With its tiny, bell-shaped blooms and alluring aroma, lily of the valley is one of our favorite perennial spring flowers. In addition to being May's birth flower, lily of the valley can symbolize humility, youth, rebirth, and discretion when arranged in a bouquet or given as a gift.
This easy-growing, low-maintenance plant will come back year after year and makes an excellent ground cover. Here's everything to know about growing lily of the valley in your garden.
- Botanical Name: Lily of the valley, May lily, May bells
- Common Name: Convallaria majalis
- Plant Type: Herbaceous perennial
- Mature Size: Six to 12 inches tall and nine to 12 inches wide
- Sun Exposure: Part shade
- Soil Type: Moist, well-drained soil
- Soil pH: 5.0 to 7.0
- Toxicity: Toxic to animals and people
Lily of the valley can be purchased as potted plants or as bare-root plants, and the type you purchase dictates when to plant.
- Potted lily of the valley plants can be planted in the ground any time during the growing season and should bloom again the following spring.
- Bare-root lily of the valley plants, called pips, should be planted in spring once the danger of frost has passed. Bare-root plants are typically more affordable, but they take two years to bloom after planting.
Before planting lily of the valley, soak the roots in water for an hour or so if they are dry. Loosen the soil down to about a foot below the surface, then dig a hole deep enough so that the spot where the roots and stem meet will hit just below the soil line. Amend the soil with organic compost to add fertility.
Place the plant in the hole, cover the roots with soil, and water well. Water the plant weekly for the first few months after planting if it doesn't rain. After flowers fade in late spring, the plant provides attractive green foliage through the growing season. Add more compost to the bed in fall to support strong growth next year.
Best Growing Conditions for Lily of the Valley
Because lily of the valley will take over if unchecked, it's best to grow it as ground cover rather than in an ornamental or perennial garden. The plant spreads through stolons (aboveground stems) and through rhizomes underground, so choose a shady spot where it will have plenty of space to spread out and keep your garden looking lush all season long.
Lily of the valley is cold-hardy in zones 3 through 9. It grows best in a spot with partial shade and moist, well-drained soil, but it's quite hardy in a variety of growing conditions once established.
Types of Lily of the Valley
Lily of the valley plants typically bear white flowers, but they are also available in pink or pale purple. Certain varieties like 'Fortin's Giant' grow as large as 18 inches tall, while others, like 'Albostriata,' offer green leaves marked with attractive yellow stripes.
How to Propagate Lily of the Valley
Lily of the valley is simple to propagate by division in early fall. Dividing a crowded bed can also support healthy plants and promote stronger blooms the following spring. Here's how to propagate lily of the valley plants.
What You'll Need
- Healthy, mature lily of the valley plants
- Gardening gloves (optional)
- Carefully dig around and beneath dormant lily of the valley plants with your trowel. Use it to lift up the pips, or rhizomes, out of the soil.
- Using your fingers, gently separate the pips into individual plants.
- Replant pips in the new planting site as you would with bare-root plants, placing each pip four inches apart.
- Water the transplanted pips well. In spring, the plants should begin to spread and fill in.
Common Problems With Lily of the Valley
Lily of the valley has a reputation as a hardy plant, but it can fall prey to some diseases, which are typically caused by soggy soil. Prevent these issues by choosing a planting site with well-drained soil.
It's also important to note that lily of the valley is highly toxic to all animals if ingested, including humans. Keep dogs, cats, and children away from lily of the valley plants.
How to Get Lily of the Valley to Bloom
Chewing around the edges of plants may be caused by the black vine weevil. Insects can be picked off in spring, or you can apply organic pesticide after they lay eggs in late spring.
A healthy lily of the valley plant should grow tiny, delicate, bell-shaped flowers in mid to late spring, but some issues can interfere with blooming. If the soil is particularly dry in the spring, blooms may be impacted. Be sure to water lily of the valley deeply each week in the spring if there is no rain.
Since lily of the valley spreads so aggressively, beds can become overcrowded over time. If plants seem crowded and blooming is delayed, thin plants in fall to give them more space next season. Finally, if your lily of the valley plants have been planted relatively recently, they may take a season or two to get established and bloom to their full potential.
Is Lily of the Valley easy to care for?
Yes. Once planted, lily of the valley requires little maintenance and reblooms every year.
How fast does Lily of the Valley grow?
Potted lily of the valley flowers planted in spring will bloom the following year. Bare-root lily of the valley plants take two years to bloom after planting.
Can Lily of the Valley grow indoors?
Yes, lily of the valley can be planted in containers and kept as a houseplant indoors.