Eucomis: Pineapple Lilies for Your Patio
I was unfamiliar with eucomis until I grew it. Having never seen it in person, I didn’t know what to expect from these exotic-looking South African bulbs. Honestly, trying to grow them in my zone 4 garden seemed like a stretch. But what a surprise. They are now one of my favorite summer container plants — and one of the easiest to grow.
Eucomis are in the same plant family as hyacinths. Though they lack the hyacinth’s heady fragrance, they make up for it with panache. Each eucomis flower is a column of 80 or more florets that open from the bottom up. At the top is a leafy topknot which is the source of this plant’s common name: pineapple lily.
There are about a dozen different cultivars of eucomis. The blossoms can be white, pink or violet. Some have burgundy foliage and many have speckled stems. All are highly attractive to butterflies and bees. The flowers last for weeks and look interesting both before and after they bloom.
How to Grow Eucomis
Pineapple lilies are surprisingly easy to grow – especially in a container. Three bulbs fit nicely in a 12” diameter clay pot. They should be planted 3-4” deep, so it’s best to use a container that’s at least 8” tall. Make sure the pot has one or more drainage holes on the bottom and fill it with a high quality, soil-less growing mix (not potting soil).
In the southern half of the country, eucomis bulbs can be planted right in the ground. Wait until the soil is warm (65°F) and plant the bulbs several inches deeper than you would plant them in a container.
Remember that these are tropical bulbs and they will not tolerate frost or cold soil. So don’t put them outside until night-time temperatures are settled and relatively warm – at least two weeks after the frost-free date in your area.
When eucomis bulbs go dormant at the end of the growing season, they really go dormant and it takes a long time for them to wake up again. If you plant the bulbs in late May, don’t be surprised if it takes them a month to sprout. If you want something to look at while while you are waiting, plant some cool weather annuals on top of the bulbs (alyssum or violas) and then relocate them when the eucomis begin to fill out.
While the bulbs are dormant and you’re waiting for them to sprout, keep the soil lightly moist. Once the plants leaf out, water consistently for the rest of the growing season. To increase flower production, apply a water-soluble fertilizer twice a month. Eucomis bloom best when they are grown in full sun — except in the very hottest climates, where they appreciate a little shade.
In late summer, flower stalks will emerge from the center of the plant and rise to a height of 12 to 18″. Moving the containers out of hot afternoon sunlight will make the flowers last longer. If you enjoy making flower arrangements, consider adding a few stems of eucomis.
What to Do After They Bloom
Eucomis die back to the ground at the end of the growing season, even in areas where they are winter hardy. If you live in hardiness zones 7-10, you can leave the bulbs right in the garden and they will come up and bloom again the following summer. During the winter months, the bulbs should stay relatively dry, so keep that in mind when choosing a planting location.
If you live in zone 7 or colder and are growing eucomis in containers, you can either treat the bulbs as annuals (tossing them at the end of the season) or bring them indoors for the winter and replant in spring. Here’s how to overwinter eucomis bulbs indoors:
After flowering, cut off the flower stalks. Late summer is when the bulbs are storing energy for the next year’s flowers, so it’s important to continue keeping the plants watered and fertilized. By doing this, I have saved the same eucomis bulbs for many years and each season they get a little larger.
Before the first hard frost, gently dig up the bulbs or simply bring the container indoors and stop watering. Leave the foliage attached to the bulbs until it is completely dry and can be easily pulled away. Put the bulbs into a black plastic trash bag, leaving the top open for ventilation. Store at 45-50°F until it’s time to replant in spring.
I hope this has convinced you to give eucomis a try. I can almost guarantee they will impress you and everyone who sees them. All three varieties shown above can be found here. We accept orders starting in January and ship bulbs from March through May.
Learn more here: All About Eucomis.