Eucomis: Pineapple Lilies for Your Patio
The first time I saw a eucomis plant was in my own garden. I didn’t know what to expect when I purchased these exotic-looking South African bulbs, and honestly, trying to grow them here in zone 4 seemed like a stretch. But to my surprise, they proved to be incredibly easy to grow and are now one of my favorite summer container plants.
Eucomis are in the same plant family as hyacinths. This makes sense when you take a look at the leaves and flowers. Though eucomis lack the hyacinth’s heady fragrance, they have many other praiseworthy features. This starts with their striking and totally unconventional flowers. Each flower stem displays a column of 60 or more florets that open from the bottom up. On top is a leafy flourish that gives this plant its Carmen Miranda playfulness as well as its common name, pineapple lily.
There are about a dozen different cultivars of eucomis with flower colors that include white, pink and violet. Most have glossy, green foliage, and some have burgundy foliage or speckled stems. All have flowers that are highly attractive to bees and butterflies.
How to Plant Eucomis
Pineapple lilies are surprisingly easy to grow – especially in a container. Three bulbs fit nicely in a 12” diameter 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 so the soil can’t get waterlogged. Use a high-quality, soil-less growing mix (not potting soil).
In the southern half of the country, eucomis can be planted right in the ground. Wait until the soil is warm (65°F) and plant the bulbs a little deeper than you would plant them in a container.
Keep in mind that eucomis are tropical bulbs that will not tolerate frost or cold soil. You can get them started early indoors, but don’t move them outdoors 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 enter a deep sleep. In the spring, it takes some time for them to wake up. If you plant the bulbs in May, don’t be surprised if it takes them at least a month to sprout. If you don’t want to look at a bare pot, consider planting some cool weather annuals on top of the bulbs (alyssum or violas) and then relocate these plants once the eucomis begin to fill out.
Caring for Eucomis
While you are waiting for the bulbs to sprout, keep the soil lightly moist. As with all bulbs, it’s important to avoid overwatering. Once the plants begin to leaf out, start watering them consistently and keep that up for the rest of the growing season. To increase flower production, apply a liquid fertilizer twice a month. Eucomis bloom best when they are grown in full sun, though if you garden in a very hot climate, they will appreciate some afternoon shade.
The flower stalks will emerge from the center of each plant and, depending on the cultivar, rise to a height of 12 to 24″. Once the plants are in bloom, giving them some shade will make the flowers last longer — another good reason for growing in pots. If you enjoy making flower arrangements, consider adding a few stems of eucomis. They last for weeks in a vase.
What to Do After They Bloom
It’s normal for eucomis to die back to the ground at the end of the growing season. This is true even in areas where the bulbs are winter hardy. If you live in growing zones 8-10, you can leave the bulbs right in the ground and they will come up and bloom again the following summer. During the winter months, the bulbs should stay relatively dry, so keep this 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 the bulbs indoors for the winter and replant them in spring. Here’s how to overwinter eucomis bulbs indoors:
After the flowers fade, you can cut off the flower stalks near the base of the plant. Bulbs use their foliage to store energy for the next year’s flowers, so it’s important to continue watering and fertilizing the plants right through September. Doing this has allowed me to overwinter the same eucomis bulbs for 8 years running. This saves money and you’ll also find that the bulbs gradually get a little larger each year.
Before the first hard frost, gently dig up the bulbs or simply bring the whole container indoors and stop watering. Leave the foliage attached until it is completely dry and can be easily pulled away. Then put the bulbs into a box or plastic bin and store them at 45-50°F until it’s time to replant in spring.
I hope this has convinced you to give eucomis a try. These unusual summer-blooming bulbs will impress you and everyone who sees them. We accept orders for eucomis starting in January and ship from March through May, while supplies last. See our selection HERE.
To learn more about eucomis, read: All About Eucomis.