Delicate, pendant flowers of Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis) line up along gracefully arching stems in mid-spring. The white or pink blooms are small and waxy, with a cherished fragrance that is irresistible; if you pull up gently on the stems, you will have lovely, long flower spikes to enjoy in a vase, preferably at nose level.
Easily grown, these small plants will take a couple of years to establish and may not flower the first year. But their creeping rhizomes will soon spread rapidly, making an ideal ground cover even under large trees. These hardy perennials thrive in zones 3 through 7, but labor in the South. Plants will keep spreading, so you may want to locate them in a contained area.
Light: Plant in a mostly shaded to the partially shaded area (morning sun only).
Water: The plants like moist soil. Water plants in dry weather.
Soil: Grow it in a well-drained, loamy soil enriched with humus.
Fertilizer: Like any plant, they will grow better if fertilized. Do so in early spring, and again after the blooms have died off.
Leaves may become tattered and unattractive toward the end of the growing season. Simply cut back to ground level. If left intact, the deciduous leaves turn a lovely golden hue in the fall, accompanied by colorful (but inedible) orange berries.
Lily of the Valley can be propagated from seed or their rhizomes. Seeds can take months to germinate. So, most people propagate them using the rhizomes. Dig up rhizomes of established plants in the Fall, and separate into clumps for re-planting.
Pests and Diseases
These plants are generally quite healthy and vigorous. Fungal leaf spotting may occur but is usually minor. Remove any affected foliage and destroy it. Occasionally weevils will feed on the leaves, making small notches along the edges, but the damage is usually insignificant.
Despite its temperamental reputation, Lily of the Valley is easy to grow if you buy it ready potted in spring. Dried crowns take ages to get going and do not always survive, and it may also prove difficult to establish chunks supplied by friends. In both cases, pot up the crowns separately in a loam-based compost, water well and allow them to establish for a year before planting out. (You can do the same in midwinter, forcing the crowns for an early show indoors.) At planting time, work in some humus, good garden compost or, even better, leafmould. Spread out any underground stems and cover with just a couple of inches of the planting mixture. Mulch well with leafmould. If you find that flowering is poor, an occasional dose of high-potash organic liquid feed may help.