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Winter Chill Hurts Easter Lily Crop, But Survivors Are Beauties

BRADENTON—It’s been a rough year for Florida-grown Easter lilies. Unseasonably cold weather earlier this year will cause some plants grown outside the warmth of a greenhouse — about 30 percent of the state’s crop — to bloom well after the April 7 holiday.

Flowers that survived this year’s worse-than-usual winter, however, should be an exceptional crop, a University of Florida plant geneticist predicts.

“It looks like the crop that is going to make it will be nice plants, standing two feet tall, the perfect height, and with a nice bud count,” said Gary Wilfret of UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. “The cold weather actually helps the bud count and we should see a minimum of five to six flowers on each plant.”

Easter lilies are timed to bloom at Easter, but too much cold can make them bloom late, Wilfret said. “It’s hard to sell them after Easter,” he said. “I understand that the Greek Orthodox Easter is celebrated later than the Christian celebrations, so there certainly will be some nice later lilies for the Greek churches.”

Wilfret, who studies Easter lilies at the UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center in Bradenton, says 15 major growers from Jacksonville to Miami supply mainly Florida consumers with the fragrant white plants.

In his greenhouse, awash this week in a white-flowering sea of 1,500 lilies, Wilfret studies the effect of growth regulators on the plants. The regulator is applied to keep them at the optimum height because the warmer Florida climate will spur them to grow tall, he said. He also evaluates different sources of Easter lily bulbs. The bulbs are grown in fields in Northern California and Southern Oregon and are dug up and shipped to growers around the country in October and November of each year.

Florida grew Easter lily bulbs in its rich muck soils until the mid-1960s, Wilfret said. UF/IFAS has studied the plants since the early 1950s.

What to do after your Easter lily has seen better days? Plant it in your garden, Wilfret suggests.

“Lilies will grow in Florida naturally,” he said. “They may not come up in time for Easter, but they will come up next year.”