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What is a Lily of the Valley Plant and How to Care for It?

This is a comprehensive look into the Lily of the Valley plant showcasing everything you need to know to let it thrive in your very own garden and care for it everyday.

These are beautiful white flowers against dark green leaves of the lily of the valley plant.

Convallaria Majalis

Once upon a time, there was a flower so dainty, feminine, and sweet smelling, that perfumists from all over the world took inspiration from this flowering plant. This flower is called lily of the valley, and it adorns gardens and wrists all over the world with sublime fragrance.

Convallaria majalis, may bells, our lady’s tears, Mary’s tears, and muguet (to the french) are all names that have been given to the lily of the valley plant. It was also commonly referred to as “glovewort” back in the old days, as it was used to create a salve to soothe workerman’s hands. It was also placed in a front pocket for a sign of good luck.

These enthusiastic plants are the perfect choice for a shade garden. They can adapt to nearly any type of environment, and are so good at growing that they are even considered as invasive species in certain areas!

Lily of the valleys are strikingly lovely flowers that provide beautiful ground cover, and they are very friendly to beginner gardeners. Read on to learn all about this amazing specimen (that was awarded by the Royal Horticultural Society for Garden Merit by the way)!

What do Lily of the Valley Plants Look Like?

Amazing pendant flowers of the lily of the valley plant growing in the garden.

Growth Habit

Starting underneath the earth, c majalis plants grow from tough underground stems called rhizomes. A rhizome (also called a pip) is basically a root-storage facility for nutrients and moisture, and it allows plants to survive some pretty harsh conditions!

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Upright stalks grow from these underground stems and will usually reach 6-12 inches in height. A rhizome will send out lateral stems and new shoots will grow up from these. This growth habit creates very dense colonies of plants, hence their invasive status.

These extensive colonies will very quickly take over an area. Some people want this for a lovely ground cover look, but if you’d rather keep it contained, simply plant your rhizomes in a container to stop their spread.

Leaves

From each rhizome, it will sprout at least one or two leaves that are lanceolate in shape and anywhere from 4-10 inches in height. Lily of the valley leaves are usually taller than the flower stems themselves.

Each leaf is a lovely, dark, glossy green color. They provide beautiful ornamental value even before the flowers or berries appear.

Flowers

A focus image on tiny white flowers of the lily of the valley.

Lily of the valley is a herbaceous perennial plant, meaning that is bears flowers that will continue to blossom year after year in the spring as long as its ideal growing conditions are properly maintained.

This woodland flowering plant bears gorgeous bell shaped flowers. Each flower is formed by 6 sepals (that are usually white) that are fused together at the base to create this bell shape.

5-15 white flowers (sometimes pink flowers) bloom along one side of the stem as pendants, and they create a lovely drooping appearance. These white flowers usually bloom in the early spring in warmer climates, and in late spring or early summer in the northern hemisphere.

And let’s not forget the scent! This bell shaped flower has an amazing fresh scent. It is said to be very sweet smelling with the freshness of dew. Most perfumists imitate the “sweet and green” quality of the lily of the valley flower.

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Once a flower is fertilized, it will produce fruit in the form of a tiny red berry. These charming berries are filled with a handful of seeds that will spread through the defecation of different animal species.

Where is Lily of the Valley a Native Plant?

A patch of lily of the valley flowers growing in the sun in a woodland.

Lily of the valley plants are very very prosperous. There is some debate as to where the actually originated, because every area that they are introduced to, they become naturalized very swiftly and efficiently.

They grow extensively all throughout gardens and in the wild in Asia, Europe, and all over North America as well, especially in the United States. They’re grown as ornamental plants all throughout the northern hemisphere, and can exist in USDA growing zones 2 through 9.

What are the Growing Conditions of Lily of the Valley Plants?

Now comes the portion of the article where we look into how to grow one of your own lily of the valley plants! Be warned: if you are planning on planting one in the garden, be prepared for it to spread extensively.

These guys just love to grow, and they can sometimes be detrimental to other plant life if they are not kept under control! They are beautiful and smell glorious, but they can be obnoxious with the amount of space they take up!

