Growing Lily Of the Valley: When To Plant Lily Of The Valley

Around since at least 1000 B.C., lily of the valley plants are one of the most fragrant blooming plants in the spring and early summer throughout the northern temperate zone.

The stems are covered with tiny white, nodding bell-shaped flowers that have a sweet perfume and medium-bright green leaves that are lance-shaped, 4 to 8 inches (10-20 cm.) high and 3 to 5 inches (7.5-12.5 cm.) wide.

This moisture-loving plant forms a spreading mass with red seed pods remaining after flowering, which makes lily of the valley attractive after blooming and very carefree. Growing lily of the valley plants (Convallaria majalis) is easy, as they will remain perennial in USDA Zones 2-9.

Growing Lily of the Valley

This easy-care plant doesn’t require much to thrive. Preferring partial shade and moist soil, growing lily of the valley is easy if you know how and when to plant. That being said, these plants are adaptable and will grow very well in dry shade too. Lily of the valley can also be adapted to full sun or full shade, depending on the amount of moisture it receives.

When purchasing plants, look for the following cultivars:

  • Convallaria majalis ‘Albostriata’ – This type has dark leaves with white to cream longitudinal stripes.
  • ‘Aureomarginata’ – This variety has cream to yellow-edged leaves.
  • Rosea – A pink variety, not as vigorous as the white-flowered species but very pretty.
  • Convallaria majuscule ‘Greene’ – This North American native is great for naturalistic ground cover and provides a carpet of beauty between other native plants.

When to Plant Lily of the Valley

Knowing when to plant lily of the valley will help to ensure its survival in your garden. Planting lily of the valley should take place by late fall. Cool winter temperatures are required to allow a proper dormancy period.

The single underground rhizomes of this plant, which are known as “pips”, can be divided anytime after flowering. November or December would be the ideal time for division and planting lily of the valley. Care should be taken when planting as it is a poisonous plant, so keep it away from children and pets.

Try planting lily of the valley plants in a naturalistic garden. Planting lily of the valley in outdoor containers would also be a great way to control its spread and provide it with the moisture it enjoys.

No matter what method you choose for growing lily of the valley, you will find that lily of the valley care is easy and worth the rewards.

Gardening: Lily of the Valley

Richard Felber

Have you ever known someone dainty, attractive, and exceedingly charming, yet surprisingly determined? Many gardeners would describe the diminutive lily of the valley as just such a character.

With its deeply fragrant flowers — scallop-edge bells that dangle above bright emerald-green leaves — this nearly deer-proof shade lover appears to be delicate in an old-fashioned way. But the pretty plant is also an intrepid wanderer, spreading readily and rapidly, and anyone who gardens in a small space will want to watch this perennial to make sure it stays in bounds.

Convallaria majalis gets its botanical name from the Latin words for “valley” (vallis) — its natural habitat in Europe and parts of Asia, where it thrives in shady nooks — and “May-blooming” (majalis). Many nurseries list lily of the valley as restricted to full shade, but the plant (hardy in Zones 3 to 8) will tolerate bright shade and even some sun.

As a ground cover under tall trees or large woody shrubs, lily of the valley is hard to match for its long blooming period during the growing season. The tidy leaves can grow six to 10 inches tall, depending on the variety, and produce arching flowers that last several weeks, followed in fall by orange-red berries.

Give your rooted plantlets (called “pips”) good soil with even moisture and they will reward you by quickly covering a lot of ground, even in problematic areas around trees. The plants spread by aggressively extending their horizontal roots just under the soil’s surface and sprouting leaf-bearing stems every few inches, hence their reputation for assertiveness.

The plant’s heavenly scent, however, has proved much harder to replicate, at least for perfumers. To Calice Becker, executive perfumer for the Swiss fragrance company Givaudan, part of the scent’s appeal lies in its elusiveness outside nature. “Lily of the valley is one of those flower essences that perfumery is not able to extract,” she says.

The tiny flowers make the process too labor intensive and expensive. Fragrance companies instead produce sophisticated synthetic versions, usually labeled muguet, the plant’s French name. Gardeners, however, can content themselves with the real thing when lily of the valley flowers each spring.

