Lily of the Valley, native to the cool temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, is a resilient and adaptable plant that thrives in partial to full shade. With its delicate white bell-shaped flowers and enchanting fragrance, this perennial beauty adds a touch of elegance to any garden or indoor space.
Renowned for its dainty and bell-shaped flowers, Lily of the Valley is an ancient plant that has been cherished for centuries. It has long been associated with romance, purity, and the arrival of spring. In fact, it is a traditional flower often used in bridal bouquets.
One of the secrets to successfully growing Lily of the Valley lies in finding the perfect spot for them in your garden. These shade-loving gems thrive in areas with partial to full shade, making them a wonderful addition to woodland gardens or beneath the canopy of trees.
I’ve often found that they bring a touch of enchantment to those darker corners of the garden that can be challenging to fill. Lily of the Valley typically blooms in late spring, with the emergence of slender stems crowned by small, white flowers. These bell-shaped blossoms hang elegantly from the stems, creating a graceful and ethereal display.
To ensure the health and vitality of my Lily of the Valley, I recommend paying careful attention to their soil and moisture needs. They prefer moist, well-draining soil, so I personally make sure to keep the soil consistently moist, especially during dry spells.
Nurture them with care, and they will reward you with their delicate beauty, their intoxicating fragrance, and a touch of magic that only nature can provide
As a seasoned master gardener with a deep love for these delicate blooms, in this article, I’ll share my personal experiences and knowledge about nurturing these enchanting perennials so that you can get the most stunning plants every single time.
Botanical Name: Convallaria majalis
Common Name: Lily of the Valley, may lily, may bells, our lady’s tears, Mary’s tears
Plant Type: Herbaceous, perennial
Hardiness Zones: 3 – 8 (USDA)
Sun Exposure: Partial sun, shade
Soil Type: Well-draining soil
Soil pH: 5.0 – 7.0 (Acidic, neutral)
ValleyHeight: 6 – 12 inches tall
Bloom Time: Mid spring to early summer
Flower Color: White, pink
Native Area: Europe, Asia
Quick Guide: Planting, Growing & Caring for Lily of the Valley
- Lily of the Valley prefers consistently moist soil. Water the plant regularly, ensuring the soil does not dry out completely between waterings.
- Lily of the valley can adapt from partial sun to full shade. It can also adjust to the direct morning sun but needs protection from the harsh afternoon direct sun.
- This plant prefers mild conditions with average humidity levels, though the Lily of the valley can revive itself after withering away in warm temperatures.
- Unless you have poor soil, this plant does not need any fertilization.
- It’s important to note that Lily of the Valley can be aggressive in the garden, so it’s best to confine it to a specific area or use barriers to control its growth.
Lily of the Valley Care
Lily of the Valley, botanically known as Convallaria majalis, is a herbaceous perennial plant that belongs to the asparagus family. Its name ‘Convallaria’ comes from the Latin word ‘convalle,’ meaning ‘valley,’ indicating its natural habitat preference.
This plant grows naturally throughout the northern hemisphere in Asia, North America, and Europe. This highly scented herbaceous perennial typically grows in forested settings, woodland, and cooler temperature regions.
This means it thrives in shaded areas, making it an ideal choice for woodland gardens or beneath trees. It prefers partial to full shade and moist, well-draining soil. However, it can tolerate some morning sunlight if the soil remains consistently moist.
Over time, I’ve learned that Lily of the Valley is a naturally hardy ground cover that has the tendency to spread through its underground rhizomes, forming dense colonies. To prevent it from taking over my garden, I’ve found it necessary to divide the rhizomes.
In early fall or early spring, I carefully dig up the clumps, gently separating the rhizomes and replanting them in well-prepared soil. This process not only keeps the plants healthy but also allows me to share their beauty with fellow gardening enthusiasts.
But if you’re looking to grow it as a ground cover, I highly recommend you do! But if not, then it’s important to note that this plant has to be supervised to make sure it doesn’t escape its boundaries too. It’s invasive in many parts of the Midwest and Northeast.