A low view of lily of the valley patch growing in rich soil.

Soil Type

Though they can tolerate a great many soil types, lily of the valley plants definitely have some preferences. They will be very happy if they can live in rich soil that is either acidic or neutral, and is very well drained.

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If you’re concerned about the richness of your soil, simply incorporate some compost into the mix at the beginning of the growing season! This will not only increase nutrient content, but will also improve drainage. These are the essential elements required for soil.

Sun Exposure

One particularly awesome thing about the lily of the valley plant is that it is super adaptable in terms of sun exposure. Though partial shade is ideal, they can adapt easily to full shade, or full sun conditions.

The only thing that needs to happen is a slight altering of water level depending on the amount of sun the plant receives. But keep in mind, they are the perfect shade garden specimen.

Water Level

The most high maintenance aspect of lily of the valley care is watering. These plants love moisture! They prefer to live in moist soil, and won’t be particularly happy if it is allowed to dry out all the way.

They should be receiving at least 2 inches of water a week. If the natural precipitation of the area isn’t enough, make sure to use supplemental watering to maintain moist soil!

A gorgeus white flowers of lily of the valley growing next to tree.

Temperature

Lily of the valley plants are wonderfully cold hardy! Thanks to those underground stems, they are able to tolerate some seriously cold temperatures. They also require a bout of cold to enter their necessary dormancy period. They can exist in USDA growing zones 2 through 9.

Fertilizer

Knowing that lily of the valley plants like living in nutrient rich soil, don’t be afraid to incorporate some fertilizer! Though they don’t need fertilizer in order to grow with enthusiasm, they will still benefit from a little fertilizer during their active growing season — but make sure to desist once they enter their dormancy period!

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Pruning

Another important aspect of lily of the valley care is pruning. It is important to remove to spent flower heads at the base of the stalk, so that they can grow back cleanly the following spring.

It is also important to remove any yellowing or dead leaves from the plant so that it can dedicate its energy to more important matters.

How do you Propagate a Lily of the Valley Plant?

A blooming white lily of the valley field.

As you can see, growing lily of the valley isn’t all too much trouble. It’s growing requirements are completely attainable for any level of gardener. Now it’s time to learn how to propagate your very own!

Pick a Spot

Sometimes the trickiest part about planting a new garden member is deciding on the most perfect spot for it. Remember, lily of the valley is wonderfully adaptable and is also easily transplanted.

Pick a shady area on your property (or partial shade will be fine, too) and amend the soil with compost to increase nutrient content and to help with drainage.

If you’re worried about these plants spreading, maybe pick an area away from other parts of your garden. This way, its extensive colonies can be partially controlled, and won’t take over the rest of the garden.

Plant a Rhizome

The best time of year to plant a lily of the valley rhizome is the early winter, usually November or December. This provides the perfect cold period for the rhizome to enter its dormant phase.

Early winter is the good time of year to divide the rhizomes as well, though this can be done any time after the flowering period.

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Plant lily of the valley rhizomes about 4 inches apart from one another, deep enough in the soil that the majority of the rhizome is covered, but so that a tiny bit is still poking out (these plants need a bit of sunlight to properly get established).

Maintenance

From here, all you have to do is ensure that the soil remains moist once the growing season starts. The rhizome will stay dormant throughout the winter, but it will need a proper drink once early spring comes back around!

How are Lily of the Valley Plants Used?

A focus image of single pendants of lily of the valley flowers.

Ornamental Plant

Lily of the valley is an exceptional choice of garden plant if you are looking for a specimen with groundcover abilities, beautiful foliage, charming flowers and as equally charming red berries. They provide ornamental interest pretty much all year long (until they’re covered in snow).

They can easily be grown in containers as well to help control the spread. You’ll see that these flowers bloom with such enthusiasm that you could start your very own white flower farm!

Perfumery

Lily of the valley is also a great source of information for perfume scents. This delicate flower has a “sweet & green” aroma has been imitated by many perfume makers, with the very first being Dior!

An amazing cluster of white lily of the valley flowers growing in the sun.

FAQs

Is lily of the valley an invasive species?