Ellen Hornig, a former nursery owner who grows five varieties in Oswego, New York, has been cultivating lilies of the valley for 20 years and continually adds to her collection, even if the plants are a bit unruly. “Let’s face it; they aren’t polite,” she says.

Hornig suggests putting them next to vigorous woody shrubs and trees and keeping a close eye on them. The best way to control unbridled growth is to dig up any unwanted plants right after they finish blooming and give them to gardening friends — with fair warning.

One of Hornig’s favorites, ‘Fernwood’s Golden Slippers,’ has chartreuse foliage, which retains its bright yellow-green color throughout summer. Another variety, ‘Flore Pleno,’ is an older type admired for its large double flowers held high up, providing easier viewing. No wonder gardeners can’t resist letting the ambitious little species have the run of the place — within reason, of course.

Seven Wonders

1 . Convallaria majalis ‘Fernwood’s Golden Slippers’ emerges bright yellow-green and holds its color throughout summer.

2. ‘Hardwick Hall’ is a vigorous grower with chartreuse edges on the leaves.

3. The broad deep-green foliage of ‘Albomarginata’ is edged with a white line.

4. ‘Albostriata’ has white-streaked leaves and an open habit that shows off blooms.

5. ‘Rosea’ produces pink-tinged flowers.

6. ‘Flore Pleno’ is a robust grower with larger, double-bell flowers.

7. The straight species, or pure version, is among the taller varieties, growing up to 10 inches.

Tips and Sources

Good to Know

Having flower trouble? Over the years, a thick patch of lily of the valley may become congested with its own roots, which can compromise flowering. Rejuvenate your beds by taking out a third or so of the pips and adding some fresh soil and compost. The blossoms will return the following season.

Sources

  • Forest Farm
  • Klehm’s Song Sparrow
  • Odyssey Bulbs
  • White Flower Farm

Lily of the valley isn’t just a beautiful flower, it is also a symbol of spring and is shared at the beginning of May.

Lily-of-the-valley facts list

Name – Convallaria
Family – Asparagaceae
Type – herbaceous perennial

Height – 6 to 10 inches (15 to 25 cm)
Exposure – part sun, shade
Soil – rich, well drained and humus-rich

Planting – Fall
Flowering – April-May
Harvest – 1st of May!

Caring for this plant from planting to blooming is child’s play and truly brings smiles to our faces when it starts to bloom!

Planting lily of the valley

Lily of the valley can be planted in fall in areas with mild winters. But this will definitely not guarantee that you’ll have blooming right from the first spring…

You can also plant at the beginning of spring, towards March, after the last frost spells have ebbed away.

  • Plant the lily of the valley bunches, just barely burying the roots in such a way that the bud sticks out from the soil.
  • Lily of the valley doesn’t grow well if planted too deep.
  • Plant the lily of the valley in small clusters to produce a carpeting effect that is lovely.
  • An estimate of about 15 to 20 stems to a square yard (1 m²) is perfect.

If you’re planting your lily of the valley in shaded areas like forest underbrush, you’ll be happy to see it propagate and spread to cover bare space.

  • Lily of the valley requires rich and cool soil.
  • Growing under trees in a forest is where lily of the valley is happiest.
  • Provide compost if needed.

Planting lily of the valley in pots

If you’ve just purchased or received a little pot with cute lily of the valley, it is possible to transplant it to the ground after the blooming.

  • If your lily of the valley is happy where you’ve set it, it will propagate on its own like a ground-covering carpet over the years.

Caring for lily of the valley

Lily of the valley doesn’t call for much care. Perhaps just water in case of dry spell or strong heat wave.

  • Lily of the valley loves cool soil, remember that.
  • Water in the evening if the soil is dry.
  • Avoid watering the foliage too much, especially in times of high temperatures.

Learn more about lily of the valley

This perennial which is a symbol of spring has a very short blooming period, which makes it quite difficult for horticulturists in certain countries where tradition calls for it to be sold in full bloom on May 1st exactly.

They succeed in speeding or delaying the blooming by dealing the plant more or less light, so they’re generally able to match market expectations!

