. Be careful not to let the plant sit in trapped, standing water. Remove any decorative foil or wrapping.

Once flowers open and mature, remove the yellow anthers before the pollen starts to shed. This will extend the life of the flower and prevent the pollen from staining the white flowers. When a bloom begins to wither, cut it off to keep the plant looking attractive.

After the last flower has been cut away, the Easter lily can be planted in the garden after the danger of frost has passed.

Plant the bulbs 6 inches deep from the base of the bulb to the top. Plant them 4 to 6 inches apart. The hole should be wide enough so the roots can be easily spread out. Work the soil in around the roots, and water them immediately after planting.

Mulch with a 2-inch layer of compost, pine straw or shredded leaves. Mulching helps conserve moisture in between waterings, suppresses weed growth, keeps the soil cool and provides nutrients as it decays.

As the leaves and stems of the original plants begin to brown, cut them back just above a healthy leaf on the stem. Wait until the leaves and stems have turned brown before removing them. New growth will soon emerge, though secondary flowering is unlikely until the next season.

Easter lilies, which were forced to flower under controlled greenhouse conditions in March, will flower naturally in June or July the following and subsequent years and will reach a height of 3 feet or more.

In the fall, when the lily stalks have matured and turned yellow, you can cut them back to soil level. When they are completely dry, the stalks can be pulled out easily.

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