Lily of the valley can adapt from partial sun to full shade. It can also adjust to the direct morning sun but needs protection from the harsh afternoon direct sun. Full shade is best if you live in a warmer place than this plant’s growing zones.
Avoid planting it in direct sunlight, as it can scorch the delicate foliage. A north-facing or east-facing location is often ideal.
This plant prefers well-drained, rich soil. But it can grow in different soil types, like clay soil. Lily of the valley thrives in an acidic to neutral pH but can tolerate slightly alkaline soils too.
Before planting, amend heavy clay or sandy soil with compost to improve its structure and fertility.
It prefers areas with adequate moisture retention but avoids waterlogged conditions. Consider planting it near a water source or in a location with good drainage.
Water thoroughly when the soil begins to dry out due to hot weather and/or lack of rainfall. Very dry soil will impede the Lily of the valley’s growth and flowering.
Temperature and Humidity
Temperatures between 60ºF-70ºF are the best for the Lily of the valley plants during the day, as it does not do well in dry, hot climates. And during the night, temperatures no cooler than 50ºF should keep your plant healthy.
This plant prefers mild conditions with average humidity levels, though the Lily of the valley can revive itself after withering away in warm temperatures. However, arid weather and hot temperatures will kill this plant without the possibility of revival.
Unless you have poor soil, this plant does not need any fertilization. During the active growing season in spring, you can add a slow-release granular fertilizer if your soil lacks nutrients.
There’s no need to prune of deadhead lily of the valley. You can simply allow the leaves to stay there and naturally decay. This will serve as a natural mulch for this stunning plant.
Like most garden plants, the lily of the valley does not require any type of protection against cold months like November and December. Although it would be a good idea to top dress your plant with compost during fall and the end of winter, this method provides all annual feeding necessary.
Types of Lily of the Valley
Besides the typical Lily of the Valley that can be easily found in gardens, there are different types of cultivars available. Here are some of my favorites:
- Convallaria majalis ‘Albostriata’: This is a stunning and distinctive variety that captivates with its unique foliage. This cultivar is known for its elegant, lance-shaped leaves adorned with beautiful cream-colored or yellowish-white variegation. The delicate stripes or streaks create a striking contrast against the deep green background, adding a touch of grace and charm to any garden or landscape.
- Convallaria majalis ‘Rosea’: This is a captivating variety that adds a touch of delicate color to the classic beauty of this beloved plant. ‘Rosea’ is renowned for its charming pink or rosy-hued flowers, which offer a delightful departure from the traditional white blossoms of the species.
- Convallaria majalis ‘Hardwick Hall’: This cultivar is named after the famous English garden, and is a strong clone with 9″ tall, and stunning leaves that are rimmed with a stunning golden border.
- Convallaria majalis ‘Fortin’s Giant’: As the name suggests, this cultivar produces remarkably larger flowers compared to its counterparts. Each bell-shaped blossom is a magnificent sight to behold, with a size that surpasses the average Lily of the Valley flowers.
- Convallaria majalis ‘Flore Pleno’: This variety is celebrated for its exquisite double flowers, a true spectacle to behold. Unlike the single blooms of the species, this cultivar graces us with charming clusters of densely packed, double-white blossoms.
How to Plant and Grow Lily of the Valley
How to Propagate Lily of the Valley
The most common and reliable method of propagating Lily of the Valley is through division. This process involves separating the rhizomes, which are the underground stems, to create new plants. The best time to divide Lily of the Valley is in early fall or early spring when the plants are dormant.
Here is how to propagate your Lily of the valley through root division:
- Dig up the clumps with a shovel
- Tug the roots apart with your hands to separate them into individual sections
- Replant the roots in a shady location 1/2 inch deep and around 6 inches apart
- Water thoroughly upon planting
- Water regularly until the new plants have acclimated and are well established.