In a forest, which is its natural habitat, lily of the valley is a key marker of how old and untouched the forest is..

Why lily of the valley is sought after on the 1st of May

Why is the lily of the valley also a symbol of spring, celebrated at the beginning of May?

This is particularly true in France. Tradition says it draws back to the Renaissance, when Charles the IXth offered a stem of flowers to each of the ladies in the high court. This tradition spread throughout the kingdom.

Labor day, also celebrated on May 1st, arrived much later: it appeared in 1793 when French revolutionaries sought to replace older customs with events unrelated to the past. Since the giving of flowers was pursued, they were linked to the new event.

But the connection of lily of the valley to Labor day was lost until the recent 20th century.

The city of Nantes is when the tradition was recovered and selling lily of the valley in streets with no tax or permit was allowed specifically on that day.

Today, most of the European lily of the valley is produced in Nantes and the surrounding areas.

Smart tip about lily of the valley

Avoid full sun – lily of the valley loves cool soil and that is always available in shaded spots!

Growing Convallaria (Lily-of-the-Valley)

Latin Name Pronunciation: kon-va-lair’ee-uh

These charming and richly fragrant plants have many bell-shaped white flowers in late spring. They are hardy perennials and thrive in zones 3 through 7, but labor in the South. Easily grown, these small plants will take a couple of years to establish and may not flower the first year. Plants will keep spreading, so you may want to locate them in a contained area.

Planting Bareroot Plants: We ship dormant plants that are kept moist by shredded paper and plastic wrapping. Do not remove this packing material until you are ready to plant. If you must delay planting, the plants can remain in their original packing for 5-7 days. Keep them cool (but above freezing) and out of direct sun. Check for moisture and if dry, add water and pour off the excess. Once you are ready to plant, remove the packing material. Place each pip (the pointed bud that produces new leaves and flowering stalks) in the planting hole about 1 inch below soil level. Spread the roots out around the pip like the spokes of a wheel. After covering with soil, firm lightly and water thoroughly. Space pips about 6in apart.

Light/Watering: Lily-of-the-Valley relishes well-drained but moist soil and does best in partial shade. It will grow in the sun if soil moisture is consistent, but the foliage may not look its best.

Fertilizer/Soil and pH: These easy-going plants are not particular as to soil conditions, but grow best with a soil rich in humus that is slightly acidic. Feed lightly in spring, and mulch with compost or well-rotted manure in early fall.

Pests/Diseases: These plants are generally quite healthy and vigorous. Fungal leaf spotting may occur but is usually minor. Remove any affected foliage and destroy. Occasionally weevils will feed on the leaves, making small notches along the edges, but damage is usually insignificant.

Companions: A backdrop of deep green Ferns will showcase the snowy white flowers perfectly, while smaller blue- or green-leaved Hostas will provide contrast. Anemone pulsatilla, Anemone sylvestris, and the smaller varieties of Bleeding Hearts (Dicentra) and Columbines (Aquilegia) are lovely herbaceous counterpoints; a planting of Lily-of-the-Valley at the feet of a white-flowered shrub, such as Deutzia gracilis, provides a perfect echo.

Pruning: Leaves may become tattered and unattractive toward the end of the growing season; simply cut back to ground level. If left intact, the deciduous leaves turn a lovely golden hue in the fall, accompanied by colorful (but inedible) orange berries.

Dividing/Transplanting: Lily-of-the-Valley is easily divided when dormant in spring or fall. Simply dig up the small rhizomes (called pips), gently separate, and replant 4in apart; plants will fill in quite quickly. Water well after transplanting.

End-of-Season Care: Simply rake up fallen foliage and mulch lightly with well-rotted manure or compost. Water thoroughly if the season is dry.

Calendar of Care – Convallaria

Early Spring: Apply a light application of 10-10-10 fertilizer or side-dress with compost and organic amendments when new growth appears. Supplement nitrogen during periods of prolonged rain to counter natural leaching. Water well if it is unseasonably dry, as plants prefer an evenly moist soil. Divide or transplant if desired.

Mid-Spring: Mulch plants as soil warms to buffer soil moisture and temperature. Pluck the lovely flower stems and bring indoors to enjoy the inimitable fragrance.