C majalis plants grow from tough underground stems called rhizomes. A rhizome (also called a pip) is basically a root-storage facility for nutrients and moisture, and it allows plants to survive some pretty harsh conditions!

Upright stalks grow from these underground stems and will usually reach 6-12 inches in height. A rhizome will send out lateral stems and new shoots will grow up from these. This growth habit creates very dense colonies of plants, hence their invasive status.

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These extensive colonies will very quickly take over an area. Some people want this for a lovely ground cover look, but if you’d rather keep it contained, simply plant your rhizomes in a container to stop their spread.

Is lily of the valley deer resistant?

Lily of the valley plants are entirely deer resistant, and they are actually toxic to all animals. Ensure that they are kept in a place where unknowing pets don’t bear the risk of accidentally taking a nibble!

Can you transplant lily of the valley plants?

Because they grow from hardy underground bulbs, this makes lily of the valley plants wonderfully easy to transplant without risking damaging their root!

Can I grow lily of the valley indoors?

Growing lily of the valley as an indoor plant is a great way to ensure that the plant doesn’t take over your garden, and as a way to protect it from the hot summer months. Their beautiful fragrance is just an added bonus to having them as a house plant!

When is the best time of year to plant a lily of the valley plant?

The best time of year to plant a lily of the valley rhizome is the early winter, usually November or December. This provides the perfect cold period for the rhizome to enter its dormant phase.

Early winter is the good time of year to divide the rhizomes as well, though this can be done any time after the flowering period.

Can lily of the valley grow in full sun?

One particularly awesome thing about the lily of the valley plant is that it is super adaptable in terms of sun exposure. Though partial shade is ideal, they can adapt easily to full shade, or full sun conditions.

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The only thing that needs to happen is a slight altering of water level depending on the amount of sun the plant receives. But keep in mind, they are the perfect shade garden specimen.

Can lily of the valley plants survive winter?

Lily of the valley plants are wonderfully cold hardy! Thanks to those underground stems, they are able to tolerate some seriously cold temperatures. They also require a bout of cold to enter their necessary dormancy period. They can exist in USDA growing zones 2 through 9.

Should lily of the valley be fertilized?

Knowing that lily of the valley plants like living in nutrient rich soil, don’t be afraid to incorporate some fertilizer! Though they don’t need fertilizer in order to grow with enthusiasm, they will still benefit from a little fertilizer during their active growing season — but make sure to desist once they enter their dormancy period!

Should lily of the valley be cut back?

What are some other names for lily of the valley?

Convallaria majalis, may bells, our lady’s tears, Mary’s tears, and muguet (to the french) are all names that have been given to the lily of the valley plant. It was also commonly referred to as “glovewort” back in the old days, as it was used to create a salve to soothe workerman’s hands. Certain cultivars are also referred to as the European lily of the valley plant.

When do lily of the valley flowers bloom?

This woodland flowering plant bears gorgeous bell shaped flowers. Each flower is formed by 6 sepals (that are usually white) that are fused together at the base to create this bell shape.

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5-15 white flowers (sometimes pink flowers) bloom along one side of the stem as pendants, and they create a lovely drooping appearance. These white flowers usually bloom in the early spring in warmer climates, and in late spring or early summer in the northern hemisphere.

What USDA growing zones can lily of the valley live in?

They can exist in zones 2 through 9.

How often should lily of the valley be watered?

The most high maintenance aspect of lily of the valley care is watering. These plants love moisture! They prefer to live in moist soil, and won’t be particularly happy if it is allowed to dry out all the way.

They should be receiving at least 2 inches of water a week. If the natural precipitation of the area isn’t enough, make sure to use supplemental watering to maintain moist soil!

What is the ideal soil type for lily of the valley?

Though they can tolerate a great many soil types, lily of the valley plants definitely have some preferences. They will be very happy if they can live in rich soil that is either acidic or neutral, and is very well drained.

If you’re concerned about the richness of your soil, simply incorporate some compost into the mix at the beginning of the growing season! This will not only increase nutrient content, but will also improve drainage. These are the essential elements required for soil.