Lily of the Valley is a flowering woodland plant that grows easily in shaded, moist conditions. It features dainty-looking white flowers that are bell-shaped and emit a very strong sweet scent. The flowers bloom in spring and develop into vibrant red berries in the fall, while the lance-shaped bright green foliage provides color for most of the year, making this plant visually interesting in every season. The plant grows easily in the right conditions, and over time, forms a spreading mass that makes for good ground cover.
Despite its delicate and innocent look, however, this plant is highly toxic. Great care should be taken when handling the plant to ensure you don’t inadvertently ingest any, and it would be best to avoid keeping this plant in your garden if you have pets or children who might investigate the plant by nibbling on it.
Lily Of The Valley Overview
|Origin||Asia and Europe|
|Scientific Name||Convallaria majalis|
|Type||Flowering perennial woodland plant|
|Common Names||Lily of the Valley, May Lily, Mary’s Tears, May Bells, Mayflower, Lady’s Tears|
|Height||Up to 12 inches|
|Toxicity||Highly poisonous if ingested|
|Light||Partial to full shade|
|Watering||Moist but well-draining soil|
Convallaria majalis ‘Albostriata’
This variety of Lily of the Valley features foliage in a dark green shade. The lanced leaves also have creamy yellow slender stripes running the length of the foliage. This variety doesn’t spread as keenly as other varieties, making it a good option for container gardens or smaller flower beds. While most varieties of Lily of the Valley that feature variegated leaves revert to solid green leaves after a few years, the ‘Albostriata’ typically keeps producing variegated foliage for its whole life (Gardeners World).
Convallaria majalis ‘Rosea’
This variety has pink flowers in place of the usual white ones. It is very pretty but doesn’t flower as profusely as the original white Lily of the Valley, therefore not producing the blanket of flowers the plant is famous for. The flowers of this variety are also not as strongly scented.
Convallaria majalis ‘Prolificans’
This variety of Lily of the Valley has frilly double flowers. It is quite hard to find, with its rarity adding to its increased desirability. This variety also makes excellent cut flowers, as the flowers not only tend to be showier than the original Lily of the Valley, but they last much longer once cut. Typically, Lily of the Valley flowers will only last two or three days once cut, but the ‘Prolificans’ variety should exceed a week in a vase (The Telegraph).
Caring for Your Lily of the Valley
Lily of the Valley thrives in moist soil, so you will need to ensure you provide ample water for this plant. They key to maintaining a healthy plant is to keep the soil moist but not waterlogged. In order to meet this requirement, the type of soil you use will be vital to your success.
Lily of the Valley is unfussy about soil type, and will grow in sandy or loamy soil. However, the soil must be well-draining. By ensuring you plant your Lily of the Valley in well-draining soil, you will be able to water it freely without the soil becoming waterlogged. Waterlogged soil will lead to root rot, which prevents the roots from being able to absorb moisture and nutrients, thereby effectively starving the plant to death.
To ensure you are using a well-draining soil, you could buy a prepared mix, or you could add sand to your own soil to increase its drainage properties. If your soil is draining adequately, you can water it plentifully to meet the needs of this thirsty plant.
Lily of the Valley thrives in partial shade. Its natural habitat is under the canopy of trees and larger plants, create dappled shade. When planting Lily of the Valley in your garden, you should aim to recreate this effect by planting it in an area that will offer some protection from the sun, either under a tree or fence.
Though this plant prefers partial shade, it will adapt to almost any lighting condition. If you have dark corners of the garden that you want to brighten up, then this would be an ideal plant, as it will grow in darker areas where many other plants would not survive.
The plant will also adapt to full sun if necessary, though its water requirements will be affected by the amount of light it gets. In full sun, the plant will become even thirstier than usual and need a higher frequency of waterings. In complete shade, the plant will need less water, but it will still need soil to be continually moist.
This plant prefers cool climates, and is hardy to temperatures as low as -11 °F. During hot summers, it’s important to give this plant the shade it needs to help keep it cool, especially in the afternoon when temperatures tend to soar. In USDA zones 2-9, the plant will remain perennial, which makes it ideal for use across a broad spectrum of climates.
Lily of the Valley will thrive without the addition of fertilizer, so you do not need to feed this plant. In its natural environment, the fallen leaves of nearby trees will break down to increase the nutrient value of the soil, which will easily meet the Lily of the Valley’s nutritional needs.
If you want to improve the nutrient levels of your soil, then simply top dress the soil around the plant with an organic compost. Over time, the nutrients will seep into the soil and increase its quality. Refrain from using fertilizers, especially those high in nitrogen, as these will encourage more foliage growth at the expense of flower production.
Lily of the Valley can be grown from seed. but this does not always give the best results. The preferred way to propagate this plant is through division, which has very high success levels. In the fall, dig up a section of the plant and tease the roots apart. You need to look for the ‘pips,’ which are small swellings above a root system from which new plants sprout. Each ‘pip’ will give you one new plant, so gather as many as you wish, keeping as much of the roots intact as possible.
Before replanting, soak the pips in water for around 30 minutes. You can then plant them in a container or directly into the ground outside. This can be done at any time of year provided the soil is workable, though spring or fall are the ideal times to plant Lily of the Valley.
After soaking, dig a hole not much bigger than the root ball and place it into the hole. The entire root ball and pip needs to be covered over with soil so that the top of it is buried by around a half an inch of soil. Water the plant generously and continue with regular watering.
This plant does not need to be pruned unless it becomes very out of control and you want to maintain a smaller size. Do not prune the plant during spring and summer, as this is an important time for the leaves to collect energy from the sun, which they will store to help produce flowers the following year.
Yellowing, dead, or damaged foliage can be removed at any time, but heavy pruning is not advised. If you would prefer to control the size of the plant, then you could grow it in a container where it won’t be able to spread. The things to note when growing Lily of the Valley in a container are that the root systems of the plants are quite complex and need plenty of space, so a deep container is a must. Ensure there are plenty of drainage holes to help prevent waterlogged soil, and water the plant heavily, especially in summer.
Potted plants need watering more frequently than plants growing directly in the ground, and as the Lily of the Valley is especially thirsty, you will need to take extra care to prevent the soil from drying out.
Lily of the Valley is rarely affected by pests, which add to its ease of care. It is deer-resistant, as the deer instinctively know it is poisonous and therefore stay well away. One problem that can occur with this plant is leaf spot, which is a fungal disease thriving in moist conditions. This disease presents itself as dark spots on the foliage of the plant and is usually caused by damp, humid conditions and poor air circulation.
The best treatment of leaf spot is prevention. Try to ensure your plants are spaced apart to ensure good air flow and always water at ground level so that moisture doesn’t sit on the leaves. This is especially important for Lily of the Valley that grows in shade, as any water sitting on the leaves won’t be dried in the sun. If your plant suffers from leaf spot, remove all affected leaves and burn them immediately. If the problem is severe, you will have to dig up the plant and dispose of it to prevent the issue spreading to nearby plants.
Leave a comment if you have any questions about Lily of the Valley, and share this page with anyone who might be interested in growing it.