Tips and Techniques for Growing Pineapple Lilies
It can be intimidating to grow a plant for the first time. Especially one that looks as exotic as eucomis. But this South African bulb is actually incredibly easy to grow – especially in containers. And that holds true whether you live in chilly zone 4 or balmy zone 10.
The common name for eucomis is pineapple lily, and the reason for that is obvious when you look at the flowers. The plants grow from bulbs and are related to hyacinths. They have wide, strappy leaves and fleshy stems, which sometimes display burgundy speckling.
Pineapple lily flowers can be white, beige, pink or violet. All are highly attractive to butterflies and bees. Though cultivated varieties are unscented, some eucomis supposedly have a “fragrance” that attracts carrion flies – the plant’s preferred pollinator.
How to Plant Eucomis
In climates where the bulbs are not winter hardy (zones 3-6), the easiest way to grow pineapple lilies is in containers. But even in warmer climates, eucomis grow so well and look so good in containers, that you may like growing them this way anyway.
Three eucomis bulbs fit nicely in a 12” diameter pot. The bulbs should be planted 3-4” deep, so choose a container that’s at least 8” tall. Use a high quality growing mix and make sure the pot has one or more drainage holes on the bottom.
If you live in the southern half of the country and want to grow your eucomis right in the ground, don’t plant too early. Wait until there’s no danger of frost and the soil is warm enough for planting tomatoes (65°F). Plant the bulbs a couple inches deeper than you would plant them in a container.
How to Grow Eucomis
In the fall, when eucomis bulbs go dormant, they enter a very deep sleep. So, it takes a long time for them to wake up again. If you plant the bulbs in May, don’t be surprised if nothing happens for 4 to 6 weeks. Once the bulbs do begin to grow, they develop very quickly. Eucomis bloom best when they are grown in full sun -- except in the very hottest climates, where they appreciate a little shade.
Keep the soil lightly moist while the bulbs are still dormant (wet soil can cause them to rot). Once the plants have leafed out, water consistently for the rest of the growing season. You’ll get more flowers if you also feed the plants once or twice a month with a water-soluble fertilizer.
In mid to late summer, flower stalks will emerge from the center of the plant and rise to a height of 10-18". Each flower is a column of florets, crowned with a topknot of leaves. The florets open slowly from the bottom up. When the petals drop, the blossoms are replaced by shiny black seed capsules that are almost as showy as the flowers.
What to Do at the End of the Growing Season
Eucomis plants are dormant during the winter months. In late fall, the foliage will gradually die back completely, and the bulbs will rest until the next summer. Where the bulbs are hardy (zones 7-10) you can leave the bulbs right in the ground. Container-grown bulbs may also be left outdoors. Note that in zone 7, you may need to protect the containers from extreme cold. And if your winters are wet, you’ll need to make sure the soil doesn’t get soggy and rot the bulbs.
In colder climates (hardiness zones 3-6), eucomis bulbs are often treated as annuals and discarded at the end of the growing season. But there’s no good reason to do this, because it’s easy to store the bulbs indoors for the winter. Here’s what to do.
Cut off the flower stalk in late summer and allow the foliage to continue growing until it either dies back naturally or is at risk of being frosted. If the bulbs are in the ground, dig them up and gently remove most of the soil from around the bulbs. Allow the entire plant (with bulb attached) to rest in a well-ventilated area until the foliage is dry and can be easily pulled away from the bulb. Then put the bulbs into a ventilated plastic bag or plastic trash bag with the top open for ventilation. Store at 45-50°F until it’s time to replant in spring.
If you have grown the bulbs in a container, simply bring the pot indoors before the first frost. Stop watering and let the foliage die back completely. Then you can either store the dormant bulbs right in the pots until spring or remove them from the pots and store as above.
See our selection of eucomis bulbs (available for shipping from March-May) HERE.
Learn more about growing eucomis HERE.