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Cottage Garden Favorites: Lily of the Valley

Updated on October 2, 2017
OldRoses profile image

Caren White is a Master Gardener and longtime volunteer at Rutgers Gardens. She also teaches workshops at Home Gardeners School.

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I love telling the story of the first time that I planted lily of the valley. I carefully planted the pips in the fall before the ground froze, at the correct depth and with the correct spacing between them. Despite my best efforts, nothing came up. Three years later, they finally came up. I don’t know why they took so long to grow and I’ve never had any problems growing them since.

What are pips?

Lily of the valley is a perennial plant that spreads via underground stems called rhizomes. The growing tips of the rhizomes are called pips. Lily of the valley is sold when it is dormant, rather than as live plants. What you receive are those rhizome tips or pips.

How do I plant them?

Choose a shady spot in your garden that doesn’t become too dry. Full shade is preferable, but afternoon shade will work. If the spot you choose gets sun in the morning, be sure to check it regularly to make sure that it is not drying out. Lily of the valley likes moist soil. Be sure that the area you choose is large enough for the plants to spread.

Dig a hole for each pip that is deep enough so that the tip of the pip is one inch below the surface of the soil. The pips should be planted 3 to 4 inches apart. Water the newly planted area regularly for the first few weeks as your pips establish their roots.

Pink Lily of the Valley Flowers
Pink Lily of the Valley Flowers | Source

When will they bloom?

Lily of the Valley takes a few years to become established. It may not bloom at all the first year. After that, it will bloom in the late spring.

The flowers are waxy downward facing bells hanging from a stalk. There can be anywhere from 5 to 15 flowers on each stem. The flowers are usually white, but there is also a cultivar which has pink flowers. Both colors are highly fragrant. The scent is so well-liked that it is also used in perfumes.

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What else is lily of the valley good for?

Unlike spring flowering bulbs which has foliage that dies back after blooming, the foliage of lily of the valley stays green all summer. That, plus its diminutive height of eight inches and spreading habit, makes it an excellent ground cover. If you like variety, there is a cultivar which has variegated foliage with white stripes that adds interest to a shady corner of your yard.

In the fall, the plants produce colorful berries that can be orange or red. These are poisonous, so it’s best to keep small children and pets away from them. The berries contain a chemical that is related to digitalis which is found in foxglove and can cause the same cardiac symptoms and even death if enough berries are ingested.

The leaves die back in the fall and should be removed to prevent harmful insects from hibernating in the dead foliage over the winter.

Lily of the Valley Berries
Lily of the Valley Berries | Source

How do I make more of them?

The easiest way to propagate lily of the valley is by division. You can divide it in the spring or fall when it is dormant. Simply dig up the rhizomes and gently pry them apart. Replant the divisions four inches apart. The plants will spread quickly to fill in the empty area.

You can also divide the plants after they have finished blooming. If you try to divide them while they are budded or actively flowering, the flowers will die. So after the plants have finished flowering, gently dig them up, pry the rhizomes apart and replant the divisions four inches apart.

No matter when you divide your plants, remember to water them well afterwards and keep them watered so that the roots can get established.

Is lily of the valley deer resistant?

Yes! The entire plant is poisonous for deer so they won’t eat it. Lily of the valley is the perfect substitute in shady areas for hosta which deer love.

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    • OldRoses profile image
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      Caren White 6 days ago from Franklin Park, NJ

      Dianna, what a wonderful memory. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 6 days ago

      My mother's favorite perfume was Lilly of the Valley. I can still smell the soft scent today. I enjoyed the information shared in your article.

    • OldRoses profile image
      Author

      Caren White 2 weeks ago from Franklin Park, NJ

      And don't you just love the smell? Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 2 weeks ago from Brazil

      I have never grown them but always loved to see them. They seem so dainty and delicate.

      I didn't realize they were poisonous, it's a great protection for them.

      Thanks for the information on them.

    • OldRoses profile image
      Author

      Caren White 2 weeks ago from Franklin Park, NJ

      My last house had a shady yard so I too was on the hunt for solutions. Thanks for reading amd commenting.

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 2 weeks ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      I'm so glad to learn about the Lily of the Valley. I practically "live in the woods" and have a very shady property. I'm always on the lookout for shade-loving plants. Thanks!