Lily of the valley: The good, the bad, and the ugly


The Good - Easy to Grow

Lily of the valley is a highly fragrant perennial that blooms in your sun or partial shade garden from late spring into early summer. Broad stand-up leaves almost hide the tiny, white or pink, bell-shaped blooms that display on a single thin stem. You can add lily of the valley to your garden from a nursery potted plant or bareroot, or you can transplant the flower from its rhizomes. The lily of the valley rhizome is about the size of an almond or smaller. As a perennial, you will see these fragrant beauties return each year to bloom again in late spring. Lily of the valley requires little care; water them when you water the lawn.

The leaves reach about 12 inches in height and remain green until late summer, making the plant a colorful base for taller flowers that will spread as the summer proceeds. For the gardener who likes scented flowers, lily of the valley will bloom when the lilacs fade and before roses bloom to give you a continual fragrance in your garden.

Lily of the valley is also easy to transplant - just push a spade deep into the ground and dig out a clump. That clump can be dropped into a like-size hole in your garden, tapped down, and lightly covered.

The Bad - Poisonous

All parts of lily of the valley are poisonous to humans and animals if consumed. Children are attracted to the sweet-tasting red berries produced by lily of the valley after it blooms. A lot of the plant would need to be ingested, though, to cause a toxic response. When large amounts are digested, irregular heartbeat and pulse along with vomiting and confusion will result.

If someone (or animal) eats any part of lily of the valley, get them to a doctor right away.

The Ugly - Invasive

The rhizome rooting system of the lily of the valley forms a fibrous network underground. Each year, new shoots appear above ground. Because the plant's root system grows deep in the ground, it cannot be cleared out by simply pulling on the leaves even if some rhizomes are attached. That deep running network of roots and rhizomes can spread to the point of being classified as invasive. It's even very difficult to dig it out, particularly if you planted your lily of the valley under or near a tree like I did, so only plant it in your garden where you do not care if it spreads. Looking on the positive side, because they spread easily, lily of the valley can be used as a quick spreading ground cover.