Summer: If fungal leaf spotting is a bother simply cut affected foliage back to ground level. Water during dry periods.

Fall: Rake up fallen foliage and mulch lightly with compost or well-rotted manure. Plants may be divided or transplanted now; simply dig up clumps, gently separate rhizomes and replant. Water well.

Divide Lily of the Valley when Plants become Crowded for more Blooms next Season

By: R. Renée Bembry

Unlike lilies that point upward allowing admirers easy views of their stamen, lily of the valley lilies hang over and swing in the wind like free ringing bells. Botanically named convallaria majalis, lily of the valley is a perennial plant that grows from pips. Lily pips are small rootstocks that grow in upright positions. Gardeners must access the pips when they divide lily of the valley plants.

Lily of the valley white bell shaped flowers grow basally – meaning from bases of stems. The bell shaped flowers are scalloped, bloom in spring, shine with waxy appearances, and smell light and aromatic.

Lily of the valley plants reach heights of only six to ten inches and their basal leaves, despite their broadness, do not require a lot of growing space. Their small size makes lily of the valley great flowering plants to use as accents for taller growing plants such as camellias and rhododendrons. Lily of the valley plants make great ground cover in partially shaded areas and grow well in pots – including small pots.

Lily of the valley plants prefer rich humus filled soil (Humus soil contains animal and plant decay.) and average watering as long as they are not left to dry out. Gardeners can use peat moss, leaf mold, or ground bark to maintain moisture.

The best time to plant lily of the valley for gardeners living in zones 4-7 and in zones 14-20 is during months of November and December. Gardeners in zones 1-3 should plant pips or clumps in September or October.

Dividing lily of the valley eventually becomes necessary because bloom numbers decrease when rootstocks become too crowded. Since dividing lily of the valley requires digging their rootstocks from the ground, and no gardener wants to lose blossoms about to bloom or already in bloom, it is best to wait until blossoms and leaves fade before dividing the rootstocks.

Once flower and leaf fading occur, carefully cut into ground around lily of the valley roots. Allow gardening tool to reach six to eight inches into soil around rootstocks to prevent from cutting into plant bases. Lift soil and roots from ground and then, using a sharp gardening tool, divide roots by separating root balls or clumps into smaller pieces (pips).

No hard and fast rule exists that insist rootstock separation requires leaving a certain number of pips intact. Therefore, gardeners feel free to separate plants into as many pieces as they want for the number of pips present. In other words, separate rootstocks into single pip pieces, double pip pieces, or triple pip pieces, etcetera. Let areas in which pips are to be transplanted dictate the number of separations to make.

When planting lily of the valley in clumps, allow one to two feet of space between plantings. When planting single pips, however, space pips four to five inches apart. Planting depths should reach about one and a half inches below soil surface.

Treat divided lily of the valley as you would larger root balls as far as after planting care is concerned and look forward to admiring more blooms during the next lily of the valley blossoming season.

How to grow lily of the valley (Convallaria)

Convallaria is better known as lily of the valley. In late spring, Convallaria majalis bears instantly recognisable, arching stems of bell-shaped, white flowers that have a wonderful perfume.

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Lily of the valley is a low-growing, spreading perennial plant, and the dense clumps of lush, green foliage make good ground cover in shady spots. It’s a good choice for a woodland garden, shady border and for planting under shrubs, and it also makes a charming addition to a spring posy.

Take a look at our handy convallaria Grow Guide, below.

Where to grow lily of the valley

Lily of the valley ‘Hardwick Hall’

Grow Convallaria majalis in moist soil in full or partial shade.

Planting lily of the valley roots in pots

Newly planted lily of the valley will struggle to grow in cold, wet conditions. Plant into pots during March, then grow on under cover before planting out when the soil has warmed up. By mid-May you can plant them out into your borders.

Propagating lily of the valley

Divide clumps of lily of the valley in autumn and grow on new plants under cover over winter before planting out.

Lily of the valley: problem-solving

Lily of the valley plants are generally free from pests and diseases.

Lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis)

Lily of the valley thrives in the right location without too much interference. Scatter some leaf mould over plants in the autumn. Congested clumps will need dividing every few years.