How to Grow Lily of the Valley with Seeds
Growing from seed is uncommon since propagation through root division is so simple. It is difficult and time-consuming to grow lily of the valley from seed, but if you want to produce a unique named cultivar, it might be the best option to get your planting going.
If you end up considering growing lily of the valley with seeds, I recommend planting the seeds in late winter or early spring. Sow the seeds in seed flats or small containers, then cover them with a layer of compost and fine gravel. Maintain a slightly moist environment throughout the germination process.
Place the pots or trays in a cool location with indirect light, such as a north-facing windowsill. It may take several weeks or even months for the seeds to germinate. Patience is key during this stage, as Lily of the Valley seeds can have varying germination times.
Once the seedlings have developed a few true leaves, they can be carefully transplanted into individual pots or a prepared garden bed. Ensure the soil is well-draining and rich in organic matter. Provide partial shade to the young plants, gradually acclimating them to more sunlight over time.
Water the seedlings regularly, keeping the soil moist but not waterlogged. Mulching around the plants helps retain moisture and suppress weed growth. Monitor the seedlings for any signs of pests or diseases and take appropriate measures if needed.
Growing Lily of the Valley from seed requires patience and perseverance. It may take a couple of years for the seedlings to mature and start blooming. However, trust me, the reward of seeing these beautiful flowers emerge from seeds you nurtured is truly fulfilling.
How to Pot or Repot Lily of the Valley
Although lily of the valley is not typically grown in containers, it is a good example of a species that could become invasive if not contained in a container. Growing lily of the valley is simple when done in containers with adequate drainage and a standard potting mix. The containers may be made from any material.
If you are potting a Lily of the Valley plant for the first time, gently remove it from its nursery container, being mindful not to disturb the delicate roots. Place the plant in the center of the prepared pot, ensuring that the crown (where the stems emerge from the roots) is level with or slightly above the soil surface.
On the other hand, if you are repotting an established Lily of the Valley, carefully lift the plant from its current pot, taking care not to damage the roots.
Inspect the roots for any signs of overcrowding or rootbound conditions. If necessary, gently untangle and trim any congested or damaged roots to encourage healthy growth.
Once the plant is positioned in the new pot, fill in the gaps with the prepared potting mix. Gently firm the soil around the roots, ensuring there are no air pockets. Leave a small space (about half an inch) between the soil surface and the rim of the pot to allow for watering.
After potting or repotting, thoroughly water the plant until the excess water drains out from the bottom of the pot. This helps settle the soil around the roots and ensures proper hydration. After that, maintain regular watering to keep the soil consistently moist, but not waterlogged.
Common Pests and Plant Diseases for Lily of the Valley
Through my years of cultivating Lily of the Valley, I’ve come to appreciate their resilience and relatively low-maintenance nature. They are quite pest and disease resistant, though the occasional encounter with slugs and snails may require some attention.
Pests that may occasionally affect this flower include spider mites and aphids that can be treated with horticultural oil. And common diseases include various fungal leaf spots, anthracnose, and stem rot, none of which are severe. Affected plants can be easily removed and destroyed.
Nonetheless, these minor challenges are outweighed by the sheer pleasure of witnessing their timeless elegance gracing my garden year after year.
Lilly of the Valley Toxicity
The Lily of the Valley is considered one of the most toxic plants in the world. The ingestion of this plant can make humans, animals, and even some insects sick. From the stems to its leaves, to its roots and flowers, every part of the Lily of the Valley contains toxins, which are cardigan glycosides that can cause low blood pressure, abdominal pain, diarrhea, cardiac problems, and, in some cases, death.
This plant’s toxicity is mainly by ingestion, so touching it does not cause any harm. If you, your pets, or someone you know has ingested this plant, seek medical help and poison control immediately.
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Melissa Pino is a biologist, master gardener, and regular contributor for Planet Natural. Melissa's work focuses on promoting environmentally-friendly practices, helping people create healthy gardens and finding ways to achieve overall health and wellness.