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How to Grow Solomon's Seal, a Native Plant

Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been associated with Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.

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Growing native plants is a great idea. They are already adapted to grow in your area so they are tougher than the non-natives who originate from other parts of the world and sometimes struggle to grow in our gardens. Native plants also provide food and shelter for the wildlife in our yards.

Solomon’s seal is a native plant that is perfectly suited to grow in my shady wet back yard.

What is Solomon's Seal?

Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum spp.) is a genus of woodland plants. Four of them are native to North America. The most commonly grown in the US is P. biflorum. Its range is from New England south to Florida and as far west as Texas. It is also known as Small or Smooth Solomon’s Seal. Its large native area makes it an excellent candidate for a variety of garden conditions here in the US.

The plant got its name from markings on its rhizome. In the fall, when the stems and leaves die, the stems detach from the rhizomes. The scars that are left behind after the stems detach are said to resemble the markings on the seal of Solomon, an ancient Hebrew king.

The rhizomes are starchy like potatoes and were eaten by both Native Americans and early European colonists who learned about the plants from the indigenous peoples. The rhizomes were also used medicinally to treat gout and rheumatism. They have anti-inflammatory and sedative properties.

Solomon’s seal is hardy in zones 3 – 9. The plants grow 1 – 3 feet tall. They have branchless stems with leaves that grow alternately looking a lot like a ladder. The leaves are oval and 4 inches long. They turn yellow in the fall, adding color to your fall garden.

The flowers are usually white or creamish green. They are tubular and resemble small bells. They hang from the long stems in groups of 2 or more. Bloom time is spring, usually in May.

After the flowers fade, the plants develop blue-black berries in the fall. The berries are a valuable food source for birds.

The leaves are oval and grow alternately on the stems.

The leaves are oval and grow alternately on the stems.

How to Grow Solomon's Seal

Solomon’s seal is a woodland plant, often found growing under trees. Try to mimic that in your own garden, either growing it under trees or in dappled shade. The plants will tolerate full shade, but grow best in partial shade. In the southern parts of its range, make sure that your plants get afternoon shade to protect them from the hot sun.

Most gardeners purchase their Solomon’s seal as rhizomes. They can be planted in the spring after your last frost or in the fall before your first frost. Plant the rhizomes a 3 – 4 inches deep and three feet apart. They do multiply, but very slowly so you won’t have to worry about them becoming overcrowded very quickly.

Solomon’s seal prefers moist soil, but once established can tolerate dry soil. Water young plants regularly to keep the soil moist until they are established. Apply a thick 2 – 3 inch layer of mulch to help keep the soil moist.

Native plants do not require regular applications of fertilizer. You can help your plants grow their best if you add compost to your garden each spring. The compost will supply the nutrients that the plants need.

How to Divide Solomon's Seal

Solomon’s seal spreads very slowly so you will not have to divide your plants very often. Division can be done in either the spring after your last frost or the fall before your first frost. Use a garden fork to gently lift the clump that you wish to divide.

Brush the soil from the rhizomes and either pull them apart or use a sharp knife to cut them apart. Discard any dead or diseased rhizomes. Replant your divisions 3 – 4 inches deep and 3 feet apart.

The berries appear in the fall and are an important food source for birds.

The berries appear in the fall and are an important food source for birds.

How to Grow Solomon's Seal From Seed

Solomon’s seal can be grown from seed but it can take up to 2 years to germinate. You will need to alternately cold stratify and warm stratify the seeds.

Harvest the seed when the berries have ripened. Mash up the berries and soak them overnight. The seeds will fall to the bottom of the bowl.

Then you need to soften the hard seed coat. Soak the seeds for a week, changing the water every day to prevent them from getting moldy.

Then plant the seeds ½ inch deep in a container filled with pre-moistened soil. I always water my soil before planting seeds because if I water afterwards, both the soil and the seeds float away. Cover the container with a plastic bag and put it in your refrigerator for 3 months. Check the soil periodically to make sure that it doesn’t dry out.

After three months, remove the container from the refrigerator and place it on a heat mat set to 70⁰F in a window with indirect sun such as a north facing window. Warm stratify your seeds for 3 months.

You will need to repeat the cold and warm stratification until your seeds sprout, up to 2 years. Once your seeds have sprouted, you can transplant them into your shady garden when they grow their first set of true leaves. If it is spring, wait until after your last frost to transplant them outdoors. Space your seedlings 3 feet apart. Keep them well-watered for their first year.

© 2020 Caren White

Comments

Caren White (author) on November 10, 2020:

And the local wildlife loves it too!

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on November 10, 2020:

Thanks for showcasing where best to use Solomons Seal plants in landscapes. It is always rewarding to plant hearty native specimens when possible.

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