Convallaria varieties to try

Convallaria majalis var. rosea Advertisement

  • ‘Hardwick Hall’ – a cultivar with deep green, lance-shaped foliage with irregular cream-white stripes around the leaf edge. The flowers are larger than those of the standard Convallaria majalis
  • ‘Albostriata’ – a variegated lily of the valley, with cream-striped leaves and cream-white flowers. Most variegated cultivars revert to plain leaves within a few years, but ‘Albostriata’ is less likely to do so. Plants don’t spread so easily, which means it’s a good choice for smaller gardens
  • Convallaria majalis var. rosea – an unusual pale pink variety
  • ‘Vic Pawlowski’s Gold’ – with cream-striped leaves and larger-than-average flowers

Lily of the Valley Garden Pips – 50 Plants

There are different sizes of lily of the valley pips; these are the ones for planting in the landscape. Choose a shady spot in the garden, along the foundation or on the side of the veranda where sun-loving plants protest. These will settle in the first spring with minimal care, bloom lightly the second spring and produce like crazy after that. Lily of the valley naturalizes to form a weed-choking carpet of 8″ tall plants that never need mowing, dividing or fussing. A big bunch of 50 pips.

Why Grow Lily of the Valley?

  • Fragrance that perfumers have relied on for centuries.
  • Bell-festooned stems are outstanding for spring bouquets, wedding work, flower girls bouquets and more
  • Grows and flowers well in light to moderate shade
  • Generally not bothered by nibblers like deer and rabbits

Lily of the valley garden pips are midsize; about 20% will flower the first spring they are planted. All will flower the second spring and beyond. These are investment pips, that grow, spread, flower and delight for years to come. No banker or interest rate calculator needed.

What is known is that young trees, and young branches that sprout from old stumps, seem to hold on to their leaves longer than mature trees do.

Why they hold on is a mystery, but there are at least two possibilities as to how they do it.

When fall comes, deciduous plants move all of the carbohydrates from their leaves back into their woody parts — trunk, branches and roots. A hard tissue called the abscission layer is then formed at the point where the leaf stalk meets the stem, effectively closing the door between leaf and plant, and causing the leaf to fall off. It may be that the abscission layer in oaks and beeches isn’t as thick as it is in other trees, and the leaves just hang on longer, hoping that the tree will hear them knocking and open up, or at least send out a warm sap toddy.

Another possibility is that the bundle of vascular tissue between the leaf stem and the twig is larger or stronger in these trees, and that it just takes more time and effort to break it.

Either way, these trees are always stubborn, always the last to let go of last year.

Missing Snow

Q. My father and I have noticed that trees in the park seem to melt the snow right around their trunks, baring the ground up to a foot or two away. This seems to happen even while the snow is fairly thick around everything else (even lamp posts and benches). My father has heard that there’s some enzymatic activity around tree roots that makes the soil above them just a teeny bit warmer. But if this is so, why wouldn’t the ring of melted snow be as wide as the tree’s root spread, which is surely on average larger than two feet?

A. Your father has the right idea, but the wrong plants.

Dr. Tom Whitlow, an associate professor of plant physiological ecology at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., said that there are some plants, jack-in-the-pulpit, for example, that release enough heat as part of their respiration process that they not only melt surrounding snow as they begin to grow in the early spring, they can actually feel warm to the touch.

But this respiration process is unusual, and is not shared by any trees that he knows of. Instead, he said, the melted snow you notice is probably due to a combination of the sun’s heat being absorbed and then radiated by the dark bark, and the run-off of water from snow melting on the branches. Mixing water with snow does more than just help melt the snow, it also makes the snow wetter, and wet snow is a better conductor of the radiated heat than is powdery, dry snow.

Next time you see a tree with a bare trunk, look around it and see if there is more snow melted on the south side than on the north. Since there is more sun from the south, the melted circle shouldn’t be symmetrical.

Address questions to Garden Q.& A., The New York Times, 229 West 43d Street, New York 10036, or by E-mail to [email protected] .com. Those of general interest will be published. Unpublished questions cannot be answered individually.

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