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.
How to Prune Lily-of-the-Valley
Lily of the valley, known botanically as Convallaria majalis, produces white or pale pink, bell-shaped blossoms in spring from an underground rhizome. Thriving in partial to complete shade and moist soil, lily of the valley rhizomes naturalize quickly to establish a deep green carpet of smooth leaves. They are widely grown in woodland gardens, in beds and borders and as ground cover in semi-shade settings. Lily of the valley is hardy in USDA zones 3 through 9 and require little maintenance or pruning.
Deadhead spent blooms after flowering to encourage the production of fresh bloom and to keep the plant looking tidy. Inspect your lily of the valley stand regularly and cut away any damaged, discolored or dying leaves down to ground level when you see them.
Dig up and divide lily of the valley rhizomes or pips in the spring or fall when their planting areas become congested or overcrowded. Pull the segmented pieces of rhizome apart and replant in the soil at intervals of 4 inches, 1 1/2 inches deep. Water in the divided rhizomes so that the soil is drenched but there is no standing water.
Harvest lily of the valley blooms and leaves in spring for household floral arrangements and gifts. Use clean, sharp secateurs or scissors to cut the foliage and stems clean down at the soil. Store in clean, cool water changed daily to prolong vase life.
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.
The Invaders: Lily of the Valley
(Editor’s note: This article was originally published on April 4, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)
There really is much reason to recommend Convallaria majalis as a groundcover for shady, woodsy areas. The flowers not only have a delightful scent, they are attractive little white or pink bells on short upright scapes. Of course, when it comes to scents, what is delightful for some is overpowering or cloying to others. If you are considering whether to plant lily of the valley, you should first make sure which group you belong to. But for those of us who enjoy it, nothing is more pleasant than a spring day with its fragrance on the breeze, or cutting a half-dozen stems to fill a tiny vase and perfume the house. It is also suitable for forcing in winter, like the equally-fragrant paperwhite narcissus.
Unfortunately, the flowers are not long-lasting and the bright orange fruits are too small to be significant in the garden. But the foliage remains standing as a groundcover throughout the year, each plant a small, upright cluster of dark green, lanceolate leaves, about six inches in height. Some cultivars, such as “Albostriata,” are available with variegated leaves, and double-flowered versions, e.g., “Prolificans,” have now been produced by breeders. An isolated lily of the valley plant is an insignificant object, but a single plant usually does not remain single for long. If it does not languish and die, it spreads. And spreads, and spreads. This, of course, is what makes Convallaria useful as a groundcover. But the experienced gardener knows that “makes a good groundcover” in the plant catalog is really a euphemism for “invasive as Genghis Khan.” Once established under favorable conditions, the spread of lily of the valley is close to unstoppable.
Like many other invasive groundcovers, Convallaria propagates itself vegetatively from underground rhizomes. While it does produce seeds, the cross between daughter plants descended from a single parent seems to be sterile, and it spreads so vigorously that an entire bed might be daughters of the same original parent. The rhizomes are thin and twisty, root-like rather than fleshy, and they spread out horizontally in all directions, pausing every few inches to throw up a new plant. These pips, as they are called, are easily separated to transplant in new locations. They are best planted as early as possible in the spring.
Lily of the valley prefers a cool, moist, shaded area with a soil containing organic matter. Its ability to thrive in the shade is one reason for its popularity as a groundcover, although it may not flower in extremely dense shade. It does not like a situation that is too sunny or too hot or dry, although it is more able to tolerate these conditions later in the summer than in the spring. These factors mean that it is less likely to thrive in the warmer, drier zones, where the leaves may turn brown and die back in midsummer. In cooler zones, lily of the valley usually doesn’t go dormant until the frost season, only to emerge again in early spring, usually several feet beyond where it used to reach.
Lily of the valley is not generally bothered by insect pests, perhaps because all parts of the plant are toxic. Neither is it very susceptible to most diseases. With regard to control, it is susceptible to herbicides, but this carries the usual risks and drawbacks of herbicide use. In addition to which, the nature of its invasiveness, by sneaking underground in all directions, often causes it to emerge unwanted among other, more desirable perennial plants that would likely be harmed by any herbicide application.
Thus the best, most practical method of eradication in such situations is to dig invader out by the roots. In loose soil, you may be able to rip out two or three emergent pips with a single pull. If they are not removed entirely, however, every root of them, it is likely that they will return. And in many cases, it is not possible to extricate the invasive rhizomes from the other plants without damage. Once the lily of the valley is growing up between the roots of the hostas, it may be to late to entirely eliminate it.
It is still possible to slow the spread, however, by pulling out every visible plant above the ground – making sure the plants have opened far enough that you can tell the lily of the valley from the unfurled hosta! If it happens to invade the lawn, mowing will also have the same effect.
Even better is keeping the problem from arising in the first place. If you plant Convallaria as a groundcover, make sure it is not in any position where it can invade nearby beds. Be prepared to have yards and yards of it covering the ground. Also be aware that attempts to contain it may not be successful. I have tried in the past to restrain its spread by installing deep edging as a barrier, but the rhizomes tunneled underneath to escape with vexing ease. Another method is to use a sharp-edged shovel around the boundary of the planting to sever the rhizomes, but all too often, they have already made their break for the freedom beyond.
Above all, be very wary of the thought that a nice, tidy little clump of lily of the valley would be a good addition to your perennial woodland garden. In that tidy little clump is the beginning of a ruthless invasion.
Images courtesy of Plantfiles
Delicate, pendant flowers of Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis) line up along gracefully arching stems in mid-spring. The white or pink blooms are small and waxy, with a cherished fragrance that is irresistible; if you pull up gently on the stems, you will have lovely, long flower spikes to enjoy in a vase, preferably at nose level.
Easily grown, these small plants will take a couple of years to establish and may not flower the first year. But their creeping rhizomes will soon spread rapidly, making an ideal ground cover even under large trees. These hardy perennials thrive in zones 3 through 7, but labor in the South. Plants will keep spreading, so you may want to locate them in a contained area.
Light: Plant in a mostly shaded to partially shaded area (morning sun only).
Water: The plants like moist soil . Water plants in dry weather.
Soil: Grow it in a well-drained, loamy soil enriched with humus.
Fertilizer: Like any plant, they will grow better if fertilized. Do so in early spring, and again after the blooms have died off.
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.
Photo via spazioinwind.libero.it
Lily of the Valley can be propagated from seed or their rhizomes. Seeds can take months to germinate. So, most people propagate them using the rhizomes. Dig up rhizomes of established plants in the Fall, and separate into clumps for re-planting.
Pests and 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.
Despite its temperamental reputation, Lily of the Valley is easy to grow if you buy it ready potted in spring. Dried crowns take ages to get going and do not always survive and it may also prove difficult to establish chunks supplied by friends. In both cases, pot up the crowns separately in loam-based compost, water well and allow them to establish for a year before planting out. (You can do the same in midwinter, forcing the crowns for an early show indoors.) At planting time, work in some humus, good garden compost or, even better, leafmould. Spread out any underground stems and cover with just a couple of inches of the planting mixture. Mulch well with leafmould. If you find that flowering is poor, an occasional dose of high-potash organic liquid feed may help.
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