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Past Articles Library | How to Grow and Care for Trilliums

While some people may welcome fall with pumpkins and mums, I know fall season is upon me in the garden when I am out and about planting trilliums for spring enjoyment. There are over 40 different species of this flowering perennial whose range spans from USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 3 through 9. They open up the garden to spring with unique stippled foliage of emerald green and light green. While everything is going up green during this time, the dappling nature of the foliage adds texture to the green backdrop. Another feature of this plant is the blooms. Depending on the species, these blooms can be red, white or even yellow.

As the name implies the term “tri” plays a role in this plant’s structure. It is based on threes, which means three leaves, three petals, which are protected by three sepals. This organized presentation allows to plant to standout among the frills and thrills of the other plants but…..this is a very important but, trilliums do grow wild in the forests of North America. Many have been dug up to the point that several species are on the endangered species list. While you may find one in the woods and desire to dig it up and add it to your flower collection, please do not. Besides being against the law, it is better to allow it to remain in its natural state so that everyone can enjoy its beauty. In doing so, only purchase trilliums from garden centers where it is indicated on the tag that it is nursery grown and propagated. Now that this issue has been covered, let’s learn how to grow them

Growing Requirements of Trilliums

When it comes to the growing requirements of this flowering plant, it is pretty flexible. As far as the soil, it likes a well-draining medium that has a neutral pH. Some species prefer a limestone-based soil while others like it a bit more acidic. Yes, this information will be labeled on the tag but the true difference in growing requirements really is not that critical when it comes to growing these beauties. The key is that the soil is well-draining and contains a good amount of organic matter. If planted in the right environment along with a little bit of help, this prerequisite is no problem.

Now, the sunlight requirement can be a little tricky. On one hand, this plant does well in full shade but at the same time can tolerate partial shade. Ok, this seems simple, right? You just need to plant your trilliums under some evergreen trees and everything will be great. Well, yes and no. Yes, the evergreens would provide the full shade but in this case it is too shade and not enough sunlight can percolate down through the branches to reach the trilliums. For this reason, avoid planting this flower under and/or near evergreens. On the other hand, you may be thinking that a deciduous forest or in your landscape where there are deciduous trees would be the answer. Again, not necessarily so and the reason has to do with the leaf litter.

 If the fallen leaves are in a thick layer then it can make difficult for the trilliums to break ground in the spring. The best solution is a mixed forest if you are using this plant to “wild up” your area. The next best solution is to remove the leaf litter early in the season so that the little plants can have a cleared path to breaking ground.

The last requirement of this plant is fertilization. An annual dose of well seasoned compost and/or leaf mold works wonders during the growing season.

Planting Trilliums

Trilliums grow by rhizomes that are planted three to four inches deep in the fall. The spacing depends on the species in general but this flowering plant looks best when it is planted in groups.

Once you have your location selected, begin the process of clearing the garden space and digging the holes. Placed the removed soil in a bucket, mix with well-seasoned compost and/or leaf mold, and set aside until the rhizome has been placed in the hole. Next fill in the hole with the soil mixture and water in once all the rhizomes have been planted. No, we are not watering to begin the growing process instead the water will force out any air bubbles that may have formed in the soil. As the water moves through the soil, the air bubbles will dissipate. Before moving on to another garden chore, make sure to mark the area so that you know you planted something there you want to keep. Many times in the spring we see some growth, assume it is a weed, and pull it up without thinking. To prevent this, mark this area in some form so that you do not make this error.

Now with all things done, you may expect to be graced with a beautiful display of flowers from your trilliums. Keep in mind though that it can take three to four years for newly planted trilliums to begin to bloom.

Propagating Trilliums

Yes, trilliums produce seed but if you plant the seed you are looking at least two years of care before you can plant them in the garden. On the other hand, you can dig up your trilliums after they have gone dormant, which can occur mid to late summer or fall. After they have gone dormant, just dig them up with a shovel or garden fork, divide and then replant as above. This can be done every few years, depending on the variety.

Landscape Design with Trilliums

I love to see trilliums coming up in my “wild” garden space as if the understory of my tree canopy was splashed with color and texture without any planning but I know there is planning and I did it. While this letting anything pop up around my trilliums is not for everyone, I do have a few suggestions that will help you create a more controlled design.

My first suggestion would be to add ferns to the areas by which you have planted your trilliums. The ferns will provide more texture and as the season goes, they will also hide these flowering plants when they are going dormant without smothering them.

Another suggestion is to combine them with other spring-blooming wildflowers. Creating a green backdrop of different textures will hide the ugliness of these plants as they go to sleep for the season.

Pests of Trilliums

There are no plant diseases that affect trillium and no pests but……..deer. Since they break ground in the spring when food sources can be limited, deer tend to graze on the foliage. To prevent or reduce this damage, consider mixing your trilliums with less tasty plants or use red and silver fruit tree tape, which when strung properly looks like fire in the sun.


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Fertilize Container Plants

Because container gardens are usually grown to show off a lot color, the plants in them require more frequent fertilizing.

It's good to feed them every two weeks with a water-soluble complete fertilizer like a 20-20-20 or a hyrdolized fish fertilizer.

Regular feeding will help them fill in faster, and produce more flowers.

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